Hometown Heroes

Paralyzed Veteran Perseveres

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Frank Rigo passed away February 18, 2015. CLICK HERE for a tribute to Frank from PN Online

LISTEN to Frank Rigo on Hometown Heroes
91-year-old Frank Rigo of Phoenix, AZ appears on episode #345 of Hometown Heroes, debuting December 13, 2014. Rigo, a native of Prescott, AZ served with the 37th Fighter Control Squadron in the Philippines during World War II, and is also a U.S. Air Force veteran of the Korean War. One of four brothers who all served in the military, Frank left for San Diego after graduating from Prescott HS and worked on B-24 Liberators in Consolidated Aircraft’s San Diego factory. You’ll hear him remember what he had to do for 12 hours a day, 7 days per week at that factory after a small imperfection was discovered on wings sent to San Diego from the Willow Run manufacturing facility in Michigan. After working on all those B-24s, he was hoping to fly one, and in January, 1943 he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps with the hopes of becoming a pilot.

91-year-old Frank Rigo in his Phoenix, AZ home.

91-year-old Frank Rigo in his Phoenix, AZ home.

Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out why that didn’t work out exactly the way he planned, and what he ended up doing as a radar and radio operator with the 37th Fighter Control Squadron in the Philippines. When the Japanese surrendered, Frank was on his way to Japan, and he’s convinced the use of the atomic bomb saved his life. He witnessed the aftermath of the bomb in Hiroshima while on occupation duty, passing through on a train before he headed home to the U.S. He wasn’t sure he’d make it home for Christmas in 1945, as he sailed across on an escort carrier loaded up with confiscated Japanese planes. A motivated skipper of that ship, and a future U.S. presidential candidate factor into the story of how he made it home in time for the holiday, which you’ll hear Frank remember on the program. After World War II, when the U.S. Army Air Corps became the U.S. Air Force, Frank continued to serve, and you’ll hear him relate a moment during his stateside service in the Korean War that went from tense to light-hearted after fighter jets were scrambled.
Frank on the cover of a 1981 issue of Paraplegia News

Frank on the cover of a 1981 issue of Paraplegia News

Paralyzed Veterans of America is an organization that fights for aid and benefits for veterans with spinal cord injuries, helps them find and adapt to new careers, even engage in sports, and invests in researchers trying to find a cure for paralysis. Frank Rigo has been involved with the group for more than 50 years, but his paralysis was not a result of military service. On July 6, 1958, the 1935 that Ford Frank was riding in with his father, Joe, was struck by a train in Prescott, AZ.
Frank celebrating his 90th birthday at the Paralyzed Veterans of America Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (courtesy PVA)

Frank celebrating his 90th birthday at the Paralyzed Veterans of America Headquarters in Washington, D.C. (courtesy PVA)

Joe was killed, and Frank was ejected from the vehicle. For three days, he was not expected to survive, but he made it, and has spent the 56 years that followed dealing with paralysis from the waist down. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear Frank explain how he’s managed to outpace all expectations, and what keeps him going at age 91. Click here for an article from PVA Magazine about Frank celebrating his 90th birthday. He was in Washington, D.C. for the dedication of the Korean War Memorial in 1995, and on Veterans Day, 2013, he had the privilege of laying a wreath at the National World War II Memorial. He is frequently called upon to share his experience of living with paralysis with newly-returning veterans who are just coming to grips with their injuries. “Don’t dwell on the things you can’t do,” Frank tells them. “Do the things you can do and do them to the best of your ability.” Frank Rigo doesn’t just say that, he’s lived it for 56 years. If you run into this resilient Arizonan, please thank him for serving our country, and for the service he continues to provide through his involvement with Paralyzed Veterans of America.

This week’s program also features information about the Silent Wings Museum in Lubbock, TX, which preserves the history of the glider program in World War II. Listen to the program to hear about the museum from assistant museum manager Eddie Grigsby, and check out a gallery of photos from the museum on the Hometown Heroes facebook page.

Paul Loeffler

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