By Ted Waddell
JEFFERSONVILLE May 28, 2004 You may not think Bob Cowboy Webb has much to smile about.
A long time ago, Webb had his legs blown off after he stepped on a land mine during covert operations in Laos.
Webb served in the U.S. Army from 1968-70 during the Vietnam War, and all he will say about that experience 34 years later is, "Most of my missions were covert stuff we're still not allowed to talk about to this day."
For about six years, "Cowboy" has lived in a little rundown house outside Jeffersonville, surrounded by piles of the unwanted things accumulated in daily living, but sustained by his pride in serving his country through difficult times.
A couple of weeks before the nation started gearing up for Memorial Day 2004, a group of fellow veterans figured it was time to show the colors and give Webb a helping hand by doing a bit of spring cleaning.
Nine members of Rolling Thunder, Chapter 4 New York, arrived and promptly got to work cleaning up piles of junk around the house and on the front lawn.
But not an old wheelchair, because "Cowboy" thought somebody less fortunate than himself could use it.
For a while, Webb had a hard time getting around until 18 months ago, when Frank Bair, president of the local chapter of Rolling Thunder, "showed up at my house, and within a couple of months, he provided me with a Rascal 240 scooter."
According to Bair, the electric scooter was donated to the Sullivan County Veterans Service Agency by the widow of a deceased veteran, with the stipulation that it be passed along to another vet.
After Eric Nystrom, director of the veterans agency, called Bair, one thing led to another, and soon Webb had a new steed.
"Bob was always a bit of a loner, but now he gets around," said Bair.
And the old wheelchair, emblazoned with an American flag, was put out to pasture in favor of a motorized scooter.
"It gets me from my house to Jeffersonville," Webb said. "Because of Frank Bair and Rolling Thunder, I can get everywhere now.
"It got me from being a hermit in my house to being able to go out and be with people," added Webb. "I owe 'em a lot."
Members of the local chapter lending a hand to the veteran included Alice Guss, Bill Hauschild, Ed Justus, Rich Justus, Gail McAdams, Fred Pagliaroni, Cliff Patton and Vinny Scotti.
"Cowboy" said the mission of Rolling Thunder is to get the word out that a lot of men were left behind in recent wars, from 78,000 in WWII to 8,100 in Korea and 2,100 POWs/MIAs from Vietnam.
On May 30, the roar of Rolling Thunder returns to the nation's capital for the 17th Annual "Ride For Freedom," with the annual event winding up across the street from the Korean War Memorial.
The volunteer, veterans-oriented organization works year-round to promote POW/MIA issues and lobbies for vet's rights.
Today, Bair and several other members of Rolling Thunder, Chapter 4 New York, will be leaving the Peck's Market parking lot in Jeff at 6:30 a.m., headed for Washington, D.C.
"Cowboy" won't be with them, but he will be proudly participating in the Liberty Memorial Day Parade on Monday.
"Rolling Thunder is a great organization," said Webb as he watched the junk carted away to the landfill. "These guys are great."