Diary of a Sergeant
Harold Russell is an anomaly in film history. When Russell was cast in the classic film, The Best Years of Our Lives, he had practically no acting experience. Despite being the only person to win two Academy Awards for the same performance, Russell had no desire to be an actor. Moreover, Russell’s rise to stardom came in spite of two iron hooks that substituted for hands. In fact, his cinematic success was because of them.
On June 6, 1944, as thousands of U.S. troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, Sergeant Harold Russell was stationed in Mackall, North Carolina. While performing a routine demonstration, a faulty fuse caused a brick of TNT to explode prematurely. Russell lost both hands in the blast. He was given the option of choosing plastic hands or iron hook prostheses. For practicality purposes, he chose the latter.
Russell was equipped with a figure-eight harness; the mechanism allowed him to open his right hook by moving his left shoulder and left hook by moving his right shoulder. Russell endured a rigorous course of occupational therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Through therapy and perseverance, Russell relearned daily life skills such as buttoning a shirt, opening a door, and drinking from a glass. He joked that he could pick up everything but a dinner check.
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