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Reasons and Remarks Redivivus - My Friend, Mike

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2017

I consider him the man who showed me there was life after a debilitating injury.

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In the mid-1960s and 1970s, the Department of Veterans Affairs Long Beach Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Center in California was full of veterans who were paralyzed from the Vietnam War. I think the primary reason was that there were few SCI centers, and Long Beach, Calif., was the largest one west of the Mississippi River. From talking to the other veterans going through rehabilitation there, it seemed that if your home was west of the Mississippi River, then the Department of Defense sent you to Long Beach. There were four wards that were long, open bay buildings that we were all in, and each one held about 30-40 paralyzed veterans. There was no privacy, and you could see from one end to the other end of each one. This is where I met Mike Gureckas. Mike had already finished rehabilitation and was active in the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) California Chapter.  

Mike was a bomber pilot who had been injured in an aircraft accident. He found out I was a fighter pilot and made it a point to come and see me frequently. We became good friends and as my rehabilitation progressed and I began to get my strength back, we spent more and more time together. One day after I had been there about nine months, Mike stopped by in the morning and told me to get ready because we were going up the Pacific Coast Highway to the Santa Barbara Orchid Estate. I had not been out of the hospital and saw it as a security blanket. I told Mike I was afraid to, and he said it was not open for discussion. He almost physically dragged me out of the hospital and into his car.

As long as I knew Mike, he always drove a big, black Cadillac. He took me to the parking lot, showed me how to get in the passenger seat of his Eldorado convertible, climbed in the driver’s side, threw our wheelchairs in the back and away we went. We had a great trip, and Mike opened the world up to me again. Mike has a special place in my heart, and we remained good friends. I consider him the man who showed me there was life after a debilitating injury. I could go on for several pages telling of experiences we had together. Mike died a short time ago.

Mike had an interesting background. His full name was Michael Gintaras Gureckas, and he was Lithuanian. His father was a Lithuanian military officer, and his mother was a Lithuanian medical doctor. Mike’s father took his family to the United States shortly before the Germans invaded Lithuania in World War II. His dad served in the U.S. intelligence services behind the lines throughout the war. Mike stayed active in PVA, and he and the other California PVA members got me involved in the organization. They’re responsible for me spending a large part of my life serving our organization. After I got married and moved to Arizona, Mike and I always stayed in touch. I became active in the PVA Arizona Chapter and progressed to the national leadership of PVA. Mike was an officer of the PVA California Chapter and the PVA national director from California. After I was elected as the PVA national president in 1984, Mike became one of my vice presidents. He was a great sounding board when I had issues I wanted to discuss with someone.  

PVA had no formal sports program at that time. We started the PVA sports program with trapshooting and fishing. I asked Mike to arrange the first shoot. He knew nothing about shooting trap but worked with the Marines, organized the event and found funding for the first shoot at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. Mike became an outstanding trapshooter and can unquestionably be remembered as the guy who started and was the father of the PVA trapshooting program. He should always be noted for that in our organization’s history.

Mike stayed in touch with the Lithuanians in the California area. He never got married and with his death, it was the end of his family. They say that true friendship is when you know someone so well that after not seeing or talking to them for a long time, when you do, it strengthens your friendship even more.

I’ll miss Mike a lot. He was a great friend who helped me start life again. He served his nation, his organization and his friends. We are diminished by his passing.

 

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Reasons and Remarks Redivivus - My Friend, Mike

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