Most people can say they have met at least one person in their lifetime who touched their hearts in a special way. Rick Sims, a Vietnam Veteran, is definitely one of those people.
Some people in Sims' condition might sit around and feel sorry for themselves, but not Sims. In 1972, Sims was a soldier in Vietnam when a bomb exploded burning his retinas.
"I was ready to take the patches off of my eyes and go back to my post," Sims said. "But they told me to sit down they had some devastating news." Sims said that is when they told him he would go blind. The doctors told him they didn't know how long it would be, but he would go blind.
Sims said it took several years for him to go completely blind. "I lost my night vision first," Sims recalled. "Then my tunnel vision." He said eventually, right before he lost his sight completely, his tunnel vision was so bad it felt like he was looking through a hole.
"The doctor was right -- it was very devastating," he said.
Then last year Sims took an Amtrack train from Walnut Ridge to Chicago where he was supposed to switch trains to go to another part of Illinois to visit family. Sims got on a transportation cart to take him to the other train. The cart driver stopped in the doorway of an automatic door and the door closed on Sims.
"When the door closed the driver took back off and I was caught," Sims said. "It drug me for several feet and I had to be hospitalized." Sims ended up having to have surgery on his knee after being chair-bound for over six months.
But despite all of his pain and obstacles Sims still does things that any sighted person does. "My neighbors really wonder about me when they see me on my riding lawn mower," Sims said with a laugh. Sims also walks to the store when he cannot find a ride and he is in need of something. Sims said the walk to the store is about 12 miles round trip and he has to cross a major highway. Sims also built a house which he later sold. "I did 98 percent of the work myself," Sims said.
Amazingly, a man who has been through so much still has a spirit for giving as well. Over 10 years ago Sims started what became a tradition of donating bicycles to the Williford American Legion Post 336 for them to give away to children in need at Christmas time. Sims started with two bikes and this year gave eight.
"I always wanted a bicycle but every year Santa never brought one," Sims said. "My mom just told me every year to keep hoping."
Sims said when he was a child his mother had four children. "She struggled to put food on the table," Sims said. "We were poor, but I didn't know what poor was."
"I finally got a bike when I was 10 or 11 but I never gave up hope," Sims said. "I wanna give that kid (the children who receive the bicycles) hope -- every kid needs hope."
"No matter how bad off or sick I am -- if I have to crawl up here, I'd bring those bicycles," Sims said.
Sims purchases the bicycles at Walmart every year on Black Friday. He said he usually goes at about 4:30 a.m. Sim's nephew Paul Baker usually takes Sims. Sims said Baker also helps him put the bikes together.
Sims said he chose the Williford American Legion because they do so much for people. He said he is not the only one who deserves credit, there is always something going on at the Legion to help others.
"Our post is very family oriented. It is people like Rick that keep us going," American Legion Post 336 Commander Harry Moore said. Moore said the post fills up a truck with canned goods and hams every year and makes up baskets to deliver to people in the area that need help. "We are active in the community and we try to do whatever they need," Moore said.
"I think Rick is a true Christmas hero," Ladies Auxillary Sergeant of Arms Kay Roland said. "He plans on donating 16 bikes next year."