Bill Wedekind, Vietnam War veteran and the only known blind, bilateral double-hand amputee potter in the world, addressed the Blinded Veterans Association (BVA) 69th National Convention’s Father Carroll Memorial Luncheon on Wednesday, August 20, 2014.
A life member of BVA and current resident of San Antonio, Texas, Wedekind was born in Manhattan, Kansas, as the first of five brothers. He was inspired to follow the family tradition and join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1967, expecting it to be a lifelong career path. On May 25, 1968, his life permanently changed course when he was sent to inspect a defensive perimeter while serving in Vietnam. Never arriving at a certainty or remembrance as to what happened next, Wedekind nevertheless lost both eyes, one ear, and both hands in the explosion.
Wedekind’s grandmother, Myrtle Fichon, suggested pottery as a possible career for him and introduced him to the basics of the craft before he studied under accomplished potters at Kansas State University. He later received an advanced degree license as a ham radio operator and took up the building of race cars as a hobby. He also fearlessly uses power tools whenever he needs to build another shelf to hold his pottery. He has given pottery demonstrations and motivational speeches to a wide array of groups, including students of all ages, a minister’s group, inmates at correctional facilities, and potters at numerous shows, guilds, and seminars.
In 1976, the Disabled American Veterans honored Wedekind as the Arkansas Disabled Vet of the Year. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with Combat V in 1968. Wedekind’s address was one of several highlights of the BVA convention, which occurred August 18-21. Some 150 blinded veterans and an additional 250 families, exhibitors, presenters, and friends of BVA participated in the four-day gathering.
The Father Carroll Luncheon event itself is named for Thomas J. Carroll, one of the blind rehabilitation field’s foremost pioneers of the 20th century and BVA’s National Chaplain from 1946 to 1971.