“I played sports and I worked in a factory,” he said.
Foote was sent to a military hospital in Guam, and from there was transferred to St. Albans Naval Hospital on Long Island. Though he only lost his foot in the initial explosion, resulting infections slowly claimed more and more of his leg until it was amputated above the knee. He slid into depression and self-pity.
At St. Albans, Foote met Otto, a burn victim at the far end of the ward. When Foote arrived, Otto sent him a can of beer via one of the nurses. Every day, Otto would be wheeled past Foote’s bed on his way to have dead skin removed from his burns, an extremely painful process, Foote said. But he would wave and say hello.
“He was so friendly that I started getting angry,” Foote said.
One morning, Foote said he decided when he next saw Otto, he was going to tell him off. He didn’t understand what this man had to be happy about.
“Coming up the next morning, he’s covered all the way up,” Foote said. “He died.”
After 45 years, Foote said the memory of Otto is still with him.
“That changed my whole thought process. I said, ‘I’m going to get better,’” Foote said.
Returning home, Foote had trouble finding work. As both a Vietnam veteran and an amputee, most companies did not want to hire him. He finally managed to get a job at the Decora paper mill in Fort Edward, where he had worked before entering the service. He strove to show he could do every job in the mill.
Later, Foote went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. He retired in 2004.
Foote began to talk about his experiences for the first time in 1981. Before that he had not spoken of the war to anyone, not even his wife, Jane, or their two daughters.
He had briefly joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars, he said, but left after another member called him names because of his time in Vietnam.
A year later, he attended a meeting of the Vietnam Veterans Association with a fellow veteran. When they were introduced as new to the group, they received the homecoming they had never gotten.
“They all started clapping and they said, ‘Welcome home,’ ” Foote said.
Foote helped to found an Adirondack chapter of the organization and has held various positions. He currently serves as the president of the New York chapter.
Foote said the simple act of being told “welcome home” was what really inspired him to join the organization.
“Whenever we meet a Vietnam veteran, we always say ‘welcome home,’ ” Foote said. “Because we never had those two words.”