McCrabb: Disabled Army veteran ‘stands tall’ in the face of disabilities, disappointments, homelessness

Army veteran Charles Knuckles tells his story about how he ended up staying at a hotel in Middletown. Knuckles lost his legs due to complications from injuries he sustained in the Army. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Army veteran Charles Knuckles tells his story about how he ended up staying at a hotel in Middletown. Knuckles lost his legs due to complications from injuries he sustained in the Army. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

No veteran should be treated this way.

That’s one takeaway after talking with Charles Knuckles, a disabled Army veteran who lost his legs due to complications from infections.

Then you talk to Pastor Mitchell Foster, executive director of the Hope House, a men’s homeless shelter in Middletown. Knuckles stayed there for two nights last week, but after getting into arguments with residents and staff, left before Foster could connect him with the Dayton Veterans Affairs office.

“We had things in place,” Foster said when asked about Knuckles’ benefits. “Now it’s his choice. It was like he didn’t want those services and he’d rather be floating around. That’s the price of that rough life.”

There’s no debate about Knuckles’ rough life.

Consider the 65-year-old is divorced and within two months in 2016 buried his father, mother, step-father and 25-year-old son, Timothy John “TJ” Knuckles.

In 1981, he lost his left leg followed by his right leg three years later.

His best friend is his 20-year-old dog, Dottie.

While living on the streets in Toledo, Knuckles said he was nearly robbed by two men. But Dottie attacked them. She left one attacker with 42 stitches, the other with 36.

Knuckles recently landed back in Middletown, where he was a volunteer on the South Middletown Fire Department in the mid-1970s. Knuckles, who is homeless in Cincinnati, was transported last week to Middletown by a Cincinnati police officer, he said.

“I feel safe here,” Knuckles said when asked why he chose Middletown.

He stayed in a hotel near Atrium Medical Center, then one day, while riding his electric scooter, the battery died. He was convinced by strangers to stay at Hope House, but now calls Quality Inn & Suites by Interstate 75 home.

On Thursday afternoon, Knuckles sat in his wheelchair wearing sweatpants, a dirty T-shirt and an Army baseball hat with treats for his dog scattered across the carpet of his hotel room.

He receives about $2,100 a month in Social Security benefits while he waits for disability payments from the Army. He was told in 1976 he was eligible for benefits. He’s still waiting, he said.

Then a few months ago, while traveling with a woman, she crashed into a steel pole on the highway and Knuckles’ severely injured his head. His baseball hat hides where his head was shaved and the scars from the four surgeries that cost him 25% of his brain.

“The doctor asked me why I didn’t die,” he said. “‘Because I love God and God loves me. Until He tells me to go, I’m still here.’”

He’s not sure what’s next. His calendar is blank. When he lived at Hope House, a group of local residents were collecting clothing items and looking for permanent housing. Now he has lost contact with them.

He was reluctant to talk about his past at first. But after being assured by Tim Williams, executive director of operations at Hope House, he agreed.

“It’s weird to think people will read about you,” he said. “People will look for a reason to make you look bad. But even though I have no legs, I stand tall. I have a big heart. I keep right on going.”

Now he wants to find “a good girl,” get married, buy a house and life happily ever after.

Is that American dream even possible?

“Anything is possible, sir,” he told me. “Anything.”

Army veteran Charles Knuckles tells his story about how he ended up staying at a hotel in Middletown. Knuckles lost his legs due to complications from injuries he sustained in the Army. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Army veteran Charles Knuckles tells his story about how he ended up staying at a hotel in Middletown. Knuckles lost his legs due to complications from injuries he sustained in the Army. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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