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New Mexico Voices: The blinded WW I veteran who built himself a new way of life
During the month of November, we take a special day to honor our Veterans. The Blind History Lady once again wishes to highlight a blinded veteran of wars past. This year, we honor a New Mexican, Jessie Earl McCord, a veteran of the WWI.
Earl as he was known to his friends and family grew up around ranches and loved horses. He was a real cowboy in every sense of the word. Earl worked on a Socorro County ranch in New Mexico when the first World War broke out. When Uncle Sam called him, Earl put his chaps aside and went off to war.
As a private, he was assigned duties in the Medical Corp of the army. There he helped the doctors and the Red Cross workers care for the sick and dying. He carried the stretchers on the battlefields and did what he could. The work seemed endless, with a steady stream of wounded men passing before him. With a "special discharge,” in June of 1919, he was soon on his way back to New Mexico.
When he returned from the war, he went back to Socorro County and worked on a ranch as a laborer. But his sight began to fail. It was quickly determined that the cause of his eye trouble was from the exposure to the poison gases such as tear gas and mustard gas, while in the field. This was our first war where chemical weapons were used, causing injuries that were new to the medical profession, in and out of the military. Earl was forced to leave his job on the ranch.
A life of nothing to do was not a life that Earl could accept. He applied to the Army for rehabilitation services and was sent to the Evergreen School for blinded Veterans in Baltimore Maryland, operated by the Army and the Red Cross. There he learned to read braille, to type on a typewriter and to travel as a blind man. He also learned basketry and had several classes in music. Earl was sent home and was told to make a life for himself.
The next move for him was to head back to Albuquerque. His father had passed away and his mother came to live with Earl. She wanted to care for her blind son, but it was he who was the one who would financially support them.
Taking what he learned in Maryland, he wove baskets, small furniture, clothes hampers and lamps out of reed material. He tried to sell the items he made in his home by himself, but it was not enough. In 1926, Earl once again turned to the Veterans Administration for help. Mr. R. R. Gibson, a regional manager for the Veterans Bureau, listened to Earl's concerns.
Gibson reached out to the community for help. Edith S. Wetmore and her partner, Irene Fisher, owners of the Gingham Dog Gift Shop in Albuquerque, offered their shop window to display and help sell the many articles that Earl had made. The shop would sell the items that ranged from waste baskets, tables, hampers and trays to lamps, for Earl over a period of a few weeks during the month of September in 1926. A similar arrangement was made for Earl a longer period of time at the Blind Veteran's Home
Earl passed away from health complications on March 9, 1934 in Portales, where he had moved to in 1933. Thank you, Earl, for your service.
Peggy Chong, "the Blind History Lady," serves on the board of the ADA Advisory Committee for the City of Albuquerque and writes the history column for Dialogue Magazine, “The Way We Were.” Go to www.theblindhistorylady.com for more information.