Secretary Bob McDonald invited Rocky Bleier, Army Vietnam Veteran, Pittsburgh Steelers star and four-time Super Bowl Champion, to the VA to share his gripping story of courage on the battlefields of Vietnam and his time on America’s football fields.
A year after his 1968 rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Bleier was drafted for the second time; he entered the U.S. Army in December 1968 during the Vietnam War. Bleier was a squad grenadier and operated a 40mm M79 grenade launcher with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.
He was in Vietnam for only three months when he was wounded on a patrol when his platoon was ambushed in a rice paddy near Heip Duc. He took a bullet in his left thigh moments before a grenade sent shrapnel through his right leg, removing part of his right foot. Bleier was evacuated to an aid station in Da Nang, Vietnam, to recover from his injuries before being transferred to Tokyo then back to the United States. His doctors told him that he would never play football again.
It was at the field aid station in Da Nang where he met a Veteran that changed his perspective on life. Across from him was a young soldier, a triple amputee who lost his left arm and both legs. Every day before that soldier left for therapy, he’d stop at each bed in the ward, including Bleier’s, to give them words of encouragement.
“He’d stop by my bed and he’d say, ‘Hey, how are you doing today? You know, you look better today than you did yesterday… Now we’ve got some good docs here, they’re going to take care of you. And don’t worry about it, we’ll get you out of here and I’ll see you back in the real world one of these days,’” said Bleier retelling his story. “I thought if anyone could be embittered with their life it would be that young soldier, having to live with those atrocities that we’d seen everyday. But yet he chose to make a positive impact. And I thought, ‘Wow, if he could do that, what about me?’” he said. It was at that moment that Bleier decided then that he would walk again someday.
Bleier overcame his war wounds to win four Super Bowls with the iconic Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.
Since his retirement from football, Bleier is still involved with the Pittsburgh community. He works with the Veteran Treatments Courts, helping keep Veterans out of jail and working with VA to get Veterans the treatment they need.
“The great success rate that we have there is largely due to people like Rocky who make a difference in the lives of Veterans every single day,” said Secretary Bob McDonald.
To see the full presentation from Rocky Bleier, watch the video on VA’s YouTube page.