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Vietnam vet makes cowboy boots for Wounded Warriors

By SARAH HAINESWORTH | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. (Tribune News Service) | Published: October 5, 2015

Tom Cartlidge traces the shape of Aaron Ojard's foot onto a piece of paper.

He then uses a tape measurer to measure Ojard's calf and foot, then uses a Brannock device to measure his foot again.

"This is a healthy foot," Cartlidge says. "It's a size 14."

Turning the basement of Bob Dalton's Davidsonville home into a makeshift workshop, Cartlidge took the measurements of several wounded warriors' feet Sunday.

While the wounded vets, their families, some of Dalton's neighbors and others enjoyed barbecue or took in a football game on television inside the home, Cartlidge, a Vietnam veteran and custom boot maker, got to work.

In the boot business since 1971, Cartlidge began making custom boots in 1995 and began using his skill in another way just two years ago when he decided to give back by crafting custom made cowboy boots for military amputees and other wounded warriors.

"I've been full speed ahead ever since," the 73-year-old Texas resident said. "I'm working day and night at this. It's a great joy."

Cartlidge, Dalton and Massachusetts resident John Petronzio became friends while serving together in Vietnam but Petronzio said they're more like brothers.

Both he and Dalton have donated money toward the effort which pairs the amputees and wounded warriors with nearly $1,000 cowboy boots at no cost to them.

"When these kids got wounded, it was horrific to me," Petronzio said. "They were shattered.

"As far as giving them the boots, 100 percent I'm behind it and I will work as hard as I can to make Tom's program a success."

Many of the men being fitted Sunday were injured while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. They shared their stories with the older men who served in the Vietnam War.

"The whole thing is we're three old men trying to show the young guys we appreciate what they do," Dalton said.

"There's an uplifting spirit that comes with a gift with no strings attached. It's a gesture from one generation to the next."

Ojard, a 39-year-old Frederick resident, suffered a cervical spine injury after a rocket explosion in 2009 while serving in Afghanistan as a Navy nurse.

Sunday was the first time he'd ever been fitted for custom footwear.

He was able to choose from a variety of colors, styles and leathers such as lizard, goat skin, crocodile, alligator, kangaroo, ostrich, cowhide and elephant leather.

"I like the old standard cowboy toe," he said to Cartlidge.

"Where'd you grow up Aaron?" Cartlidge asked.

"Northern Minnesota," he said.

"Then you're talking about a pointed toe," Cartlidge said.

So far, Cartlidge, a custom boot maker at Olsen Stelzer, has paired 20 wounded warriors with cowboy boots and has about 20 boots in progress.

Matt Anderson is one of the men who will soon receive his cowboy boots.

"I've never had boots," he said. "I don't have enough twang in my voice."

Originally from Richmond, Va., Anderson served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2005 to 2014.

During that time, his right leg was shattered when it was hit by an improvised explosive device or IED.

The 31-year-old now wears a leg brace and Cartlidge has designed a pair of boots for him that will slide right over the brace.

"I wouldn't be able to wear them otherwise," Anderson said. "They do a lot for guys who never thought they would be able to wear boots again."

"Some of us are harder to fit than others but it's cool when the guys are getting fitted to see how excited they are."

Cartlidge also plans to fit some amputees at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda before returning to Texas on Thursday.

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©2015 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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