Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Day of Survival Inspires a Veteran’s Poem
May 31, 2013 was the worst day of Navy Veteran Thomas Easley, Jr.’s life.
Easley was driving west to El Reno, Okla. along Interstate 40 from his job in Tuttle when he noticed dark clouds in the distance.
He scanned the radio for weather news and learned that a massive tornado had been spotted on the ground just outside of El Reno.
Believing that the tornado would travel northeast, Easley made the decision to turn around on Interstate 40 and flee east in the opposite direction.
The tornado, which the National Weather Service later reported was an EF-5 and 2.6 miles wide, quickly trapped him on the Interstate and the nearly 300-mile-per-hour winds sucked him out of the driver’s side door.
“All the glass imploded because of the pressure and then the door flew open like it was trying to tear the door off and I fell out of the car,” said Easley. “It’s a good thing because the car went on down the road somewhere and then it ran into the hill and the whole thing was bashed in.”
He headed for the nearby the median barrier and grabbed a piece of metal wire.
“There was nowhere else to go,” said Easley. “I just held on and rode the storm out.”
But with so much debris flying in the air, Easley was struck on multiple parts of his body and badly injured.
Whether pure luck or divine intervention, a SUV with four strangers quickly arrived after the tornado passed and took him to a hospital in El Reno.
“I don’t know who picked me up,” he said. “There were four guys in a SUV and they took me to the ER and just dropped me off and then headed out. Those guys knew what they were doing. It was like they were medically trained, because they kept me awake. They were right up in my face keeping me awake, wrapping my leg up.”
Bleeding badly, Easley was convinced he was going to die.
“I was getting real dizzy,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe very well. I really thought I was on my way out, but I’m still here by the grace of God or something. I don’t know how. It wasn’t my time yet I guess.”
In the months following his injury, Easley has had multiple surgeries and physical therapy. He spent four months in a wheelchair and can only walk today with the help of a prosthetic brace.
Without anyone to serve as a caregiver for him, he was forced to move from El Reno to Muskogee to live with his mother. In November 2013, he began outpatient physical therapy at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center (JCMVAMC).
To cope with his injuries and new physical limitations, Easley turned to something that has helped him all his life, writing.
“It’s a (way to relieve stress),” he said. “It’s therapy for me and always has been, even before this accident.”
Easley began writing a book about his story of survival and recovery and hopes to get the book published. In December 2013, he also wrote a poem called “A Twist of Nature,” which is also inspired by his story of survival and the destructive power of tornadoes.
“I think a lot of people could relate to it, because I’m not the only one who has been injured and stuck in a wheelchair for a good while,” he said.
When Easley heard that JCMVAMC was holding their annual Veterans Creative Arts Competition on Feb. 3-4, he decided to enter his poem.
Each year, Veterans treated at VA facilities have the opportunity to compete in a local creative arts competition that includes more than 170 art, music, dance, drama and creative writing categories.
Entries are submitted to a national selection committee, which chooses first, second and third place winners among all of the entries. Select winners are then invited to attend the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival, which will be held Oct. 27 to Nov. 2, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wis.
Easley said he hopes his poem will earn him a trip to the national festival.
“It would be neat to go and experience the festival in Milwaukee,” said Easley, who served from 1991 to 1995. “It would be awesome. I would love to meet all the different people and see how their writing styles are. We’ll see. It would be nice to go up there.”
While Easley has a long road of recovery still in front of him, he is optimistic and said his injuries have given him more time to write – something he loves to do.
“Since I’ve been disabled, I’ve gotten back into (writing) a bit and that’s a good thing,” he said. “Things happen for a reason. It was probably meant for me to slow down and start writing some more.”
A Twist of Nature
A poem by Thomas Easley, Jr
My color is usually white, black or grey
I am of such a deadly type, while creatures large and small should frightfully keep away
I twist about, hop and spin with such a grotesque look
My base is sometimes very gigantic and I possess a prehensile hook
Observe how I mow across the terrain tossing debris here and there,
Creating such a loud and whining noise precipitating a unique stench up into the air
Through a brutal act of nature, I am unstoppable and disturbing,
And disrupt people’s everyday lives, to man I’m so very perturbing
Particular conditions must exist for me to rear my ugly head
If man doesn’t respect my boundaries, then he most likely should count himself as dead
Popping up in any area of the land whether winter, spring or fall,
I don’t discriminate where or when I strike, perhaps will show up in them all
I get measured on a scale depending on how much I destroy,
Creating something of a war zone, although weapons I do not deploy
So when you start to hear the wind, vilely whistle and blow,
And as you witness the roof peeled from your house,
Then I’m among you, for I am a tornado