By Kim Grizzard
Saturday, October 27, 2012
When East Carolina University graduate Nathan Rimpf was injured in Afghanistan, support for the Army first lieutenant came out of the woodwork.
A charity golf tournament was organized in his honor. Thousands of wristbands were sold to help provide for his family.
Among all the contributions that have been furnished, a gift from woodworker Andrew Bates is unique. He decided to dedicate a furniture exhibition to the fellow alumnus he did not know.
The exhibition, set to open Friday at the Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge, uses purpleheart wood and spent shell casings to symbolize the sacrifice made by Rimpf, who lost both legs in an explosion in July. Rimpf, 24, is being honored during ECU’s home football game today against Navy as part of Military Appreciation Day. It will be the first time he and Bates, who teaches English at ECU, have ever met.
For Bates, it was the loss of part of his thumb in a workshop accident that helped point him to the wounded warrior.
“I was in the (doctor’s) office looking at it,” Bates, 35, recalled. “I was feeling sorry for myself, but then I realized, you know, it’s the tip of my thumb. There are people who give so much more.”
As the opening of Bates’ furniture exhibition drew nearer, he inquired at the university about ways he could use the proceeds to help an injured service member. Steve Duncan, ECU’s assistant vice chancellor for administration and finance and military programs, met with Bates just days after receiving word of Rimpf’s injury.
“Having been in the military during Vietnam, I said, ‘Who would have thought that an English professor would have said, ‘Let me do something to help a soldier?’” Duncan said.
Though Duncan did not serve in Vietnam, he recalls an entirely different attitude toward the military on college campuses at that time.
“It was not a popular time to be a soldier. You kind of kept your head down and didn’t tell anyone you ever served,” he said. “So here is this whole transformation in our country. Nathan goes off, serves his country as a volunteer. He gets injured, and the ‘Pirate Nation’ rises up and says, ‘What can we do?’”
A number of Bates’ students have brought wristbands to show support for Rimpf. Emerge is waiving the commission it generally would receive from the portion of the exhibit honoring Rimpf so that all the proceeds can be given to his family.
“The military takes care of the (service) member,” Duncan said, “but the family comes in. They’ve got to find a place to lodge, they’ve got gas driving back and forth. Many of them will take leaves of absence from their jobs.”
Rimpf received word of Bates’ efforts through the website caringbridge.com, where his mother, Cindy, has been posting updates of his recovery. He was surprised by Bates’ interest.
“I could see like sending me an iTunes gift card or something like that,” he said, “but to dedicate an exhibit to me and have me be the benefactor of the proceeds? It was different. I didn’t expect it. I’ve never met the guy.”
Cindy Rimpf kept Bates informed of her son’s progress. Bates saw pictures and video, which became the inspiration for his work.
Bates chose imported purpleheart to symbolize both Rimpf’s love for ECU and the fact that he is a recipient of the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s badge of merit. As Rimpf began work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to learn to stand on prosthetic legs and feet, Bates worked to design a bench to symbolize his accomplishments. It is called Demons 4-6, for Rimpf’s radio call sign. He also constructed shadow boxes featuring spent shell casings arranged in the shape of hearts and military support ribbons.
Inspired by his mother, who knits hats for troops serving overseas, Bates has donated his creations to benefit a number of causes. While he has given work to Emerge, the local ALS Association and the Hope Lodge, the exhibition for Rimpf is his largest effort. He hopes to generate $3,000 to support the soldier.
Rimpf, who hopes to be able to attend Friday’s opening, is humbled by the gesture.
“It’s a saying with most of us wounded warriors,” he said, “we don’t feel we did enough to earn what we’ve gotten in terms of the support from people.”
Bates would beg to differ.
“I can walk out into the workshop and make a table, and no one’s shooting at me,” he said. “I can go home and tuck my daughter into bed. I’ve still got it pretty good, and it’s because guys like Nathan go out there.
“It doesn’t really matter if I could have known him or not,” Bates said. “It’s something that deserves to have the support of the community.”
Contact Kim Grizzard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
via The Daily Reflector.