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What's a Handicap?

Matt Schudel

Purely by chance, our lead obituary and Local Life this week are about two people who overcame handicaps to accomplish remarkable things. The lead obituary is about baseball player Bert Shepard, who pitched for the original Washington Nationals in 1945, despite having had the lower part of his right leg amputated. (And, yes, the team was officially known as the Nationals in 1945, even though they were popularly called the Senators.)

Shepard, a fighter pilot during World War II, was shot down over Germany and was almost killed when his plane hit the ground at 380 mph. A doctor at a German hospital amputated his leg and saved his life. (Be sure to read to the end of the obituary to get the complete story, by the way.)

Shepard had been a minor-league baseball player before the war and came back more determined than ever to prove his worth on the baseball field. He was the only amputee in history to play in the major leagues. (Monty Stratton, about whom a movie was made, had a leg amputated after a hunting accident in the 1930s. He returned to pitch in the minor leagues, but never again played in the majors, in spite of what Hollywood may imply.)

Del Ankers, the subject of this week's Local Life, was a longtime Washington commercial photographer and filmmaker. His handicap was that he was blind in one eye, but I think you can tell from his pictures that he had an uncanny vision. For more than 50 years, he photographed almost every side of life in Washington, from presidents to the city's poorest residents. He was a colorful, well-liked man and an early associate of Muppet master Jim Henson, who got his start in Washington in the 1950s. Ankers's photos evoke an earlier and sweeter time when life here had a slower, more gentle pace. Ankers was also a character of the first order, with an obsessive compulsion to collect machnery and equipment of every kind. Some of his neighbors in Northern Virginia thought he was a junk dealer and had to idea that he was once a prominent photographer.

By Matt Schudel  |  June 21, 2008; 11:44 PM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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Next: Osama in the Obits


A first class blog, Matt !! Having been a DC area resident since 1924, I read both obituaries with intense interest. Incidentally, I have a model (not handmade) of a P-38, the plane Bert was flying, which I would like to give to one of his survivors but I cannot find a death notice showing their names and/or locations. Maybe somebody would like to have it.
Your friend, G

Posted by: George Anderson | June 22, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

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