Military Monday: Anthony DiNallo

When I was 8 years old, I took a one day field trip with my Cub Scout Pack to West Point.  On that day I decided that I wanted to attend the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point and made admission to West Point my life goal. 

In 1984 I was admitted as a member of the class of 1988.  I studied Mechanical Engineering, but my only real objective was commissioning into the U.S. Army and spending my life leading American Soldiers as my dream career.  West Point was difficult, but manageable and I graduated on time, with my class, on 25May88.  I was commissioned into the Field Artillery.

I trained at Ft. Sill, OK and was stationed for my first assignment at Ft. Campbell,  KY with the 101st ABN DIV.  I made it through Airborne school, Air Assault school and Ranger school.  I was a top performing lieutenant and would have been promoted early, ahead of my peers, but fate intervened.

In June 1990 I had spent 2 weeks training the Indiana National Guard as an active duty expert.  The Field Training Exercise (FTX) went well and the battalion commander of the Indiana National Guard asked me if my soldiers and I would be willing to do a static rappelling demonstration for the National Guard Soldiers and their families. Of course, I jumped at the chance as rappelling is one of the primary insertion techniques utilized by the 101st.  I ‘signed for’ the 50 ft. training tower first thing on the morning of 12Jun90.  My soldiers and I trained for several hours rappelling off the tower.

Just before noon a Lieutenant Colonel from the IN NG came onto our training site and as the senior office responsible for the training, I immediately greeted the LTC.  My intention was to let him know what we were doing on the site.  (I would love to put his name here, but it is not right – I will refer to him as LTC Mike). 

LTC Mike was wearing the US Army Ranger tab, Airborne and Air Assault wings along with a unit patch on his right shoulder.  The patch on the right shoulder indicates that a soldier served in combat for our Army;  I had Instant respect for LTC Mike.  That decision ended my career and nearly ended my life.  LTC Mike said, “LT DiNallo have you ever done a slack rappel?”  I replied, “No Sir, I have seen it done, but I have never done it myself.”  He replied, “Come on up the tower and I will show how it is done.”  I replied, “Sir, I cannot as we are doing a demonstration for the unit soldiers and their families.”  He said, “Come on it will only take a second and I politely declined for a second time. {A LT does not get to say no to an LTC in the Army… that is not the way the chain of command works – so, I was already petrified denying him twice}.  LTC Mike said, “Come on up, it will just take a second.”

So, I hustled up the stairs.  The LTC was coiling slack in my rappel line between the anchor point on the tower and my spot to hook the line into my harness.  I hooked in, noticing the beautiful blue sky, ever so slightly clouded.  LTC Mike said, “LT DiNallo, look at the horizon and step off.”  IAW his order, sighted on the far-off wood line and I stepped off.  While I was free falling, I assumed an L shaped body position and rotated my body exactly 180 degrees and faced the tower while in free fall.  I landed on the ground in that exact position.  My spine was burst fractured at L1, L2 and fractured at L3.

That was the end of my bad luck, what happens next is nothing short of miraculous. 

Because I was in extremely good shape, I did not pass out when I hit the ground, but I was immediately in shock.  I was trying to get up when a Dr. that had found his way to observe our demonstration immobilized me and put me on a back board to be transported to a trauma center by 45 minute helicopter ride.  I can remember thinking … “the guys in Vietnam that made it onto a chopper rarely died… please don’t let me die God, today is my Mom and Dad’s 25thwedding anniversary and I don’t want my Mom to have to get the call that her son is dead;; please God don’t let me die, please God…” 

The Dr that saved my life and preserved my spinal cord for recovery was CPT Dr. David Coffey; he is a physician at the Nashville VAMC. 

I lived… after getting the last rights twice, having 13.5 hours of spinal reconstruction and being placed into a chemically induced coma, I woke up and a few days later I had a very nice female Dr. come into my room and sit on my bed to speak with me.  Her job was to tell me that I was paralyzed and that I would never walk again.  My response to this young professional was exactly, “What the f*** did you just say…Is that what you think?  If that is what you think, then you can get the f*** out and you send me somebody willing to teach me how to walk!” {I am sorry for the way that I spoke to that woman but giving in to the injury is just not how the good Lord wired my brain.}  I figured the recovery would not be as bad as my Ranger training.                                                                                                            The result of LTC Mike’s mistake was paralysis from the waist down, no sexual function, I had to catheterize for urine and a ‘digital wave’ to stimulate my bowels. So, I did the only thing I knew to do…I started to fight like a crazed lunatic.  While I was respectful of the therapy folks, I made them nervous.  I was thrown out of the therapy room several times a week because, “I was going to hurt myself working out too hard.”  I figured I was already hurt, and I had a lot of work to do to learn to walk – I was training like I was going to the Olympics.

I started completely paralyzed, strong enough in my upper body to drag my legs behind me while I was ‘walking’ in the parallel bars.  (Some therapists allowed me hope when there was little cause for hope.  They did this by helping me ever so slightly and convincing me that they were not assisting) )  Then I used a walker, then forearm crutches, then 2 canes.  All in, I was 7 months in the hospital and they wanted me to leave before I hurt myself in their therapy room.                                                               Eventually I learned to walk, unaided and without a limp… My girlfriend at the time became my wife and we later had a son and a daughter.  Last May my son graduated from USMA in the class of 2020 and my daughter is on track to graduate USMA 2022.  I am blessed.  I had an awful thing happen to me, but God blessed me with an iron will and I fought my way back. 

I live however, to this very day, with an awful sense of guilt.  I had the best training available and I excelled in all of it.  When my country called on me and my unit to deploy to the Persian Gulf in 1990, I could not deploy, rather only watch from a hospital bed.  I never really repaid my country for the tremendous education that I received.  One last thing… perhaps my greatest compliment/honor as a leader was a phone call from my PSG, SFC Willie Rice.  SFC Rice told me that I was going with them.  He said that each of my soldiers had written my name on a laminated 3x5 card and had it in their left breast pocket.  I am very proud of that respect from my men, they were the best of the best.


Thanks for reading my story, and more importantly for convincing me to write it down…


Anthony DiNallo

1LT USA, Ret.

  • Roman & Jean on

    You are an amazing man with a strong willpower and we are blessed to know you . May God’s blessing continue to bring you joy and continued positive energies.
    Thank You for your service and your heartfelt story.
    The Matejczuks

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