Len Anderson, a tough Air Force veteran from Chester, stopped work Wednesday at the transaxle place he heads to each day and pulled out his cellphone.
The phone has a video clip on it. In that clip his only son, his namesake, gets blown up by a bomb in Afghanistan.
“The first time I saw it, well it just hurt to watch it,” Anderson said. “I told him when he finally got back to the states, to the hospital, that I would climb in that bed and take the pain for him. But he looked right at me and said, ‘Daddy, I signed up for this. I gotta take this pain myself.’ ”
The pain is not just hurt. Leonard Anderson, Northwestern High School graduate, a tough kid who grew up in Chester, lost his left hand and three fingers on his right hand. Somehow, Azza, the military dog he was handling in combat, survived.
The July 28 explosion was filmed by a crew doing a special on military dog handlers for Animal Planet called “Glory Hounds.” That special airs at 8 tonight.
“I look at that video, and we are just so thankful he is alive,” said Susan Anderson, Leonard Anderson’s stepmother.
Leonard Anderson, 29, with a wife and two young kids, tells his story of handling a dog in war where handlers and dogs have a bounty on their heads because of their skill at finding explosives – and then that awful remote-control bomb that took away one hand and part of another.
“I’m proud of my boy; he has never complained once since this happened,” Len Anderson said. “He’s tough. He’s had a positive attitude from the first day, because he always said that he knew what he was getting into.”
Leonard Anderson’s mother, Elyse Brakefield, is a Chester native, too. Toughness is part of the soil in Chester. Leonard Anderson enlisted soon after high school and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but he was no dog-crazy kid before that.
Just a tough teen who played football and baseball, wrecked a couple of cars and had girls crazy over his good looks.
“We had a retriever, one other dog – even a wiener dog,” his father said. “But after he was in the service, he wanted to be a dog trainer and he turned into one of the best.”
The Air Force turned young Leonard Anderson into a tough airman whose whole life outside of his wife, Kelly, son, Aiden, and daughter, Carlie, was his dog and saving other troops from bombs.
The skill of the handler and the dog, a Belgian Malinois, is such an important role in Afghanistan that the Taliban has bounties on the heads of both man and beast.
For more than six months, Leonard Anderson has been in hospitals and rehabilitation centers as he recovers from his wounds and attempts to go on with his military career. He’s had blood vessel transplants that saved his legs after the wounds.
He’s learning to write again and to do all that he did before.
Azza is right there with him.
The Andersons lost a daughter, Elyse, several years ago after a drunk driver hit her car head on. The call about the explosion in war was almost too much for Len Anderson, the father, to bear.
But Len Anderson is proud of his son, who has not quit on the Air Force, or his dog, or his country after such terrible injuries.
“I have a son who has been hurt, lost part of himself, so that the rest of us can be free,” Len Anderson said. “He’s a tough guy and a loyal guy. He’s a man.”
He’s a hero, Dad.