Young at Heart

Mr. Rigo celebrates his birthday at the PVA National Office in Wash., DC. Photo PVA staffer.

A milestone birthday for long time member and veteran Frank Rigo

Elder statesman Frank J. Rigo of Phoenix, a member of Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) for more than 50 years celebrates his 90th birthday October 7.

Mr. Rigo has been a member of PVA for more than 50 years. He served for 25 years as national secretary, retiring in 2002, and was reelected to the position in 2008, where he served until 2011.

He is a charter member of the PVA Arizona Chapter and served as its secretary for eight years. He is also a life member of both the Arizona Chapter and the former Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (now United Spinal Association).

Mr. Rigo celebrates his birthday at the PVA National Office in Wash., DC. Photo PVA staffer.

Mr. Rigo served with honor in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War.

"I was a senior in high school when the Japanese attacked," Rigo says. "We were quite aware that war was now all around us and that it was just a matter of time before the United States got into it."

Mr. Rigo realized that day his life, and that of his generation, was about to change—there would be no going back. He went on to finish high school in June 1942 and moved to San Diego, where he spent the rest of the year at Consolidated Aircraft assembling military aircraft.

He entered the Army Signal Corps (which became Army Air Corps and in September 1947 the U.S. Air Force) and spent the war in the Pacific as an air traffic controller.

When Mr. Rigo was first paralyzed in the 1950s, he quickly discovered that the world wasn’t very friendly for people who use wheelchairs—for example, there were no curb cuts to help a wheelchair user get onto a sidewalk. And that’s just one of many obstacles he faced.

Frank Rigo says:

"If you were in a wheelchair in the 1950s, you had to be a lot more athletic. Because there were no curb cuts, you had to learn to jump curbs with your wheelchair. Department stores were another problem. I learned how to go up and down escalators in my chair.

I’ve been involved with PVA for more than 50 years. They helped change the world for people in wheelchairs, starting with the VA hospitals. They are much easier to get around in these days compared to my first experience in the 1950s. Back then; the Long Beach VAMC hospital was a converted Army barracks.

Today, many patients have a private bathroom and shower, unlike the days of one large room used by several patients with a bathtub. Accessibility was not commonplace and even something as simple as opening a door turned into a daily frustration.

Patients were forced to jerk the door toward you, then quickly jam your foot in the door, before pulling the door open. Now, doors open automatically as you approach.

The world isn’t perfect—I still avoid department stores from during the holidays because the aisles are choked with displays and large tables with merchandise. But at least I don’t find myself staring up at a building with lobby doors that are too small, or faced with revolving doors wondering, how am I going to get in there?"

PN Online says:

Happy Birthday Mr. Rigo. Thank you for the many years of service.


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