Doug Pringle was born in January 1944 in Petoskey, Michigan, but grew up on Army posts across the U.S., Germany, and Japan, including living in Kaiserslautern and Yokohama. His father was a mustang during WWII (he was enlisted before receiving a commission) and returned to active duty during the Korean war. Both of his parents were also figure skaters. He was raised with two sisters and a brother. When he was young, he enjoyed reading books about generals and participating in track and football. Depictions of West Point in movies and TV shows sparked his interest in attending the Academy, and he wanted to emulate his dad. He remembers walking into “the Area” to report to the “Man in the Red Sash,” noting that “you succumb to the pressure.” He did well academically, particularly enjoying science courses, but faced challenges militarily, recalling that he was a “bit of a rebel or prankster.” As a Cadet, he became a DJ for the cadet radio station, WKDT, and adopted the persona “Fat Daddy.” Being on the air was an escape and he gained notoriety because of his radio show. By Cow year, he knew Vietnam was in his future, especially as TACs with combat experience (like Norman Schwarzkopf) were assigned to the Academy. He branched Infantry because he wanted to be a combat leader. Following Airborne and Ranger Schools, he was assigned to 2nd Battalion of the 325th Infantry in the 82nd Airborne Division, serving as an S3 Air. In the spring of 1968, he deployed to Vietnam as a mechanized Infantry Platoon leader in the 9th Infantry Division. On his first day in the field, he recalls seeing civilians running away and encountering a booby trap – it was typical to never see the enemy. His platoon employed 4 M-113 APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers), and many Soldiers rode on top. He describes the day he lost his leg on a “Hammer and Anvil” mission. His platoon was part of the hammer. They advanced on a village and took fire from a bunker. As the fight intensified, he lost half of his platoon. He also lost his West Point ring but found it in the mud, and remembers an RPG flying at him. He then grabbed a LAW and advanced towards the bunker but suddenly he was flat on his back and missing his leg. He touched his leg bone sticking out of his boot before a medic applied a tourniquet and put him on a helicopter. He was conscious during the helicopter ride out, thinking, “If I stay awake, I can stay alive.” He was evacuated to Japan for a week before returning to the States on a jet, still heavily sedated. It was a year before he could walk again on a prosthetic. At first he was self-absorbed, but realized that humor and acceptance are parts of the healing process, and he had to learn to talk it out with other wounded veterans. A life-changing moment was when 10th Mountain veterans held a class to teach wounded veterans to ski. That taught him to “think about what I can do versus what I can’t do.” Skiing changed his life. He became an instructor and competitor, winning three national championships in slalom. He learned to be outwardly focused, and found a sense of belonging. He began teaching others with disabilities how to ski, challenging ski areas to accept skiers with handicaps through education and starting chapters for amputee skiers. He then led efforts to get the U.S. Olympic Committee to be more inclusive of Paralympic athletes so they would receive the same training, coaching, and services as Olympic athletics. He walked the wards in Army hospitals to visit amputees returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and met with their spouses. He wanted to help them gain skills to reintegrate into society and learn that they could still lead active lives.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his West Point experiences, his service in Vietnam, and his life as a ski instructor and advocate. He recalls several humorous experiences during his time at the Military Academy. He provides a detailed account of losing his leg in combat, being evacuated through increasing levels of care, and his recovery. He describes the life-changing experience of being challenged to learn to ski on one leg and how that set him on the path to helping others. He shares how he has worked to make skiing and other sports more accessible to disabled athletes. Finally, he reflects on what West Point means to him, noting that service to the country never ends.