When he was a young soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, says Bobby Muller, he was well on his way to becoming "an asshole, an arrogant, bad-ass Marine." Instead, at the age of 23, he was shot through the chest in battle and paralyzed.
On that day in 1969, Muller was sure he was not coming back. "This is key: I absolutely experienced dying," he says. "My last thoughts were, 'I'm gonna die. On this shitty piece of ground. I don't fucking believe it!' The aloneness of it, the finality of it, the irreversibility of it, I absolutely, completely got it."
He woke up on a hospital ship, shocked to be alive. The bad news that he would be paralyzed did not faze him; nor did the entreaties of a hospital psychologist to "cry to mourn the loss" of half his body. "I said to her, 'Why do I gotta cry? I'm ecstatic that I'm here, because I shouldn't be here! I got dealt back into the game!'"
Since then, the former lieutenant has founded, among other organizations, the Vietnam Veterans of America; the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation; and, with a friend, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.