John B. Dodds

Funeral services for John Bruce Dodds, Class of 1975, were held at the Academy Cadet Protestant Chapel on March 31, 1983, with burial in the Academy Cemetery. Mr. Dodds died of cancer on March 28 in Vacaville, Calif. 

While attending the Academy, Mr. Dodds had one leg amputated in April 1974, and Academy officials said he could not graduate because his handicap would prevent him from being commissioned as an officer. U.S. Sen. Gale McGee and Rep. Teno Roncalio, both Wyoming Democrats, introduced legislation to waive regulations so that Mr. Dodds could graduate. Before debate on the legislation got underway, Air Force Secretary John F. McLucas ruled that Mr. Dodds could complete his senior year and graduate with his class.

Mr. Dodds worked for Northrop Aviation in Los Angeles for two years after he was graduated. He was awarded a law degree from Notre Dame Law School in South Bend, Ind. and then worked as an attorney with the Houston law firm of Fulbright and Jaworski. The late Leon Jaworski was the Watergate special prosecutor.

Mr. Dodds was a member of the Cadet Mountain Club, the Academy Intramural Tennis Team and the Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps.

A portion of the eulogy by Colonel Malham M. Wakin, professor and head of the Academy’s Department of Philosophy and Fine Arts, reflects the feelings of Mr. Dodds’ friends and classmates toward him: 

“...Bruce was determined to graduate from the Academy although normal procedures would have had him released at the end of his junior year because he was no longer physically qualified for a commission. However, due to his own display of rugged persistence and the petitions of his fellow cadets to Congress and the Air Staff, Bruce was permitted to continue at the Academy and graduate with his class. He adapted well to a prosthesis, became a licensed pilot and flew in his own plane, and was an enthusiastic skier! The Graduating Class of 1975 presented Bruce with a special award of a plaque and sabre and at graduation when he received his diploma the entire Cadet Wing gave him a standing ovation. Here was an extraordinary human being, who fought best when a crisis was upon him – who responded with great spirit to physical hardship and pain – conquering those obstacles to do things that many of us only wish we could do."           

"His goal was to make a meaningful contribution with his life and he fulfilled that goal even though he had many fewer years to do so than those of us who knew and loved him. His example of the virtuous life makes him one of our modern-day heroes, worthy to serve as an inspiration to coming generations of Air Force Academy and Notre Dame Students. He stood tallest when he had only one leg to stand on; perhaps his courage will be shared by those of us who are blessed with two healthy ones.’’

Mr. Dodds is survived by his parents, John and Mrs. Grace Dodds of Vacaville. Contributions in his memory may be made to the John Bruce Dodds Memorial Fund, Association of Graduates, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. 80840.




Photographs and Memories


Bruce Dodds was my best friend at the Academy. He was fiercely competitive in everything he did whether it was intramurals, bicycling or foosball. He told me that he had hardly ever been sick, never even having the common cold his entire life.  He only visited the cadet clinic twice. The first time was to have a boil removed from his neck where they left an inch long railroad type scar; he referred to them as the cadet hobby shop from then on until he went down with what he thought was a pulled groin only to have his leg taken off a week later. I remember visiting him shortly after in Fitzsimons Hospital where he showed me a telegram he had received from President Carter.
Bruce was such a determined athlete that he was walking six weeks after his surgery on what they called prosthetics back in 1974. His new leg was basically a fiberglass frame with a joint that would lock as he took a step and pushed off and a spring mechanism that swung the leg forward for the next step. It didn’t work so well when he was walking into a wind, but he became so accomplished with it that you might not know he had an artificial leg; He didn’t do well with stairs and had special dispensation to use the elevator in the academic building. One funny story was that he was waiting for the elevator when a professor walked up. The officer watched him walk into the elevator very carefully and asked him if he had something wrong with his leg. Because his leg had a hinge at the top, Bruce lifted his leg straight in the air above his head and said, “Sir, I believe I have a little crick in my leg.” Bruce had a great sense of humor. He would go over to people’s houses and when they mentioned how much he ate, he would say it was because he had a hollow leg.
Bruce was a fun guy to be with and he and I logged hundreds of hours in the tunnels below the academy. We found some of the most amazing things down there that I can’t divulge to this day. I remember one Saturday night, before he lost his leg, Bruce and I saw a movie at Arnold Hall about a blind person. All the way back to the dorm we talked about what it would be like to be blind. Bruce came up with this great idea. We pulled watch caps down over our faces and put our parkas on backwards with the hoods zipped up making us virtually blind.  Our goal was to make it from 39 Squadron all the way to the Wright Brother’s statues. This was back when the Air Gardens actually had water in them and navigating through them was intense.
I had a lot of fun with Bruce Dodds and still miss him to this day.

– Tom Laurie