RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth walks on stage yesterday in the McKinley High School auditorium where she gave a talk to students. Duckworth graduated from McKinley in 1985, and was severely wounded while serving in Iraq with the Illinois Army National Guard.
Duckworth still stands strong
They wanted to know how she drives with two prosthetic legs and limited use of her right arm, what kind of vehicle she drives, how she takes a bath and how hard it is to walk.
For the record, Iraqi war veteran Maj. Ladda "Tammy" Duckworth, a 1985 McKinley High School graduate, drives her Ford F150 pickup truck using hand controls, she bathes in a bathtub or sits in a shower seat, and said it was harder learning to stand.
The McKinley High School Foundation held a tribute dinner for Duckworth last night to honor her for her commitment to serving her community and her country.
Duckworth visited her alma mater yesterday afternoon, speaking to an auditorium full of students and answering their questions. She joked about how she now gets better parking spaces, and even showed off how she can bend her right leg forward at the knee and use the underside of her foot as a coffee table.
There were times when the discussion turned serious, like when one student asked her whether losing her limbs was worth it.
"My sacrifice for this country was for the opportunity this country gave me, the fact that I had nothing and I could do anything," Duckworth said. "I ran for Congress. How many countries in the world can you go from being on food stamps to running for Congress, in one lifetime, in just 20 years, to be able to do that?"
Duckworth, who lost a close election last year for an Illinois seat in the House of Representatives, has opposed the war in Iraq and is critical of the government's treatment of its veterans.
Still, she said she would return to fight for the country because of the opportunities it afforded her.
When Duckworth and her family moved to Hawaii from Southeast Asia in 1985, she said they were so poor that they qualified for food stamps. During her one year at McKinley, Duckworth worked on the yearbook committee. And when the committee worked late into the evening several times a week, the yearbook adviser bought dinner for the kids because he knew many of them did not have money.
She also threw the discus and ran the 200 meters for the Tigers' track and field team. To compete in meets on neighbor islands, like the state finals for which she qualified in the discus, Duckworth said her coach paid for her and her teammates' fares, which they paid back by selling sweet bread and other fundraisers.
After graduation, Duckworth did her undergraduate work at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, got her master's degree at George Washington University and was working toward her Ph.D. at Northern Illinois University, all on student loans, when she was deployed to Iraq as a helicopter pilot in the Illinois National Guard.
On Nov. 12, 2004, while co-piloting a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, a rocket-propelled grenade hit her. She said the grenade exploded on her right leg ("atomized" it), crushed her left leg and severely damaged her right arm.
After recovering, Duckworth returned to Illinois and ran unsuccessfully for Congress last year as a Democrat.
Two weeks after the election, the Illinois governor appointed her director of the state's Department of Veteran Affairs.
Duckworth said she will make another run for public office, but not in 2008. She said she still has work to do for Illinois' veterans and is waiting to see how Punahou alumnus U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, also from Illinois, fares in next year's presidential race.