Beloved Veteran Finds the Y is "For All"
Even as a child, James Kirschke, Ph.D., loved to swim. He learned quickly at the age of seven when some older kids threw him into a pool. Back then, he had no idea just how important this skill would be to him as an adult.
Dr. Kirschke is an Emeritus Professor of English at Villanova University, a Captain, United States Marine Corps, retired, an author and a member of the Upper Main Line YMCA.
In 1967, while leading his Rifle Platoon through a mined area, southwest of Da Nang Vietnam, he was severely wounded and nearly died. He lost both of his legs. After spending 15 months fighting for his life in the hospital and grappling with the loss of his legs, Dr. Kirschke was able to return home. “I couldn’t go back to my family home, a two-story home entered by a flight of steps, so I began searching for a suitable apartment. It was hard enough in those days to find any building I could get into in a wheelchair, let alone an apartment building,” shares Dr. Kirschke.
The other thing Dr. Kirschke wanted with the apartment? A pool. “I’ve always loved swimming, and after my injuries, it has become even more important to me for my physical and emotional well-being.” Ten years ago, when Dr. Kirschke and his wife relocated to the Greater Brandywine Area, access to a pool was still important. “We really liked the area, and had heard good things about the Y, and that was a big factor [in why we joined].”
A Welcoming Community
Dr. Kirschke enjoys the five pools at the Upper Main Line YMCA because there is always somewhere to swim. He also enjoys the gym and first-rate equipment. But the thing he appreciates the most about the Y is the people.
He believes that most Americans would be astonished to know some of the harassment he has endured for being in a wheelchair. People denying him help or even in some cases making fun of him. “I’m strong on the inside, kind of hard to shake up, but I’ve learned and seen so much, good and ugly, since being in a wheelchair. I am appreciative of the ugly treatment because I recognize the good in people. And the people at the Y are so friendly and helpful,” he says.
It’s not only the staff at the YMCA that Dr. Kirschke enjoys, he also loves interacting with the children he sees there. “Some of the most beautiful moments from being in a chair have come from the children at the Y. They are so amazing.” Dr. Kirschke enjoys their curiosity about his power chair and loves to answer the kids’ questions. “They are so curious and so tender-hearted.”
A Pennsylvania native, Dr. Kirschke has no desire to move, and neither does his wife. The Upper Main Line YMCA is one of the reasons they feel this way. “If I’m feeling down, I have gone to the Y to cheer up. The accepting environment means a lot to me, and I’m sure it does to other people too,” he says.
An Accomplished Professor, Presidential Appointee and Author
For 38 years, Dr. Kirschke taught at Villanova University. He was the first Villanova faculty member to receive four Bridge Builders Awards for his service to the disabled students on campus. As a Presidential appointee, he also served in key positions on the Board of the Jacob K. Javits National Graduate Fellowship Program.
Dr. Kirschke’s memoir, Not Going Home Alone: A Marine’s Story, was published in 2001 and tells the story of his tour of duty in Vietnam, the months of training leading up to it and the first six weeks of roughly 15 months he fought to stay alive after he was wounded. He has published four additional books, as well as numerous articles, essays and reviews.
The Upper Main Line YMCA is proud and honored to have a hero veteran as a member and a friend.