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Veteran Badly Burned In Iraq Finds Therapy In Art

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Bill Kleinedler (WBZ-TV photo)

Bill Kleinedler (WBZ-TV photo)

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BOSTON (CBS) – Burrowed in his basement next to his washer and dryer and treadmill, you’ll find Bill Kleinedler, sketching out his next work of art.

“To sit there and think I can still do this, I can still use my hand, it floods you with an emotion that is just overpowering,” says Kleinedler. “It’s my art, it’s what I have inside of me, it’s what I have to offer.”

There are barns, lighthouses, and a bald eagle landing in a tree. Amazing detail, but Kleinedler isn’t just an artist, he’s a survivor. Seven years ago as an Army Staff Sergeant in Iraq, the Humvee that he was driving was blown up.

“After the detonation a huge boom, deafening boom went off, I felt the truck lift off the ground,” said Kleinedler. “Instantly the entire cabin was engulfed in flames. I remember I couldn’t see out the windshield, the flames and the smoke was so thick.”

The adrenaline masked what was happening. He was on fire and somehow made it out, rolling on the ground putting out the flames.

“When I got to the hospital and looked at myself, looked at my face for the first time and saw half my, more than half my face was melted off. Wow it was a very intense feeling.”

But it wasn’t just his face. His hands, his arms. First, second and third degree burns. But there was another kind of pain.

“Mostly I think the feeling was ‘Why did I live?’ Cause at this point, when I got to the hospital, I knew three people out of five had been killed on that truck and I was one of two to survive it,” said Kleinedler. “So the thoughts of ‘Why did I get to live? Why am I here?’”

The answer didn’t come quickly. Because he underwent 12 surgeries and hours of rehabilitation.

“During my rehabilitation rolling my fingers and trying to make a fist and do that and hold a fork and try to feed myself again and eventually hold a pencil again.”

His 15 years in the Army are over. His art now reflects his life.

Artwork by William Kleinedler

Artwork by William Kleinedler

A bald eagle landing represents homecoming. “It’s a piece about inbound veterans coming home,” he explains. And the three dead trees in the background represent the three friends he lost in Iraq.

Bill says for him the war is never over. “I’ll always remember the guys we lost,” he says. “I’ll never forget what happened, what I went through, what I saw and especially the lives that were lost.”

For more information about Bill’s artwork visit kleinedlerstudios.com or email william.kleinedler@verizon.net.

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