Meredith Land, NBC 5 News
First Officer Tom Marquardt helped create a partnership between American Airlines and Air Compassion for Veterans, to help families of veterans torn apart during rehabilitation.
An American Airlines pilot who has a prosthetic leg is helping brighten the lives of wounded veterans.
First Officer Tom Marquardt said he appreciates more than ever the walk around the exterior of the plane he makes before every commercial flight.
A blood clot formed in his leg while he was flying a combat mission in Afghanistan as part of the Air Force Reserve six years ago. Doctors and Marquardt chose to amputate.
"I've kind of kept it quiet," he said. "I don't talk about it that much," he said.
The severe injury kept him away from his 22-year passion of flying.
His 12-month rehab stint at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio kept him away from his wife and three children in New Jersey. Like so many veterans, he had to be mentally tough.
"That's a pilot's mentality -- if it's not working this way, we're going to take another avenue to get there, one way or the other," Marquardt said.
He became a hero for other military veterans in rehab with him. Unlike the others, Marquardt had travel privileges through American Airlines and could visit his family.
Marquardt helped create a partnership between American Airlines and Air Compassion for Veterans to help families of veterans torn apart during rehabilitation.
"There's a lot of guys that I know that have done much more heroic things than I could ever claim to do," he said.
Marquardt recently was recertified to fly. He said being back in the air is like therapy, and looking back, he would do it all again.
"Yes, it was absolutely worth it all, getting back to some semblance of a normal life," he said. "That's everyone's goal."
He said his prosthetic leg is almost like a badge of honor, especially with his kids.
"They really don't know me other than having a prosthetic limb," Marquardt said. "I call it my 'robot leg,' and that's what they call it. Maybe some day, I will write about my flying adventures of the one-legged pilot."
But for now, he has more flying hours to log.