KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WFRV) – Hank Calmes said he’s always been lucky. Several near-death experiences in his life have shown him why.

“My mom handed me a rosary and said, ‘Say it every day,'” Calmes recalled.

That was the last thing Calmes’ mother told him before he left for Vietnam, and a moment that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Just two years before that in 1968, Hank graduated high school and joined the Army.

“If you weren’t college material, which I wasn’t, I was going to the service. As a senior in high school, I volunteered for the draft so I could get going and get out of there,” he said.

As a squad leader, Calmes was based in Long Binh, Vietnam.

Just 21 days into his time there, tragedy struck.  

“I stepped on a land mine. It mostly went up behind me, so it took everything off my back, my backpack and everything off,” said Calmes. “Some of the shrapnel went through my camera, so I have the last picture of Vietnam, and the first picture in the Denver hospital, so it split right in half,” he said.

But the one picture engrained in Calmes’ mind was what he saw when he opened his eyes after the shrapnel hit.

“When I got hit, we’re sitting there in the chopper, we called for a chopper to come in but they couldn’t come in because we were under fire,” he said. “And then, I looked, and the rosary was wrapped around my gun barrel. [At the time] I thought it was a punishment for not saying it,” Calmes said.

Though he didn’t listen to his mother’s advice to pray every day, Calmes would learn that in fact, it wasn’t a punishment; just moments later, the chopper was cleared to fly in, and Calmes and four others were saved.

Call luck, call it coincidence, it’s a moment that has never left Hank.

“I think it was just a sign that [the Lord] was with me,” Calmes said. “All of the things that have happened to me in life, all the times I’ve lucked out, everybody says I’m lucky, but I’ve just had someone praying for me. My mother,” he said.

Calmes never shared what had happened to him, until many years later when he chronicled his stories in a book for his grandchildren called, ‘He Walks With Me.’

Calmes now spends his time volunteering, he’s the VFW Post Commander at Freedom Post 7692, helping other veterans to find the support and resources they need. To learn more about joining, click here.