Vincent Cannady, a 46-year-old political science graduate student, is both a tranquil, farm dwelling cowboy and a hardcore U.S. Army veteran. His life’s journey is rich in narratives of a double-minded upbringing, war, tragedy and successful business ventures. As a student suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), he strives to make a difference at UMKC.
Born in Durham, N.C. and raised in Raeford, N.C., Cannady lived a dual lifestyle.
“I was this poor farm boy during the school year, but in the summer I was a rich kid when I stayed with my dad [in Durham],” he said.
In 1985, Cannady graduated early from Vincent High School after completing basic training for the Army that summer.
“I didn’t have to go to high school my senior year because I had enough credits,” Cannady said.
Instead, he went into the Army and served as a combat medic. Cannady had served in the Army for only three years when his life was struck by a tragedy that still heavily impacts him today: The Ramstein Air Show Crash of 1988.
Cannady was a visiting combat medic in Ramstein, West Germany. The night before the air show, his lieutenant took him and other members of his troop to the officer’s club where different military officers were socializing.
“I remember seeing this Italian officer with four models on his arm,” he said. “They were all carrying drinks and putting drinks in his mouth. I didn’t know who he was until the day after the accident.”
The next day, Cannady’s commander sent him to the air show in uniform to show support for the Air Force. Cannady took his German girlfriend with him.
“My girlfriend and I were going to the vending machine to grab a beer,” he said. “The next thing we knew, there was an explosion.”
Two groups of planes were supposed to form two hearts while another plane was supposed to fly through them, creating the illusion that it was piercing the hearts. The “piercing” aircraft collided into the “heart” planes and crash-landed onto the runway below. When it fell, fuselage and fuel rolled into the spectator area of nearly 300,000 people.
While this was happening, another one of the “heart” planes damaged by the first collision crashed into the emergency helicopter nearby.
A third aircraft disintegrated due to the heat from the explosions and fires from the first impacts. Pieces of the plane flew into the crowd. Cannady and his girlfriend were smashed against a tree as people trampled by them.
Cannady suffered many injuries, but as a combat medic, he had to clean up the bodies.
“They say there were 77 people who were killed, but I swear it was at least 115. I think they only counted the American bodies,” he said.
What hurt Cannady the most was finding women and children.
“I saw babies,” he said. “My friends’ sons and daughters soaked in jet fuel. It fried their lungs. I was the one that found them. Wars? Nothing. But, seeing kids … women … I lasted about three more months in the military after that.”
Cannady believes this triggered PTSD.
“I was having nightmares. I would see people burst into flames,” he said.
In 1989, he was discharged from the military and began a college career at DeVry. Cannady said he became a beach bum for a few years after leaving the Army.
“I didn’t know who I was. I lived on the beach and it was great,” he said.
After meandering through jobs for nearly six years, he got his big break and became a self-acclaimed internet-cell-phone-guru.
“I stumbled into a job at Motorola where we developed something called HDML, hand held device markup language. I was one of the first five engineers to work on internet markup language,” Cannady said.
Becoming an innovator in technology communication opened the door for Cannady to create a comfortable lifestyle for himself.
But PTSD had a profound effect on his personal life.
“I didn’t know I had it back then,” he said, “but I am sure it is what caused the dissolution of my first marriage.” Depressed and without hope, Cannady said that he attempted suicide, but was saved by his dog.
“He hit the gun and the bullet went into the ceiling,” he said.
Soon after, he met his current wife, a woman from England.
“We went to Las Vegas with her sister and mom and got married at the Chapel of Dreams,” he said.
After Cannady received a lucrative job offer from Sprint, the couple moved to Overland Park, Kan. Upon settling down, Cannady’s desire was to earn his Ph.D. in political science. After doing some research, he chose UMKC. Here, Cannady uses his life experiences to help other students with disabilities. He is currently organizing a group called Disabled Students in Higher Education that focuses on advocacy. The group already has 20 members and five officers.
“My experiences here at UMKC drove me to create this group,” he said. “I realized that I wasn’t receiving the right accommodations. I talked to other disabled students and they said the same thing.”
Cannady explained not only war veterans suffer from PTSD.
“PTSD can come from rape. It can come from a car accident. It can come from any event that has traumatized you,” Cannady said.
Cannady said his goal is to see all students with disabilities accommodated. “PTSD is a disability. Attention deficit disorder is a disability. Test anxiety is a disability,” he said. “The list of disabilities is so huge and most of them are unseen. Students who suffer with these things need to know and need to be accommodated appropriately. All it takes is proper documentation from a psychologist,” he said.
For more information about Disabled Students in Higher Education, visit www.dshe.org.