14 Sep 2014
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Vietnam Vet Gets New 'Wheels'

John Behan encouraged a fellow Montauk native when he broke his neck; Now Larry Keller is encouraging him to do things he hasn't been able to do in 50 years thanks to his new Action Trackchair.

Vietnam Vet Gets New 'Wheels' Vietnam Vet Gets New 'Wheels' Vietnam Vet Gets New 'Wheels'
Montauk resident John Behan has hardly let the loss of his legs during Vietnam hold him back, but a new all-terrain wheelchair he received last week is allowing for possibilities he hasn't quite known in 50 years. 

Behan, a former state assemblyman, got the Action Trackchair, an off-road electric wheelchair that allows for access to the beach, through mud, snow, and more, two days before the snow storm, giving him the freedom to go pick up his mail, a task that would have kept in doors before. 

The wheelchair was paid for thanks to a fund for wounded veterans, but it was delivered by a familiar face, fellow Montauk native, Larry Keller Jr., who owns  OTP Mobility Incorporated, Long Island's Action Trackchair dealer and also lives with a disability. Behan grew up with Keller's parents, and Keller grew up with Behan's children.

Paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident on the William Floyd Parkway in July 2009, Keller knows all too well about mobility challenges. "They told me I may never walk again," he said. "I said, 'You watch me walk out of here'." Three and a half months later, that's exactly what he did. 

Despite proving doctors wrong, Keller said he still faces challenges from breaking his neck. Walking is more like exercise, and he isn't able to carry items, and so he still makes use of his chair, which he discovered at an expo. Once he saw how well it works, he decided to start a business, about two years ago.

"Laying there paralyzed, I was thinking how am I going to get where I love again?" Keller recalled, and now when he presents a chair to an amputee or someone who is paralyzed, "Their eyes light up and the smile from ear to ear." 

One of the many people who encouraged him throughout his rehabilitation was Behan, someone Keller found a source of inspiration.

"In a crazy way, he reminds me of myself when I came home from Vietnam," Behan said. "When I came home from Vietnam, I was one of the guys who said you can't tell me what to do when they told me I can't go to the beach," he said.

He recalled using his prosthetic legs to walk onto the beach, laying a towel as close the water as he could get, then taking the prosthetics off and going for swim, then putting them back on to get off the beach. The routine was tiring, especially as he grew older, he said, adding that it was also another reminder of limitations he faces. "I'm 70 years old now — those days are over."

Last year, he applied for the Action Trackchair through the Independence Fund, a private organization started in 2007 to provide support for post-9/11 wounded veterans. They later made funds available to all wounded veterans. A new chair runs about $11,400.

In fact, Fox news commentator Bill O'Reilly — who recently caused a stir razing a well-known bungalow to make way for a larger house in Montauk after buying it for $8.5 million — helped promote the Independence Fund by raising money for wounded veteran-amputees to receive the Action Trackchair, which is manufactured by a small company in Michigan.

Behan received word a few months ago that his application had been approved.

"He's now encouraging me to do things I haven't done in a long time," Behan said after Keller delivered his new wheelchair. 

"I'm excited to have it for the winter, and I'm even more excited to have it for the summer," he said. "I'll be able to go to the ocean, go down the end of East Lake Drive, where my family goes, and go to Gin Beach again, and not have to worry about running somebody over with my truck. It will make me feel — well, I can't say 20, but it will make me feel like I am 40 again," he said with a laugh. 

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