It was April 22, 1951, Donald “Lofty” Large and the boys in B Company found themselves face down in the dirt. “Lofty” laid in the ditches by the Imjin River, holding his breath and waiting for the order to be given to attack.
At 20 years old, he was at war. Defending troop routes against the Chinese. Fighting against communism. His night was spent watching the fireworks in the sky from gunfire and returning fireworks of his own. The rest of the time he spent huddled in the cleft of a shallow hole. Hoping to avoid the damage of enemy gunfire.
The smell of gunpowder stuck in his nostrils. It seemed the ringing in his ears never ceased.
His company had the fight of their lives ahead of them that night.
This attack would pass. But it would soon be followed by another. Over and over and over. Seven attacks that night, to be exact. Historians would later name this the battle of Gloster Hill.
During the last attack, Lofty was shot in the left shoulder twice. He had two open bullet wounds and least 18 pieces of shrapnel in his arm. He also had a tracer from the same weapon embedded in his ribs.
He had narrowly escaped death. Shot to pieces and surrounded by an enemy much larger than them, B Company was soon forced to surrender.
That is when the real fight began. Lofty and his company were forced on a ten day march to a prison camp. With bullet wounds festering. Barefoot.
Forced to give up his boots, every step Lofty took was a painful one.
Sticks, thorns, and stinging bugs tore the flesh from his feet. His wounds felt like burning lava inside his damaged shoulder and chest.
His feet screamed. His legs gave out. But every time he fell, he got back up. Despite the agony, he marched on. He marched for his life. Staying down meant a bullet in the head from his Chinese captors.
He limped into camp barely alive. He would spend the next 700 days fighting for his life.
It would be two years later before he received any medical treatment for his bullet wounds. Days before his release as a prisoner of war, a Chinese doctor removed the tracer round from his ribs, but not the shrapnel in his shoulder.
He would leave camp a skeleton of his former fighting self.
His arm had atrophied, and he lost almost all movement in it.
He had been starved — going from a fighting weight of 217 pounds down to barely 136 pounds at the time of his release.
After his return home to the UK, Lofty was offered a medical discharge from the Army. But he wasn’t ready to give up the fight just yet. All he had ever wanted, since he was a child was to go to war. So he declined.
He was determined to go back into the battle. Not just as a regular. As a badass operator in Britain’s elite SAS unit — a fighting team equivalent to the US Delta Force. A group of the best-of-the-best warriors.
He worked tirelessly to recover — while serving his duties in the quartermaster’s stores and in the regimental police of his local unit. He conditioned and rehabilitated his arm on his own. He had to. No doctor would help him. They told him that his arm should be amputated. That getting use of his atrophied muscles would be impossible.
But Lofty proved them wrong. He battled through the pain. But he knew what he wanted. And he was willing to pay the price. It took time, but his arm recovered. He beat the odds.
Lofty decided to go big. And got accepted into the SAS.
He completed the brutal SAS training — twice, in fact — and was ready to deploy when he had a freak accident on his motorbike. He broke his ankle in several places. This would prevent him from being deployed. Or so you would think.
He just decided to keep the situation to himself.
Being no stranger to pain or the endurance of it, Lofty didn’t think twice before he wrapped his ankle, put on a boot two sizes too big to accommodate the swelling and pushed through the daggers of pain. With every step, he could feel the pressure on the broken shards in his ankle. He could feel the swelling. He could feel the heat of the pain.
He knew that if he could endure two years of torture and starvation and untreated wounds, Lofty knew that he could endure a few weeks of ankle pain.
But it wasn’t a week or two. The pain wasn’t about to stop with untreated broken bones. He had signed up for service that was full of unpleasant sacrifice.
He was asked to lead a team that was sent into the jungle to locate enemy special force bases and report back the location.
For fourteen day stretches, the men would have to be silent, never uttering a word to each other knowing that the slightest noise could cost them their lives. They couldn’t bathe. They couldn’t smoke. The only thing they could do was eat the same bland meal every day. Curried bullied beef. Curried sardines. Curried everything.
There was no limit to the pain the jungle could inflict.
They would go to sleep in the jungle and wake up covered in leeches. Having to pull them off every part of their bodies, even the most private ones. They suffered bug bites that they couldn’t slap at because it might be too noisy. They got rashes everywhere from the brush and the elements. Not scratching was a mental exercise in itself.
Mission after mission, Lofty and his team found victory. Tracking, locating, targeting and destroying the enemy. “The trick is to do it and hope to Christ you get away with it,” he would tell his unit.
And “get away with it” they did,
On Lofty’s last mission, he and the other soldiers were required to complete an 8,000 foot climb in the dark of night. It was like climbing up the side of a cliff ten times higher than the Empire State Building in New York City.
It was a mission that seemed impossible to almost everyone. Except Lofty.
They each carried packs on their backs full of special operations gear that weighed 120 lbs — more than half of Lofty’s body weight. One wrong step would mean instant death.
Every step — every climb — got heavier with the supplies on their backs.
Lofty felt his previous ankle injury with every movement. And every time he heaved his backpack to a more comfortable position, he was reminded of the bullets and shrapnel still lodged in his body.
For ten hours, they climbed, one foot in front of the other.
Raw agony. A test of human persistence. Lofty encouraged his men with every step.
The packs got heavier, but they moved forward. The mountain got steeper, but they would not stop. Their steps got slower, but they pressed on. Following Lofty, the man they looked up to.
When they finally reached the top, they surprised the rebels — easily defeating them. Another victory for a man who understood that big dreams require sacrifice and pain.
That was a lesson he would spend the next 27 years teaching as an instructor in the Army with one of the SAS’s two reserve regiments.
Even at the end, he practiced what he learned in the jungle. Fighting for his life. Fighting leukemia. Fighting through his pain. Never complaining. Always smiling. A warrior willing to do what was uncomfortable.
Big goals demand unpleasant sacrifice.
Lofty knew it. So do you. Now you have act like it.
Instead of avoiding anything that makes you hurt, you have to embrace the discomfort. It is what you powerful.
It’s what gets you closer to what you want to be.
Stop giving up on your dream just because you get banged up. Life is going to treat you unfairly.
You are going to feel pain. A lot of it.
There is no escaping it. No avoiding it. It’s on you to push through it. To find success. To follow your dreams.
You’ve heard the phrase: “No Pain. No Gain.” It’s the truth. What you go through, you grow through.
There is no path to success that avoids discomfort.
There is no opportunity for greatness without pain.
You have to decide. Do you want to be good or feel good? Do you want to make progress or excuses?
Lofty made his choice. Now it’s on you to make yours.
Pete Scholey, in his book SAS Heroes: Remarkable Soldiers, Extraordinary Men wrote perhaps the most compelling description of Lofty’s inspiring leadership: “When I joined the elite SAS unit, I was told that the best way to survive those first years in the squadron was to pick out someone who you thought you would like to be. It wasn’t until later in my service that I learned that most of us had picked the same person — Lofty.”