At a time in life when most people are looking forward to retirement, Lawrence B. Bone is heading off to war.
The 64-year-old orthopedic surgeon has joined the Army Reserve and leaves for Afghanistan in July.
The reason he joined the military so late in life is to help wounded service members, and he knows personally why his skills are needed.
His son, Christian B. Bone, now 33, suffered a severe combat wound in Iraq in 2006. When his son returned home, the father-surgeon witnessed firsthand the price he paid.
"He was injured in a Humvee when an improvised explosive device went off," said Larry Bone, chairman of the orthopedic department at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. "When he returned to the States, I oversaw the physical therapy on his right shoulder."
Bone later learned that 75 percent of war wounds require the skilled hands of an orthopedist, and he soon realized he could not sit back and look toward the comfort and security of retirement, without first making a stand himself.
In 2009, Bone was at a military reception during a national orthopedic trauma meeting in Salt Lake City.
"We could use your services," he was told.
"I'm too old," Bone responded.
"We have an age waiver for areas of critical need," came the reply.
Orthopedic surgeons were among the most in demand for war duty.
The Orchard Park resident said that he returned home from the conference and that after discussing his intentions with "a very supportive family," he drove to the Army Reserve medical office in Amherst.
"I said ‘I want to volunteer.' Normally, 56 years old is the cutoff age for enlisting as a surgeon," Bone said. But he persisted, and 20 months later, he was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve.
A member of the 865th Combat Support Hospital at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, he is due to arrive in the war zone July 27 and can hardly wait to save lives.
"I'm very, very excited to go and get over there. Our young men and women are still being injured, and after 30 years of treating civilian trauma victims, I'm honored to have this opportunity to treat our military," he said.
Officials at the Niagara Falls base say they are thrilled to have him on board.
"We sent him to fill a critical shortage with our deploying 624th Forward Surgical Team at the Army Trauma Training Center in Miami last February, and he was well received by the unit and ATTC staff," Lt. Col. Dawn T. Flynn said at the Niagara Falls base. "He was able to share his experience with them."
Although he is older, Bone says, he anticipates he will be able to handle the rigors of serving in a war zone because he is in excellent physical condition. At 5-feet-7 and 155 pounds, he says, he feels more like 40 than 64.
"I've completed personal physical training and two courses in military trauma training," Bone said of his preparation.
Flynn added that Bone is not bragging when he says he is in top-notch physical condition.
"Our maximum score for the physical fitness test is 300, and Larry consistently scores between 340 and 360," Flynn said.
The journey to war, Bone added, has made him all the more aware of what others in the medical profession have been doing for years, taking time off from their civilian careers and defending the country by caring for those harmed on the front lines.
"Most recently, the 1982nd Forward Surgical Team at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station was deployed for nine months and was the busiest forward surgical team in Afghanistan during that time," Bone said.
By serving, he says, he will also have the chance to return the favor of caring for the wounded just as his son was cared for by a military orthopedic surgeon in Baghdad during the Iraq War.
"It's a chance for me to help someone else's son," he said.
After Christian Bone recovered from his war wounds, he left the military and studied to become a registered nurse. He now works at Buffalo Veterans Affairs Medical Center, attending to wounded veterans, something that makes his father and mother, Paula, a retired teacher, very proud.
As for the doctor's family, Bone said, "My son and wife are extremely supportive, though my two daughters sometimes wonder why, but understand their father."
Part of the reason Bone agreed to tell his story of this late-in-life career move, he said, was to draw attention to the Niagara Falls base, whose future remains in question as the Pentagon considers what bases to close for cost-saving purposes. The local base, Bone said, provides a critical link between the armed forces and citizen soldiers.
Bone is one of the oldest reservists to come out of the base. He'll turn 65 in October, during his deployment to Afghanistan, and said he has no plans of taking a break to file for Social Security retirement benefits. He says he is not even considering retirement from the Army Reserve or his position at UB.
In fact, he said, "I'm already looking forward to future deployments to Afghanistan."