Veteran who lost both arms in Iraq discovers a talent for painting

MIDDLEBORO Mass. -- Peter Damon turns out about 30 paintings a year and sells them for between $250 and $1,500. That's not enough to make ends meet, but it has made him whole again. He lost both arms in Iraq.

"Having this skill or pursuing this skill that even able-bodied people find difficult was something that really sort of gave me a boost and sort of made me feel like I fit in more in the world," Damon said.

He was an Army helicopter mechanic working on landing gear in 2003 when pressurized gas blew it apart, killing one soldier and gravely injuring him.

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Artist Peter Damon

CBS News

"I lost my right arm above the elbow, about three inches above the elbow, and my left about six inches below," he explained.

Damon was a blue-collar guy who had been an electrician before he joined the Army.

"How am I going to make a living and take care of my family? I had always worked with my hands," he said.

Then with a simple little drawing, a new future opened up for him.

"I was kind of miraculous in a way," Damon said. "Something was telling me to focus on this and everything will be alright."

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Peter Damon at work on a painting

CBS News

Damon doesn't have a state-of-the-art prosthetic arm -- just a hook, which he finds works best.

"It may be crude, but it's some of the best technology, I think, there is out there. This just feels like it's more of a part of me," Damon said.

He and his wife Jen run True Grit Art Gallery, where he showcases the work of local artists. With his disability check from Veterans Affairs, he can afford to be a starving artist. He is a man doing what he wants with his life, and doesn't look at his situation as a tough break.

"I don't see it that way," Damon said. "Suffering an injury like this sort of has a way of making you focus on what's important in life."

He believes his best work is still ahead of him. But with his depiction of simple American scenes, Damon has already produced his most extraordinary work.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.