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Guerneville golfer, master woodworker and musician James Stadig has shot three holes-in-one — two this year alone — at Northwood Golf Club, a strategically timbered strip of green hemmed by the Russian River and River Road.

Stadig has done thrice what most golfers won't do even once despite driving the ball from an unconventional stance. As he swings the club, the toe of his left shoe isn't planted but slightly raised and he employs almost no body motion from the waist down. He wouldn't recommend that anyone emulate his drive.

And, by extension, he advises against placing oneself in a position to be blown up in combat.

It's been more than 40 years since the reluctant Vietnam War draftee suffered injuries that cost him most of his left leg when U.S. pilots bombed the wrong side during a Tet Offensive firefight. Even now he has to breathe deeply and swallow emotion while recounting it.

As his infantry unit scattered upon being hit by an air strike intended for the enemy, he recalled, "I just screamed, &‘Don't leave me!'"

Now 66, Stadig sports silver hair and an above-the-knee prosthesis. He isn't bitter but mournful for everyone involved in that chaotic debacle of a battle in 1968 in a mountain canyon out of Da Nang. Pondering the pilots who mistakenly bombed fellow Americans, he said, "I feel badly for those poor guys."

But he doesn't waste much time feeling sorry for himself. For years after limping away from the Army he roamed the world, reminding himself that despite the constant wars, "there is peace among the people."

Sixteen years ago he settled in Sonoma County and began to delve into three pursuits that he discovered bring him joy and don't require two good legs.

"I just have a wonderful life. I keep it simple," said the low-key and amiable vet at the sunny home off Armstrong Woods Road that he shares with his partner, Claudia Corello, Monte Rio's postmaster. A daughter from one of two previous marriages, 25-year-old Rene? is launching a law career in Berkeley.

One of the three foundations of Stadig's life is music. He plays drums and guitar with friends at least once a week.

His vocation, which supplements his military disability payments, is working in the orderly shop behind the house to create furniture from fine hardwoods.

"This is bubinga, from Africa," he said, touching the graceful, dark-wood coffee table in his living room.

An introduction to woodworking was a silver lining of the period of adolescent acting-out that hit while Stadig, a native of Santa Monica, was in junior high in Santa Ynez. He was unhappy about his parents splitting and looking to him to help bring up three younger siblings.

When his grades fell, he was handed over to a disciplinarian woodshop teacher. The defiant kid discovered he loved creating objects in wood. He became good at it and he returned to it after his life was derailed by the Vietnam injury.

Stadig was a pioneer in Sebastopol's Sculpture Jam and he's been active for years in the Sonoma County Woodworker Association. His specialty is hand-made wooden furniture, some of which sells at The Highlight Gallery in Mendocino.

Helena Bell, who works at the studio, called Stadig's work exquisite. "In fact," she said by phone, "I'm looking at a table and chairs that he made and they're absolutely museum quality."

Bell said many craftsman in wood will make tables but few want to get involved with the challenge of creating intricate, duplicate chairs. Stadig, she said, "makes an extraordinarily graceful and comfortable chair."

If he's not making music or chairs, or spending time with Corello, it's a good chance that Stadig's hitting balls at the Northwood club. Because of his disability, he doesn't have the most graceful swing on the course, but his straight, long strokes have sunk two holes-in-one on the eighth hole and one on the third.

Those were fun, but what keeps him coming back three times a week is the serenity of the wooded course and the pure joy of the game.

"It's a sport that I can play," he said. "I don't have to run or jump or anything. I like that it's physical, and the camaraderie."

Anyone who'd expect that a golfer with a prosthetic leg would ride a cart from shot to shot would, in Stadig's case, be mistaken.

"I always walk the course," the former infantryman said. "To me it's very meditative because you're in the redwoods.

On foot, he said, "You're a lot more a part of the game."

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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