By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (May 3, 2014) – In at 9:00 A.M., out before 2:00 P.M. It has to be a record for dedicated volunteers.
On Saturday groups gathered in various places all around the house. They moved like ants on the trail of a food source. But the trail quickly disappeared as rectangles of sod plopped in place over bare dirt. A quick nudge with the boot or shoe and it was in perfect place. No bare spots.
Other smaller groups were busy planting flowers, small citrus trees, 8 and 9-foot trees at the entrance.
“It is amazing,” said Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) volunteer coordinator April Matt. “I was afraid people would stay home because of the rain,” And rain it did. Not all the time and luckily not a “frog strangler” as described by the late comedian and story-teller Andy Griffith. “I won’t have to water for awhile,” said LCpl. Brandon Long, the new homeowner. His wife Nicole kept talking about all the people who came to help with the landscaping. “Ever since we decided to make this our home, I get this feeling of acceptance by the people of St. Augustine. It makes me cry from time to time.”
Members of the Marine Corps League, Detachment #383 corralled Long for a few minutes of picture taking. When Long attempted to thank them for their help, Harry Manford said, “No thanks necessary. You are a Marine. You are family. We take care of our own.” “But it is nice to hear,” Manford added.
Many things can be said, pro and con, about the Marine Corps, but ‘Semper Fidelis’ reigned supreme throughout and in today’s world, this is almost unique. “This is one of the reasons I took this job,” said Gina Colon, Community Outreach Coordinator for HFOT, the builder of the home. “I do not take the respect and admiration people feel for our wounded veterans for granted. Each encounter brings up feelings I did not know I had. Veterans are an incredible group of souls. I love them so much!”
Homes For Our Troops is based in Massachusetts and builds specialty homes for veterans who have lost limbs while serving their country.
Long lost both of his legs in an IED blast in Sangin, Afghanistan on December 21, 2010.
Two days before the birth of his daughter, LCpl Long was walking through an area comprised of nothing but river rocks, while on a foot patrol with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, when he stepped on an IED resulting in multiple traumatic injuries. Heroic measures took place over the next hour as his squad fought to save his life while waiting for a helicopter to arrive for MEDEVAC.
A surprise visit from Tyler Southern, his wife Ashley and 4-month-old son caused a minor stir as volunteers took a few minutes to pay respects. Tyler and his family were the first to receive an HFOT home in the neighborhood. They were followed by John Hayes his wife, Janel and three young daughters. Janel was like a jack-in-the-box who popped in and out throughout the day.
One quote of note came from Marine and Vietnam Veteran Tom Crawford. ”It is amazing seeing the number of kids here with their parents. No cell phones, no game apps, just kids being kids. It has been a very long time I have seen a kid covered in dirt from one end to the other. There is hope for the world.”
After the crew had finished, all were gathered around the flag pole at the entrance to the home for a group shot. April Matt introduced Danielle McQuarry of Two Men and A Truck.
McQuarry announced that the company will be moving the Longs into their new home at no cost.
The ceremony to present the Long family with the key to their new home will be conducted on July 26, 2014 at 11:00 A. M.