by Ed Mattson
On the counter in the coffee shop was a brochure describing a unique service which provides homes for Veterans who have returned home disabled. I glanced through the pages quickly and stuck it in my back pocket to read when I had a chance. I’ve always been the curious type and am always on the look-out for interesting subjects, which I can share with the readers of my columns who were predominantly Veterans and active-duty military personnel.
It was in the late summer of 2010 when I walked into that coffee shop in Statesville, NC. My wife and her son Cris had just relocated to the US from the Republic of Moldova and we had just leased a three bedroom condominium in the Lake Norman town of Mooresville about 15 minutes south of Statesville. We moved in with nothing but two inflatable mattresses and a 9″ flat screen mini-TV. Everything else we owned was either in Moldova or in a small storage location in Indiana where I used to have an office. It was like starting all over in life with absolutely nothing.
In all the hustle and hassle relocation brings, getting bummed-out seemed to be a good way to describe the feeling of such a bold move at my age, especially when trying to keep-up with my wife of four years who is 23 years my junior, a new 83 year old mother-in-law to care for still residing in the old country, and two new sons. Making it all work out was a lot more than we could handle on our own so I silently prayed every night for help in understanding why I had chosen this path which might have been considered “crazy” even when I wore a younger man’s shoes.
So, what got us to Statesville and into that coffee shop? My wife was interested in enrolling in the local college to increase her proficiency in English to perhaps get a job as an interpreter with Homeland Security or the CIA. Her native language is Russian, one of the critical languages needed in this age of global economies and nervous geopolitical uncertainties. The closest local college was in Statesville, so that became the destination that day. Because the day started early, I was in desperate need of some high octane coffee, while my wife was meeting with the school’s guidance counselor, so I just wandered in off the street.
I don’t know what made us chose to live in North Carolina or why we ended up in Mooresville other than the fact that North Carolina is the Partner State of Moldova under the National Guard Bureau of International Affairs-State Partnership Program (NGBIA-SPP). I think that while our choice on North Carolina might have originated with more than a little self-interest, it was probably more in line with a little Devine Providence.
I used to tell people, “North Carolina is a great place to live because the weather is a lot like California without the purple hair”. But as it turns out, North Carolina is also a state that is home to more than 750,000 Veterans, Richard’s Coffee Shop and Military Museum (which I have written about on occasion), the Race Car Capital of the World (Home of NASCAR and NHRA), the home office location for a number of charitable groups I have worked with over the years doing international service projects with Rotary; and the home of Purple Heart Homes; seemingly every group I am destined to work with the rest of my life. NOTE: ABC did a story on Purple Heart Homes. CLICK THIS LINK to watch it.
So, what exactly was in that brochure I picked up so nonchalantly and why is so important for me to share it with you today? The answer is INSPIRATION.
To those who have followed my writings this past year, I have brought up discussions that affect the Veteran, from Agent Orange and PTSD, to the politics of balancing the federal budget and insuring the earned benefits of all Veterans are preserved in comparison to so-called entitlement programs to which every special interest group in the country so readily and greedily made a deal with the devil to pledge their vote in exchange for a teat of government largess.
I read somewhere it is the the Veteran… It’s the Veteran, not the reporter, who has given us the freedom of the press; It’s the Veteran, not the poet, who has given us the freedom of speech; It’s the Veteran who gives us the freedom to demonstrate, not the Constitution; It’s the Veteran who salutes the flag, who served beneath the flag, and whose coffins are draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag. It has become our military’s motto to never leave a soldier behind in battle, and it should be our nation’s goal to never leave a soldier behind at home.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way for the .045% of those who chose to defend our country and defend those around the world who are staring at the face of tyranny. So few choose the path of military service that the nation as a whole, simply takes liberty and freedom for granted, while the government bestows more and more benefits on those who chose not to earn them in exchange for purchasing their vote. In the end, it is the Veteran who must fight every step of the way to get the benefits they were promised and have earned. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is what it is.
As is war, the Veteran has learned that only other Veterans are there when the chips are down. Only another Veteran can be counted upon when the government fails to live up to the promises made to get a young enlistee to sign on to serve the country. It’s the hundreds of Veteran-based organizations that have sprung up to fill the void when government drops the ball. Purple Heart Homes has found its niche, like so many other Veterans-helping-Veterans organizations, in providing real and tangible services to our Band of Brothers, that have received service-connected disabilities in defense of our American Dream.
When the bullets start flying and your life is in danger, the soldier quickly learns about dependency…dependency on the skills he/she learned in training, and dependency on the team to cover his/her back. Long gone are the promises made by the recruiter, long forgotten are thoughts of glory, and far, far away are the politicians who were responsible for sending our troops into harm’s way. All that is left is survival and dependency on one’s self and each other. That intimacy of the moment, repeated often on the battlefield is what bonds these heroes to each other. It is closer than marriage for many, as close as God for some others, but it will last a lifetime for those who will make the transition from warrior to citizen.
Such a bond exists between Dale Beatty and John Gallina. Dale served in a Field Artillery Unit until 2003 when he was selected to become the full-time National Guard Readiness NCO for the Statesville Unit. His unit was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom where it was attached directly to the 1st Infantry Division near Bayji, Iraq. On November 15, 2004 while on a patrol in an active insurgent operations theater, the vehicle Beatty was riding in was ripped apart by an anti tank mine. Riding alongside Beatty was John Gallina. Both were lucky to survive the incident, and their Team did not let them down. The good Lord was surely riding with them that day because they were still alive and were evacuated to safety. Their vehicle was nothing but a pile of debris.
There will be many who read this story and probably complain about my interjecting the presence of God into the scene, but how else can one explain two mangled bodies that probably wouldn’t have survived in other wars being spared…and spared for a specific purpose. You see Dale became a double amputee, losing both legs below the knees. Now, I subsequently met Dale down at Richard’s Coffee Shop in what I tell others, was an inspirational moment in my life. Dale may not agree with me that his life was spared for a specific purpose, in fact we never discussed that in the 20 or so minutes we had coffee. We didn’t have to and he may not even realize it, but it was written all over him.
John Gallina, as I mentioned, was riding in the same vehicle with Dale and suffered severe head and back injuries. I was only introduced to John and spent no time talking with him, yet, anyone could see it…that unmistakable air, that these guys really were different. Call it a “cut above”, or simply a “prevailing presence”, but there was no doubt in my mind that destiny had chosen a course that can only be described as Devine Providence for them. To understand where I am coming from, just follow along…
When Dale returned to the US, he, like so many other Veterans, had to endure a lengthy rehabilitation, which even in the best of times, is a challenge that breaks the souls of many who try. Upon arriving back in Statesville the transitioning challenges were the next big hurdle, but thanks to support from the Iredell Homes Builders Association and many members from the community of Statesville, a specially adapted barrier free home was built for Beatty and his family. Beatty served as the general contractor as the home was being constructed.
John Gallina was there to lend a hand in building this specially adapted home for his friend and Band of Brothers team member. So successful was this venture between old friends that the two men decided to team up with the common goal of providing help for both young AND older veterans with disabilities—giving them back their freedom by making construction modifications to remove living barriers in their current homes.
They formed Purple Heart Homes, a 501-c-3 non-profit entity, and embarked on my “so-called” Devine Providence “specific purpose”, dedicated to providing personalized housing solutions for Service Connected Disabled Veterans and their families that are substantial in function, design and quality—homes that are fit to welcome home, and thank, the fighting men and women of America.
Each case is different, but in all cases Purple Heart Homes provides at little or no cost to the veteran a “quality of life solution” that creates an injury specific, barrier free-living environment. These solutions can range from remodeling an existing home already owned by the veteran, to creating an entirely new home from the ground up. They are also working on a deal with Lowes Building Products to create a modular ramp assembly to aid wheelchair bound Veterans easy-entry to their homes.
It was more than mere fate that brought John and Dale together. Could anyone in their right mind imagine such a task to help disabled Veterans as this, without having gone through the experience themselves? Many Veterans have become disabled, and many have not been able to bear the thought of lost limbs and being forever scared by their sacrifices. Many have opted out of life by suicide or turned to substance abuse for escape, but I think God had a hand in here, to show that all things in life have meaning if we take the time to look for it. Dale and John looked…and today they are making a big difference in the lives of those others are leaving behind. Semper Fi for all Band of Brothers.