Money rolls in for wounded Marine's new house
Saturday, May 12, 2007
When Massachusetts contractor John Gonsalves saw Staff Sgt. Larry Gill of Semmes wounded and recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in late 2003, Gonsalves was impressed with Gill's leadership and kindness.
Gonsalves saw Gill, 43, tying the shoelaces of a young Massachusetts National Guard member who had lost both of his arms in Iraq. Gill, an Alabama Guard member, was himself recovering from serious wounds sustained in Iraq.
While visiting the ward, Gonsalves also saw that the other young soldiers wounded in Iraq looked up to Gill for advice, referring to him as "the senior senator."
Shortly after that visit, Gonsalves founded Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit organization that helps build homes for U.S. service members who were severely wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.
And he subsequently asked Gill to serve on the organization's advisory board as a veterans advocate, Gonsalves said in a recent telephone interview from his office in Taunton, Mass.
Fast forward to this week. Regions Bank executives reported that about $10,000 has been donated so far at the bank's 44 southwest Alabama branches for a house to be built in the Mobile area for a young Marine who lost both legs in Iraq -- part of a Homes for Our Troops project being spearheaded by Gill.
The $10,000 was donated within the first week or so that the bank had taken on the task of accepting donations.
Terry Ankerson, an executive vice president for Regions Bank, said Thursday, "Several of our branch managers have reported customers wanting to donate building supplies" and offering other help.
He said money donations can be made at any of the bank 44 branches in southwest Alabama and that checks should be made out to "Homes for Our Troops."
The Marine is Sgt. Greg Edwards, 24, who stepped on an improvised explosive device on Oct. 22. He and his wife, Christina, plan to move into the house with their two small children.
Edwards grew up in Glen Allen, Miss., but his parents live in Mobile, and other relatives live nearby. He is staying in Silver Spring, Md., while undergoing physical therapy at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. He said he expects to come to Mobile sometime in the next few months.
The home is being sponsored at no cost to Edwards, Gonsalves said. For each veteran who is severely injured and meets other qualifications, the federal government will provide $50,000 toward construction of a customized home built by Homes for Our Troops, Gonsalves said. The remainder of the home's cost comes through donations.
Gonsalves -- whose organization is building the customized houses in 18 states so far -- said that when he saw the home for Edwards was to be built in the Mobile area, "I called Larry."
"Larry is definitely one of the greatest people I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. He's got a great personality, and he's a great American," Gonsalves said. "It's great to see an injured vet helping another injured vet."
Gill, who was born in and grew up in Mobile, is heading the effort in southwest Alabama to obtain monetary donations, construction materials and volunteer labor to build the home at a site of donated land in the Theodore area.
Gonsalves said he expects a groundbreaking ceremony soon at the home site and noted, "I'm looking forward to coming down and doing this with Larry."
Gill, who is now 46, served in Iraq with the Fairhope-based 1165th Military Police Company. He lost more than 9 inches of flesh from his left calf and sustained nerve, muscle and artery damage in both legs.
Gill also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and said in a previous interview that the project is providing good therapy for him. He said it gives him a good feeling to help someone who was injured worse than he was.
Because of his injuries, Gill was medically retired from the military in July 2005. He said he plans to resume his studies at the University of South Alabama in the fall as a junior, majoring in criminal justice.
Edwards said he plans to enroll at USA as a freshman and is "leaning toward" a major in business management.
Gonsalves, who is 41, said he no longer has his construction business and now devotes his energy full-time to his work as president of Homes for Our Troops. "I work days, nights, weekends. I'm on call, just like a fireman," he said, laughing.
He noted that each home is constructed to suit the specific needs of the injured veteran who will live there.
For more information about Homes for Our Troops, the organization's Web site is www.homesforourtroops.org.