Home Of The Brave
National Group Builds House In Coventry For Marine Who Lost Two Legs In Iraq
COVENTRY -- As he toured the new house that volunteers had built for him and his family, Jared Luce smiled, shook lots of hands and repeatedly expressed his thanks.
"But I could say it a million times and it would never be enough," said Luce, who lost both legs while fighting in Iraq two years ago. "It's a little overwhelming. I don't think I even deserve something this nice."
A crowd of about 100 gathered Friday morning to celebrate the completion of the house, which was built through the oversight of Homes For Our Troops, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit organization that constructs new buildings or modifies existing homes for service members with serious injuries.
Many in the group reconvened two hours later and 5 miles away for another ceremony - the groundbreaking of a new house for Brian Johnston, who lost his right arm and right leg while fighting in Iraq.
"It's just our way of saying thanks," said John Gonsalves, president of Homes For Our Troops, adding that the organization has completed 17 projects throughout the country since it was founded three years ago and has 21 others underway.
The servicemen and women are charged nothing.
The Luce house was the organization's first project in Connecticut, said Gonsalves, who noted that his organization had never undertaken two projects in the same town.
The ceremony at Luce's house had an element of drama, as workers were rushing to erect a scalloped vinyl fence as the crowd was gathering to hear speeches and proclamations.
"As you can see, it was right down to the wire," Gonsalves said.
In fact, as of Thursday the entire front lawn was an unfinished, muddy mess. But helped in part by local radio stations, which broadcast appeals for landscaping help, a flurry of assistance arrived.
Workers paved the driveway. Sodded the lawn. Built a curved walkway. Planted shrubs. Spread mulch. Erected a flagpole. And a few minutes before the program began, connected the last section of the fence.
Luce's wife and three children were not at the event because two of the kids were in school and another was not feeling well.
Luce said, however, that they all had visited during construction and were excited about the house, which has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a two-car garage and a large basement.
Among those who spoke were Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, state Rep. Joan Lewis, and Linda Schwartz, the state's commissioner of veterans' affairs.
Blumenthal, who served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserves, praised the volunteers who built Luce's house and said that the country owes its veterans unconditional support.
"It's simply a matter of keeping promises and keeping the faith," he said.
Dozens of tradesmen and builders attended, including Lawrence Fiano, general contractor on the Luce house, and Chet and Steve Zocco, who are filling the same role for the Johnston house project.
Gonsalves also recognized the late James Luce, Jared's father, who died of a heart attack in March.
Sarah Luce, one of Jared's four siblings, hopes that moving into a new house would begin a fruitful phase for Jared and his family.
"This is so awesome," Sarah Luce said, standing on a shiny hardwood living room floor.
Jared said he would be moving in as soon as possible. He also said the house's design, with wide doorways and ramps leading into the front door and another entrance inside the garage, would make life easier.
Although the day was emotional at times, Jared Luce was mostly upbeat as he talked about settling into a house he said he expects to live in for the rest of his life.
An employee of Federal Express, he expects to be driving a delivery truck soon, two prosthetic legs and all.
"And if I ever get pulled over for speeding," he said, laughing, "I'll just tell them I really do have a lead foot."
Contact Jim Farrell at email@example.com.
Copyright 2007, Hartford Courant