Hero gets help on the homefront
SSG Lee Tom JoesLUMBERTON — Staff Sgt. Lee Tom Jones stood carefully, the scars on his arms and face glaring red beneath an overcast sky. He walked toward the podium slowly, swinging his legs out from his hips one at a time, stepping across the grass that will some day hold a home for his family.
When Jones, who is 25, got to the podium, he looked out at the 60 people sitting in folding chairs, there to witness the groundbreaking ceremony for his new house. He looked at his parents in the front row and his wife and daughter in the back. He looked at the man behind the podium, who represented the nonprofit organization helping pay for his new house. Then, he leaned against the man, bowed his head and cried. It had been a long two years.
Jones’ journey started and ended on this patch of land.
His parents live in a house at one end — it is their land on which his house will be built. He graduated from Red Springs High School in 2001, then joined the Army.
He deployed three times with the 82nd Airborne Division. On Oct. 3, 2005, he was with the 1st Brigade, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment and on his third tour when a bomb exploded near his Humvee. The Humvee flipped and caught fire. Flames burned more than 45 percent of Jones’ body.
Since then, Jones has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. He has suffered three strokes. He has no feeling in his feet, making it difficult for him to walk. His family, including his 2-year-old daughter, Angel, help him eat. He is still in therapy at a hospital in Florida.
It was at that hospital, eight months ago, that Jones and his wife first heard they were getting a house. The halls and shower would be wide enough for the wheelchair he will sometimes use. The doors would open automatically. A machine would carry his wheelchair up the stairs. And they would not have to pay for it.
Homes for Our Troops, a nonprofit organization based in Massachusetts that helps build homes for severely wounded veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, would handle the bill.
Jones smiles at that memory and laughs through his scars when he remembers his first thought: “For real?”
His mother simply prayed.
“I was like, ‘Thank you, Jesus,’” said his mother, Rose McGirt.
The organization has built 15 homes around the country for veterans. Twenty more, including the one for Jones, are in some stage of construction.
Homes for Our Troops works with local businesses, contractors and residents, who donate labor, materials and money to help finish each project.
Metcon Inc., a construction company based in Lumberton, has volunteered to handle the general contracting for Jones’ house. They need subcontractors to help and companies to donate materials.
His parents offered the land, a square a few miles off N.C. 211 outside Lumberton.
At Friday afternoon’s ceremony, someone had stuck six shovels in the ground behind the podium. Each spade was painted with brown and black to look like camouflage. Kurt Rebello, chief projects officer for Homes for Our Troops, stood in front of the shovels and explained the nonprofit’s mission:
“Most of us enjoy the American dream of home ownership and all that comes with it,” he said. “There’s a lot of veterans out there who deserve that dream.”
He looked at Jones, sitting next to his mother in the front row.
“It is by no means a repayment for your service,” he said. “It is just the least we can do.”
Rebello invited Jones and his family to use the shovels to dig the first holes for their new home.
Jones’ shovel had his staff sergeant stripes and an 82nd Airborne Division logo stuck to the handle. His father and wife took the shovels on either side of his. His wife, Maria, helped him stand, wrapping one hand behind his back and digging with the other. His father, Gralen McGirt, held Jones’ shovel in one hand and his own in the other, helping Jones dig.
Jones said he was amazed that so many people came to support him on Friday.
“It’s awesome,” he said.
His mother is just plain excited. Jones is her oldest child and the only boy. She has two daughters and six grandchildren and all but him live nearby.
“Oh, honey,” she said. “I’m ready for my baby to come home.”
Staff writer Laura Arenschield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 486-3572.