Tough times lay ahead for Marine Sgt. Brian Johnston after he lost his right arm and right leg in November 2004 in an explosion while fighting in Iraq.
He had more than 60 operations and nearly 20 months of hospitalization before being discharged from Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Strangers banded together to help the East Hartford native. A national group helped build him a house in Coventry. He recently moved in.
A large, flat screen plasma television hangs above the fireplace in the living room. The kitchen features granite counter tops and handsome stainless steel appliances. A door leads from the bedroom to a deck that overlooks his 2-acre lot in Coventry.
"It was built right, because it was built by people who cared," says Sgt. Brian Johnston, a Marine who just a few weeks ago moved into the house, which was built by volunteers.
The house may have been free, but Johnston paid dearly in other ways, losing his right arm and right leg while fighting in Iraq more than three years ago.
Johnston, 26, was the subject of a special section in The Courant in 2005.
Peter Robbins of Vernon, who helped coordinate donations of materials and services, said helping Johnston was gratifying.
"Would I have done this 20 or 30 years ago? Probably not," said Robbins, 57. "But when you get older, your priorities change."
Robbins said dozens of laborers, contractors and businesses from Greater Hartford helped build the house, as part of a six-month effort coordinated by the Massachusetts-based group Homes for Our Troops.
A key ceremony, celebrating the completion of the project, was held last month and featured a speech by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and a surprise visit from Johnston's mother, Vera, who flew in from Utah. Because of a few loose ends, though, Johnston did not receive clearance to move in until mid-January.
"It's weird to have something this nice," he said while sitting at his kitchen table. "Most people my age get a fixer-upper."
He added, "It's really unbelievable what they did, because I think it turned out better than anybody expected."
Johnston spent almost two years in hospitals after his injury, and had since been living with friends in Ellington.
He has a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix, which he frequently drives to Rhode Island, where he is co-owner of a garden supply company.
With career and housing issues resolved, he said he is looking forward to buying another car and fixing it up so he can pursue his true passion.