A home fit for a hero
Foundation helps wounded vet settle into a house that accommodates his disabilities
EAGLE MOUNTAIN - Gordon Ewell's vehicle took direct hits six times from roadside bombs, leaving him without his balance, his hearing and his peripheral vision.
The explosions shattered vertebrae in his neck, blew the wisdom teeth out of his jaw and left him with a severe brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.
After completing 59 missions, the Army sergeant first class finally left Iraq in late 2006 feeling lucky to be alive.
But on Friday afternoon, that life got better - with a free home valued at $250,000.
Ewell, 41, pulled up to the corner of Weeping Cherry Lane and Sycamore Drive in Eagle Mountain along with his wife and six children in the back of a military Humvee.
After being helped out of the vehicle and splitting a cheering welcoming line, Ewell and fellow troops of the 640th Regional Training Institute hoisted the American flag outside his family's new 2,500-square-foot house - courtesy of the Home for a Hero contest.
Scores of singing third-graders along with neighbors, military personnel and politicians saluted "Gordy" as a hero.
"I'm not a hero," a humbled Ewell told the crowd. "But I know a lot [of them]."
Ewell, who served in the Army for two decades, helped write the military's handbook on route clearance in an effort to protect fellow soldiers in Iraq from one of their biggest threats - the same improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that left him with one eye and nearly killed him.
The jovial father said his worst two nights in Iraq were not peppered with explosions, firefights or scrambles to escape rocket-propelled grenades, but instead came when he and fellow route clearers found no bombs at all.
"We'd usually find 15 bombs per night," Ewell said. "There were two times we didn't find anything. My heart sank. I thought, 'What did we miss?' I like to think the enemy just took the night off."
Now, Ewell looks forward to spending quiet nights with his family in their new Eagle Mountain home - specially designed so he can move easily throughout it, unlike his former three-story rental.
"He fell all the time there," said Ewell's wife, Terra. "Now he has two exits with ramps and wider doorways in case he were to lose control over the left side of his body and need a wheelchair. Not to mention it's only one story."
Alta Vista Homes and two nonprofit organizations sponsored the eight-month construction project, and a slew of subcontractors donated labor and materials. Eagle Mountain's City Council waived $20,000 in building fees.
One of the sponsoring organizations, Mike's Guardian Eagle Foundation, strives to assist families of wounded service members. It was organized by the father of Mike Lehmiller, a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan. The other organization, Massachusetts-based Homes For Our Troops, specializes in building homes for severely wounded soldiers.
Said a moved Ewell: "You don't need more than one eye to see all the kindness and caring in this community."