Injured Eagle Mountain soldier given key to new home
Eagle Mountain has a tradition of welcoming home its returning veterans. But the community didn't just welcome Gordon Ewell back to town. It welcomed him to his new house.
At a ceremony Friday, Ewell, his wife, Terra, and their six children were handed the key to their new house on Weeping Cherry Lane. Everything, from the land to the construction of the house to the furniture inside, was donated. The home was built to accommodate the disabilities Ewell faces as a result of his service in Iraq.
Ewell spent a year in Iraq clearing roadside bombs as a sergeant first class in the Army's 115th Engineer Battalion. During his service, Ewell's vehicle was hit six times by improvised explosive devices, and the cumulative effect left him with a brain injury and one eye. He walks with a cane, and is expected to need a wheelchair within a year.
At the ceremony, Ewell said it has been a longtime dream of his to be a homeowner, a dream he does not think he would have ever reached because of his disabilities were it not for Alta Vista Homes and Homes For Our Troops. He thanked the community for its kindness and generosity.
"I only have one eye, but you don't need more than one eye to see all the kindness and love in this community. I want to say thank you very, very much," Ewell said.
Hundreds of people gathered in front of the home while third graders from Pony Express and Eagle Valley elementary schools entertained the crowd with patriotic songs. When Ewell arrived at the end of a flag-lined road with his family, some of his fellow soldiers walked him to the flag pole, where he raised the Stars and Stripes in his new front yard.
Lehi-based Alta Vista Homes worked on the new home for more than a year. Alta Vista's Dave Hall said the company wanted to donate a home to an injured soldier in Utah County, and it put together a committee to find the ideal candidate.
After they began the project they hooked up with Homes For Our Troops, a nonprofit organization from Taunton, Mass., that provides specially adapted homes for severely wounded veterans. The group provided the $120,000 needed to buy the land in Eagle Mountain, as well as an additional $30,000 for materials.
The total cost of the home to a family would normally be more than $500,000, Hall said, and every dollar was donated.
"We know he's going to be in a wheelchair soon. We want to give him an environment where he can still get through the house and take care of his family," Hall said.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the home was held in September. Terra Ewell thanked the community for coming out to support them then and on Friday.
"The groundbreaking ceremony was truly incredible, and today is spectacular. It's hard to find the words, other than to say thank you and tell you how grateful we are," she said.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, presented Ewell with a U.S. flag that flew over the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
"I appreciate the fact that this community has come together and done this wonderful thing for this family," Cannon said. "We have an obligation as a people to take care of these folks."
Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert was one of many people to call Ewell a hero.
"We know what heroism is and he exemplifies that in every degree. But I would say to you he's also an inspirational leader. Leaders are those people who motivate us and inspire us to do better than we can in spite of ourselves," Herbert said. "He's motivating all of us. He's motivating this community. He's motivating me."
Assistant Adjunct Gen. Jefferson Burton, of the Utah National Guard, said Ewell gave his life for his country and for each and every person at the ceremony.
"So it's fitting that we as citizens and friends gather here together to recognize he and his family, who now share in the burdens that he carries," Burton said.
Members of the community were able to tour the home, which is filled with ramps and wide hallways to help Ewell get around with his disabilities. The home was designed to be as low maintenance as possible, but Ewell is looking forward to doing at least a little hard work after he moves in next week.
He's hoping he'll be able to mow the front lawn himself.
"I love the smell of fresh cut grass. That ought to be fun to mow, knowing it's my own," he said.