Veterans get keys to brand new homes
SANTA CLARA — On Saturday three veterans who nearly gave their lives protecting their country in Iraq shared in the gratitude of their nation and Guadalupe County, getting the keys to new homes in the Harvest Hills subdivision provided through a Massachusetts non-profit and the largess of a cadre of local builders and volunteers.
Army Sgt. Nathan Hunt and Marine corporals Neil Frustaglio and Jose "Ivan" Perez were honored and welcomed to Santa Clara in a special ceremony conducted by Homes For Our Troops, Uptmore Custom Homes and including hundreds of local volunteers.
The event, which featured patriotic music, lunch and ribbon-cuttings in front of three custom-built, handicapped-accessible homes, was an emotional one.
"This has been an amazing experience all the way through," said Frustaglio, who lost both legs when a bomb blew up the vehicle he was riding in on a mission in Ar Ramadi.
"Your volunteering your time to come and do something for us means a whole lot because nobody owes us anything ... ."
Frustaglio was cut off by members of the crowd who yelled back, "Yes, we do!"
The Marine spoke of moving to Texas from Wisconsin, where the weather and the less-than adequate accessibility of his home basically kept him inside for seven months out of the year, to meet open, friendly people who welcomed him into their community and never failed to say how they appreciated his sacrifice for his country.
"These houses will be our homes for a good long time, and I'm not leaving!" he exclaimed, his voice breaking. "Everyone here has been amazing. All I have left to do is say, 'thank you all.'"
The remarks were echoed by Hunt and by Perez.
"Neil said all the good stuff," Perez told the crowd. "All I can do is thank you. None of you had to do any of this, and it means a lot to us."
John Gonsalves, a Massachusetts builder and founder of Homes For Our Troops, told the crowd of his own personal journey in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
"I wasn't in the military - I was just a construction guy in Massachusetts - but I knew there was something more I could do," Gonsalves said. "We don't all serve, but we can all support those who do serve."
Santa Clara Mayor David Mueller joined Gonsalves in welcoming Hunt, Frustaglio and Perez to his community.
"Having these three fine men live in our community is a great honor for me and the city of Santa Clara," Mueller said. "Homes For Our Troops and the Uptmores have done a great job, and we're glad to have them also. Thank y'all for coming, and welcome to Santa Clara."
Gonsalves started Homes For Our Troops in 2004, and in the six years since has built more than 60 homes for disabled veterans, which are provided at no charge.
He has commitments now to build 40 more, and is making preparations to launch a fundraising effort to build 100 more after that, including seven for veterans in Texas.
None would be possible, he said, without fundraising and without the help of local contractors like Uptmore Custom Homes.
Jack Uptmore said he was amazed to learn of an organization like Homes For Our Troops - and honored to help.
"I was shocked to find there was something out there that allowed us to give back to our wounded veterans," he said.
Gonsalves said the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that brought about the War on Terror was a fitting date to recognize the sacrifices of Hunt, Perez and Frustaglio, for like himself, it was the 9/11 attacks that convinced each of them to find a way to serve.
He'd followed media coverage in the days leading up to the anniversary, and expressed dismay that much of it seemed to focus on a Florida minister who planned to burn copies of the Koran.
"I think what we need to think about is what do we want Sept. 11 to become?" Gonsalves asked. "It's really our decision - what do we want this day to mean? There's a wonderful group of people here today, and you represent what this day needs to become. We need to show the world we're compassionate and we're strong. This is what defines us as a people. Everything that's happening here today is who we are."