Calif. town placing roof over wounded GI’s head

LANCASTER, Calif. — When Jerral Hancock came home from the Iraq war missing one particular arm, with yet another that barely worked and a paralyzed physique that was burned all more than, he was a hero to this Mojave Desert town that wears its military pride on its sleeve.

Soon he was getting known as upon to use his one particular remaining hand to reduce ribbons and wave to folks for the duration of parades. Then, soon after every person had gone home, Hancock would also. That’s exactly where he would be forgotten by all but his two young youngsters and his parents.

That was until the students in Jamie Goodreau’s U.S. history classes learned how Hancock had as soon as gotten stuck in his modest mobile home for half a year — “like becoming in prison,” he recalls — when his handicapped-accessible van broke down. Or how the hallways of his tiny residence were so narrow he could not get his wheelchair via most of them.

They would fix that, Goodreau’s students decided, by building Hancock a new home from the ground up. 1 that would be handicapped accessible. It would be their finish-of-the-year project to honor veterans, some thing Goodreau’s classes have chosen to do every single year for the previous 15 years, normally raising $ 25,000 or $ 30,000 for veterans charities and a celebratory dinner.

This time, nevertheless, the stakes would be considerably greater.

It is six months later now and the students have closed escrow on a $ 264,000 property. Blueprints have been drawn up for the new dwelling and the students plan to break ground subsequent month.

“We had no doubt that it could be completed,” Lancaster Higher School senior Joseph Mallyon says with a smile as he sits in Goodreau’s classroom on a current afternoon with numerous of his fellow students. “Now there are some folks in the neighborhood. You know, the older men and women, the men and women who have jobs, who go by way of life each and every day and know the harsh reality of things.

“Those people doubt us. But we just accept it and say, ‘Watch what we can do.'”

After Goodreau’s students shocked Lancaster and neighboring Palmdale by raising $ 80,000 in 4 months — mostly by holding yard sales, pizza nights and peddling things like T-shirts and refrigerator magnets — the whole community began to get involved.

Big box retailers are offering discounts on creating supplies. A construction contractor has volunteered to pitch in when the creating begins. An architectural firm offered the blueprints. The genuine estate agent waived her commission. The credit union at nearby Edwards Air Force Base is kicking in funds from new loans it writes.

Even the inmates at the regional prison held a sale of their art function and donated the proceeds.

“It’s really just amazing,” says J.D. Kennedy, a local field representative for Congressman Howard “Buck” McKeon.

An Iraq war veteran himself, Kennedy met Hancock soon after he discovered the former Army specialist had been stuck in his home when the oversized van that accommodates his wheelchair broke down and he couldn’t get the 70 miles to the nearest Veterans Affairs hospital to see a dentist to repair his teeth, which had been rotting from the effects of the painkillers he have to swallow each and every day.

Kennedy’s boss, who chairs the Residence Armed Solutions Committee, pressed the VA to reimburse nearby doctors and dentists who agreed to treat Hancock whether or not they had been paid or not. Then Goodreau, who met Hancock at the annual Pride of the Nation Day, invited him to inform his story to her students.

He recounted it once more on a recent desert-hot fall afternoon as he sat shirtless in his living area, making no work to hide the burns that still scar his body. A prosthetic arm sat unused on a counter due to the fact, Hancock says with a grin, it really is heavy and hard to use — and it looks even scarier than no arm at all.

Hancock was driving a tank through the streets of Baghdad on May 29, 2007, when the vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device that blew a hole through its armor and set it ablaze. A chunk of shrapnel lodged in his spine, paralyzing his legs so that he could not get out. It occurred on his 21st birthday.

“Yeah,” says the laconic former soldier who somehow never ever lost his sense of humor. “That element genuinely sucked.”

Due to leave the military in a couple of months, he’d purchased a mobile home close to his mother’s location in Lancaster. It was little but a excellent initial home for a young guy with a wife, two kids and a dog. But he hadn’t planned on coming home in a wheelchair.

Soon after his wife left him and his 9-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, his mother and stepfather became his caretakers.

In the Antelope Valley, he swiftly became nicely known. The area, tucked into the farthest northeast corner of Los Angeles County and dotted by Joshua trees and sagebrush, is immensely proud of its ties to the military. The Air Force’s B-1B bomber was built right here and it was at Edwards Air Force Base that legendary test pilot Chuck Yeager became the 1st person to fly faster than the speed of sound.

The region, Kennedy says, includes more veterans per capita than any other place in the country.

Thus Hancock was honored usually at public events. But following the fist bumps of hello and goodbye (he can not fairly use his hand to shake somebody else’s), people would go their personal way. They assumed, some mentioned, that anyone that badly hurt have to have a enormous help group behind him. Hancock admits he let them feel that.

“I do not like to complain,” he says quietly, adding the recurring dreams of burning to death in a tank had been bad enough without revisiting them even though awake.

Then Goodreau’s students took up his trigger. He’d met her at several veterans events and trusted her adequate to open up to them.

Considering that then, he says, the nightmares have fairly much stopped as helping the students with their effort has provided him a sense of purpose. He is stunned by the magnitude of their work.

“They gave up their last summer season of high school for me,” he says in a voice filled with awe.

Truly, they gave up even more. Goodreau’s veteran projects generally finish with the summer. This year’s group, whose members have already collected their A grades, vowed to continue the project they contact Operation All The Way Home till Hancock has a new roof more than his head, hopefully by next summer season.

When asked why she’s continuing, Nicole Skinner, 17, who graduated in June and is now a college freshman, laughs.

“Just appear at him, man. Many men and women these days are complaining about their lives and you look at him and what he’s been through, and he’s still smiling and all. He’s not complaining,” she says, “He’s just so motivating.”

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