ESCONDIDO – Homes for Our Troops, a national nonprofit, honored the Sept. 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance by holding a volunteer day to help landscape new specially adapted custom homes for two wounded Marine veterans.
The organization began building the adapted homes for Marine 1st Sgt. Ben Holmes and Marine Cpl. Kionte Storey back in April, at no cost to the veterans.
Both homes are located in Escondido and are customized and adaptable to their injuries.
Storey lost his right leg on Sep. 7, 2010, while serving in Afghanistan with the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines.
Holmes lost his right leg on April 20, 2011, while serving with the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in Afghanistan.
The homes built for Storey and Holmes feature more than 40 major special adaptations such as widened doorways for wheelchair access, a roll-in shower, and kitchen amenities that include pull-down shelving and lowered countertops.
More than 250 volunteers showed up at both home sites on Saturday to landscape the homes by laying sod and planting trees and flowers in preparation for the veterans’ homecomings.
Between the two homes, they laid down about 6,000 square feet of sod and planted 600 to 800 plants, according to Bill Ivey, executive director of Homes for Our Troops and a veteran himself.
“We scheduled it on Saturday because it was the commemoration of the day that has become a national day of remembrance to service,” Ivey said. “So we were able to both remember those who perished on 9/11 and those that came into the military because of 9/11 and subsequently those that made the ultimate sacrifice. Many, like and Ben Holmes and Kionte Storey, were severely injured while defending our freedom.”
Holmes, who will soon be moving into his new home, told The Coast News that he was overwhelmed with gratitude for the volunteers and the organization for giving him and his family something so special.
“Thank you is not enough, you know, I can say thank you for the rest of my life, and it would never be enough,” Holmes said. “I simply, I don’t have the words to convey how meaningful and how overwhelming the sense of deep, deep gratitude that I’ll have forever to these people that I’ve never met.”
Holmes gave an example of witnessing a 94-year-old retired Marine who was being helped by his daughter to get down on one knee so that he could plant a flower beside Holmes’ new house.
“It crushed my soul, in a good way,” Holmes said. “My wife introduced me to him later, and I could barely talk. We just hugged each other.”
Holmes expressed that it was difficult to be there on 9/11 because it’s a day that holds a lot of weight and meaning for him.
“9/11 obviously changed everybody’s lives, but for me, I went from 9/11 to Iraq and then Afghanistan, and it’s essentially my entire adult life intertwined with 9/11. I guess that’s 20 years of emotions running through anger, guilt – it’s so layered and complex for me,” Holmes said.
“No matter how horrible things get or how great they get, just to get the love and support of the American people, which to me, the people on Saturday represented that in a big, big way,” Holmes continued. “The money for the house comes from somewhere, and that’s America, and just the amazing goodness and love and care of these people, it’s incredible.”
Holmes and Storey will receive their homes at a joint key ceremony on Sept. 25.
Homes for Our Troops has built 315 homes in 42 states since 2004, all at no cost to the veterans and paid for with donations and help from sponsors and partners.