Volunteers ready home for wounded vet
BY MICHAEL ZITZ
This Veterans Day will be an exciting one for Marine Sgt. John Peck, who lost both arms and both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010.
About 75 volunteers did landscaping work at the Estates of Chancellorsville Saturday to prepare a high-tech, new “smart” home for delivery during a ceremony in observance of the holiday.
Watching from a wheelchair, the upbeat 27-year-old said he is happy about the culmination of nearly two years of planning, then construction that began in June. Peck said it will give him a degree of independence he hasn’t experienced in two years.
His mother will live with him, but he will be able to do many things for himself he could not before.
In 2008, Peck was awarded a Purple Heart after suffering a brain injury as a result of an explosion when his vehicle passed over an IED in Iraq. When he recovered, he returned to combat in Afghanistan, where he lost his limbs.
Peck was in a medically induced coma for 2 months after the 2010 IED explosion in Afghanistan, which occurred when he was using a metal detector to sweep for the devices and clear the way for his unit. When he woke up, he said to his mother and wife, “My feet hurt,” and was told he no longer had feet.
“At first I was very upset about everything that happened,” he said. “I was very mad at myself for letting it happen. I was angry at the world. I didn’t want to be here anymore. But I eventually realized I couldn’t allow myself to think that way.”
He said his wife soon left because, “She couldn’t deal with the injuries.”
But his eyes were bright and he smiled broadly Saturday as he talked about his new home and new neighbors. He said he was touched that so many of them were pitching in, calling them “very friendly and accepting,” and noting that many are Marine Corps families.
Stephanie McVade of Fredericksburg brought her three sons to help.
“My husband’s a Marine,” she said. “And I want my sons to learn about giving back.”
Fredericksburg-area homebuilder American Heritage Homes built the single-story home, which company co-owner Kristen Pruitt called “very custom.” She said it was a valuable learning experience for her company and would help it build smart homes for others with disabilities in the future.
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation paid most of the cost of the $450,000 house. A $60,000 Veterans Administration grant covered the rest.
Peck, who is still on active duty, said he plans to go to culinary school after he leaves the Corps. He said he may also work with the Siller Foundation, marketing the work it does on behalf of wounded warriors by telling his personal story.
“He’s a very intelligent and determined kid,” said John Ponte of the Siller Foundation.
Peck, who is from Antioch, Ill., said he chose Spotsylvania County because he likes the VA hospital in Richmond and because of the county’s proximity to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was founded in 2001 by the family of Siller, a New York City firefighter who perished while helping victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the twin towers. Siller was off duty, but put on 75 pounds of gear and ran to the towers to help.
The foundation builds accessible homes for the most severely wounded veterans.