More than 75 persons lined the sidewalk in front of Gettysburg’s American Legion building on Middle Street and cheered loudly when Marine Sgt. Glen Silva arrived in a parade led by police cars, a motorcycle troop and Adams Regional Emergency Medical Services vehicles.
Silva, his wife Heather and their four children soon will move into a new home being built on Long Road by the Homes For Our Troops (HFOT) organization, which is dedicated to “restore freedom and independence to our nation’s most severely injured post-9/11 veterans.”
Silva was severely wounded in 2010 during his service with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan.
While 59 surgeries have helped Silva regain aspects of his pre-injury mobility, it has continued to be a struggle living in an apartment without the special features his disabilities require. Within six to eight months, when the Silvas’ new residence is completed, he’ll be able to navigate the specially adapted custom home independently.
HFOT’s president and chief executive, retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Tom Landwermeyer of Taunton, Mass., indicated that each of the 274 one-story homes built thus far is fully wheelchair accessible, equipped with special bathrooms, a “safe room” in which to shelter in the event of tornados or other violent weather and a generator.
A little-known fact, Lanwermeyer explained, is many prosthetic devices on which wounded warriors depend are electronic and need frequent recharging. In the event of power loss, veterans would be unable to carry out critical life functions without a generator.
On hand to wish the Silvas well, and praising HFOT’s efforts to aid veterans, were local American Legion leaders, U.S. Congressman John Joyce, Pennsylvania District 91 Rep. Dan Moul and Gettysburg’s Mayor Ted Streeter.
Addressing Silva, Joyce said: “I want you to hear my thanks and that of the U.S. Congress for your service.” Joyce also paid tribute to the Gettysburg community which, he is confident, is prepared to welcome the Silva family.
Both Moul and Streeter expressed gratitude that Americans’ attitudes about combat veterans have changed significantly since the Vietnam War era when returning soldiers were often denigrated.
“Thank God times have changed,” said Moul, “and that we now recognize the value of those who put their lives on the line for us.”
When it comes to returning war veterans, Moul said even those opposed to a war embrace the warriors, “and politics goes away.”
“We never got our parade and were often made to feel like the low life of our nation,” Streeter, who served in Vietnam, said of his experience returning from war.
Saying he was spit upon while in uniform, Streeter applauded that “veterans now are among the most respected people in our society.”
The respect in which Silva is held by those who know him best was voiced by a family friend, Bridget Cole, who described him as “the most inspirational person I know.”
When it came his time to speak, Silva said, “Wow, I appreciate all these wonderful words. Thank you all very much.”
Indicating he and his family are eager to call the Gettysburg community home, Silva acknowledged it’s been hard for him to accept the generosity of HFOT and other groups serving wounded veterans, but he recognizes the new independence he’ll gain upon receiving the mortgage-free home which will enable him to expand his service to fellow veterans.
Whenever given the opportunity to address others in various settings, Silva said, “I issue the challenge to look in the mirror every morning and ask, ‘what are you doing to make things better?’”
In concluding remarks, Lanwermeyer said while HFOT has celebrated handing the keys of new homes to 274 veterans thus far, more than 1,000 badly wounded soldiers are on the waiting list.
Noting that HFOT’s motto is “Building Homes, Rebuilding Lives,” the he cited statistics showing a dramatic increase in educational and employment levels gained by not only veterans but also their spouses after moving into their own homes.
With newfound independence, many wounded warriors earn degrees or gain other credentials that lead to good jobs, and spousal employment has increased 300 percent as partners are no longer homebound to ensure the veteran’s safety and well-being.
More information about HFOT, including ways to contribute, is available on the not-for-profit organization’s website, www.hfotusa.org.