by Dan Wallrath
On November 17, 2012, Operation FINALLY HOME invited Monte Bernardo, his girlfriend and family to the Texas A&M Military Appreciation Game, where he would be honored for his service. On the Jumbotrons appeared Texas Governor Rick Perry announcing that Monte was the recipient of one of our custom-built homes. The look on Monte’s face was priceless. His quivering jaw reminded me afresh of why we do what we do.
For decades I’ve been intrigued by what happens when a person sets foot in his or her new home. There is such pride there, such a sense of accomplishment, such an overwhelming and all-consuming joy.
While building someone a home fulfills a very basic need—shelter—there is more to why we do what we do than helping meet people’s physiological needs. I’ve always believed that our desire to not just be home but also to feel at home is a longing given to us by God and therefore runs deep within the soul. For too many of the women and men who join the military, the economic depression and sense of hopelessness that oppressed them every day of their growing-up years meant they never had that soulish craving fulfilled. Sometimes there was alcohol abuse. Sometimes Mom or Dad’s escapism involved drugs. In many cases, their parents divorced. Along came military involvement and with it an opportunity to start fresh. At last, they knew what was expected of them. At last, they knew how to succeed. At last, they had some semblance of family. At last, they’d found their way home.
So they signed up. They trained.
Then seemingly out of nowhere, Humvees rolled forward, IEDs exploded, limbs went flailing, and consciousness was lost.
And they came back wounded.
Facing a future shrouded in the unpredictability they so despised. The family they’d made for themselves was fractured. The routine they’d prized was gone. The peace that comes with knowing how to thrive went missing, and once again, they longed for home.
Monte Bernardo’s neighbors were excited about welcoming a bona fide war hero into their community. Neighbors lined the road on both sides, waving American flags and clapping their hands.
As the prized house key was handed over, through choked-up coughing, Monte said, “I don’t consider myself a hero, but you’ve made me feel like one today.” As he brushed his arm across his teary eyes, he said, “All I can do is thank you all for everything you have done. You keep saying there’s no way you can repay me for my contribution . . . the truth is I can’t repay you for yours.
Stealing away from the crowd, Monte wandered through his new home, tears springing again to his eyes. As he gently shut the door behind him, I stood there thinking, “This is why we do what we do.”
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