The rain stayed away for the key ceremony welcoming Staff Sgt. Jason Letterman and his family to the home built to meet the injured Iraq war veteran’s needs. Sunshine and brisk air accompanied the family as they were escorted into the neighborhood and a crowd of well-wishers and volunteers, who heard from U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, members of the build team and the veteran himself.
Massachusetts-based Homes for Our Troops spearheaded the build, which was coordinated locally by Sharon Williams, a military spouse and friend of the Letterman family. "I have never seen the community come together like this for any other soldier before," said Williams, who has lived in Hinesville since 2003.
"Over 700 volunteers helped on this build; we had 352 on the first day alone," Williams said. The last-minute sprucing held the day before the ceremony was fielded by 40 soldiers and two more volunteers, she said. "Even the VFW said they’ve never seen an organization do something like this here."
Kingston opened the ceremony, welcoming the Lettermans and their supporters, saying that while wars come and go, the wounds of gallant soldiers are with them for the rest of their lives.
"Dealing with the wounded is the most important function of the VA," Kingston said, "but it’s clear the federal government can’t do everything. That’s why it’s important we live in a country where people recognize the need to do something further, more than Uncle Sam could do."
Kingston presented a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to the Lettermans and called the staff sergeant a man with "a heart of gold, but with a heart of steel as well" for his dedication to rehabilitation. Letterman hopes to help soldiers prepare for battle before deployment and help them readjust when they return, Kingston said.
Letterman, joined by his wife and children, thanked the builders, volunteers, city and post personnel, and HFOT organizers for their contributions. "To know I can get around my house and have everything I could possibly need to make my life easier, it’s an amazing feeling," he said.
Hinesville Mayor Pro Tem Charles Frasier thanked Letterman for his service.
"We hope in some way that this will ease your pain and give you comfort," Frasier said. "We are pleased you chose Hinesville as your home."
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Phillips praised the volunteers who completed the project and others.
"Homes for Our Troops is just one of many programs, and examples of Americans spontaneously coming to-gether in support of our troops," he said.
"Those of you who are here to celebrate the beginning of a new chapter for this family are exemplars of [enduring] values," Phillips said. "Here is an example of a soldier and his family who never quit. Here we have this house, that now stands as a proud monument to the best in all of us."
The home, built for someone who uses a wheelchair, was built in 22 days — 12 of them rain-soaked; a remarkable feat for even the most efficient builder, according to Bill Pinto of Hardin Construction. "The Lettermans’ home was built in record time, 22 days from slab to turnover. Now that’s a ‘wow’ achievement, even for our company," he said.
Williams said the build says a great deal about Hinesville and Fort Stewart and their appreciation for soldiers’ sacrifices, as well as how the Lettermans feel about their adopted hometown.