There's a lot of love and Christmas spirit inside a 12-foot-wide by 70-foot-long home in White Haven.
It was vacant for three years but soon will house an honorable guest -- a Vietnam veteran who has been practically homeless, living out of a Carbon County motel room for about two years.
The man unselfishly gave of himself many times, never asking for anything in return, but fell on hard times and suffers from medical problems associated with the herbicide Agent Orange, said John Kearns, a veteran service officer in White Haven.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange and other herbicides on trees and vegetation during the Vietnam War. Several decades later, concerns about the health effects from these chemicals persist.
Kearns said the man, who will remain anonymous, thought people forgot about him and became depressed, but once his story circulated in the small town of White Haven, multiple veterans, some longtime friends and even strangers came to his aid.
He is in hospital care now, but once he is discharged he will find a pleasant, big surprise waiting for him by the time Christmas arrives.
Not only will he be given a permanent home so a visiting nurse can tend to him after his hospital stay is complete, but a fundraiser in his honor will be held Dec. 13 at the White Haven Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6615 to help defray his living expenses and the costs to remodel his new home.
Called the "Hometown Hero Project," members of the group consider themselves on a mission to prepare the home for the veteran by Dec. 15.
Bob Drury of the White Haven VFW said a group of volunteers raising money for homeless veterans in the area over Veterans Day weekend sprang into action when they heard of the man's struggles.
The veteran had nothing, Drury said, though he heroically served his country, having been discharged as a second class petty officer hull technician.
He served three tours in Vietnam with the Navy Seabees, Kearns said, and when he came home, he worked hard and provided chaplain services to area veterans.
"He's given so much of himself to others," Kearns said, and doesn't know how many lives he touched and how many friends he really has.
Bernie Bruzgulis, who not only went to school with the veteran but also boot camp, began scouting out a permanent place for his friend to live. He found an unoccupied trailer on Hemlock Street, which he said is ideal for the Navy man who was always known for his jokes and jovial personality.
Bruzgulis said he spoke to the trailer owner, who agreed to rent it to the veteran, and since securing the home this month the men have been remodeling it.
They replaced floors inside the home, performed some plumbing work, added new insulation and fixed interior ceilings. They still have work ahead of them that includes replacing floors damaged by a leak, cleaning, painting, installing new carpet and steam cleaning an existing one.
Jim Foster, also a veteran living in White Haven, offered his expertise in free remodeling work. Button Oil, Mountain Top, offered to fill the first propane tank at no charge and donations of furnishings have been secured.
Once the home is ready, the finishing touch will be the addition of a Christmas tree, Drury said.
The housewarming fundraiser will defray construction costs currently being paid for by Bruzgulis, secure other items for the veteran's new home and help defray his utility costs.
The public is invited to attend the event on Dec. 13 from 5 to 9 p.m. at VFW Post 6615, 3 VFW Road, White Haven. A $5 donation will be accepted at the door. The event will include food, refreshments, entertainment, door prizes, tricky trays and other activities. Decadent dessert stations are being planned and will feature Cherries Jubilee and Bananas Foster.
Anyone wishing to donate hors d'oeuvres, snacks, finger foods or other items that do not require to be heated, in addition to the food provided, is welcome.
Donations for door prizes are also being accepted. They can be arranged by calling Kearns at 570-401-4280 or emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To donate money, checks may be made payable to VFW Post 6615 Quartermaster HH Fund.
(c)2013 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)
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