Sometimes in life, we are compelled to help.
That’s precisely how a local community in Stafford, Virginia felt when they learned the story of Sgt. Kenny Lyon. Professional builders, volunteer citizens, and service members all came together to build a home for the well-deserving disabled Marine. The group of professionals and volunteers were brought together by the non-profit organization, Homes For Our Troops.
The organization provides specially adapted homes to severely wounded service members mortgage free. The spirit of this young man whose career ended far too soon stirred an enthusiasm in me so quickly that I knew I had to be part of the momentous occasion.
When I met Kenny, I was amazed by his sunny disposition and positive outlook. He describes the ordeal that began for him five years ago as “a bad day at the office.” Understatements like that are what make Kenny so instantly likeable.
In 2006, he was a mechanic repairing military vehicles on the front lines in Iraq. He was used to the daily fire-fights that occurred so regularly he could set his watch by them. The poorly-trained enemy wasn’t much of a threat to his unit. That is, until the day a mortar landed no more than a body-length away from Kenny and changed his world.
He woke in the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland more than two weeks later. What remained of his left arm and hand was a mangled mess of nerve and tissue damage. His left leg was missing above the knee and his jaw had been shattered. Things didn’t look good, but you could never have convinced Kenny that there wouldn’t be better days ahead. And now there are.
Despite the scars on his face from multiple surgeries, Kenny manages to flash a boyish smile at every opportunity. He was at the site of his new home every day of the build. There were times when it was obvious his discomfort level was pretty high. He didn’t need to stay out in the cold and rainy conditions that the weekend brought us. Whenever someone suggested he leave, however, Kenny would simply say, “You all are here for me. There’s no way I’m not going to be here.”
This is who Sgt. Kenny Lyon is. I watched him in his wheel chair, rolling up and down the incline of the road in front of what would soon be his new home, passing time and making small talk. I listened as he told stories about seeing the inside of his leg on a video that was shot during his operation and joking, “I kinda thought there would be more to it, although I’m not sure what.” I realized that he is embracing his new life and is ready to accept whatever changes are associated with it.
And this house is a very big part of Kenny’s new life. His home now allows for easier accessibility than the third-story apartment where he once resided. There are electronic entryways, wider doorframes and hallways, lower counter tops, and an external speaker system. All of the work, from the foundation to the sod and driveway, was donated by the caring community that has embraced their newest member. The home was constructed in a record four days.
When asked what he planned to do once he received the keys to his new home, Kenny said, “I don’t have any furniture, so I guess the first thing is to get me a sleeping bag and just sleep on the floor.” It’s one of those little things in life that Kenny now enjoys.
It took just four days to build a foundation of hope; a home that is a literal foundation for the rest of his life, and a community that will be a spiritual foundation of support. Kenny’s neighbors have shown that that they are more than willing to help him out with whatever he needs, for which is both grateful and humble. Although Kenny says he does not deserve what’s been given to him, his community has decided that his sacrifices and commitment to service deserve their help. And I couldn’t agree more.
As I lent my hand to the finishing touches of the new home, I realized how much my help meant to a disabled brother. I’m certain that even though my efforts were small in the scheme of the whole project, the little I did was deeply appreciated by a man who gave so much for so many without a second thought.
Although I was unable to return for Kenny’s key ceremony on April 9, I know that I helped provide a home for a Marine in need. I can’t imagine the feeling Kenny must have felt as he first stepped foot into his new home and realized that his sleeping bag wouldn’t be necessary. Homes For Our Troops had also provided furniture for his new home. The only thing Kenny needed to bring were his clothes.
With this stage of his life newly underway, Kenny says he plans to go to school and do a little work on an older car that he owns. Good luck and Semper Fidelis, Sgt. Lyon. I know you will do well.
// By Cpl. Chelsea Flowers Anderson
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