The tap of Mike Wheeler’s hammer echoes through the forest, as he helps frame the walls of a new home in Wildwood.
Wheeler is one of a dozen carpenters volunteering to build a home for a returning veteran and his family. The project, which began in August, is the culmination of a years-long effort to provide a mortgage-free home for U.S. Army veteran and St. Louis native Heath Howes, who was severely wounded while serving in Afghanistan.
“You think, what if it happened to you personally?” said Wheeler, who served in the U.S. Marines and U.S. Army for more than a decade. “The veterans have done so much for us and I just wanted to give back a little bit.”
Hibbs Homes owner, Kim Hibbs, said it has taken about two years to get the project off the ground including planning, permitting and fundraising.
“I never even questioned why we should do it because this is so important,” Hibbs said. “They’re such a deserving family whose life was torn apart.”
U.S. Army Specialist Howes was severely injured in Afghanistan in 2012, when his truck was hit by a 200-pound improvised explosive device.
The explosion left Howes with a litany of serious injuries, including a traumatic brain injury, fractured ribs and a collapsed lung. In the years since the attack, he has also struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder.
James Lammering, a foreman with Builder’s Bloc contractors and a veteran himself, helped frame the house and said he has always wanted to volunteer on project like this.
“Heath Howes has sacrificed a lot,” Lammering said. “I only have to sacrifice one weekend to help him out.”
Community members and local businesses have donated labor and building materials to help complete the 2,300-square-foot home.
Though the actual completion date will depend on weather conditions, Hibbs estimates the home should be finished within five months.
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