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Volunteers gather to build Wesley Chapel home for injured Iraq vet

WESLEY CHAPEL

They showed up in droves. Their uniforms: red T-shirts and white construction helmets. All came out of the kindness of their hearts. Some had a higher calling: to help a wounded brother.

Joe Beimfohr, a former Army staff sergeant, watched from his wheelchair Friday while dozens of volunteers from Homes for our Troops, a nonprofit organization that builds homes for disabled veterans, hauled trusses and bricks around the concrete block frame of a house. A week before, it had been just a slab. That afternoon, the roof was taking shape. In two months or so, it'll be his home.

Neighbors, other veterans and some who stopped by to shake Beimfohr's hand and offer whatever they could.

Tim Neilan, who lives a few doors down from the bustling lot, came by to introduce himself and his family. He said he was proud to have Beimfohr, 35, in the neighborhood. He told Beimfohr he had read about him online and asked if Beimfohr could explain his situation to his three girls.

"Sure," Beimfohr said. "I was in the Army for 11 years, and I went to Iraq in 2005. One day, we were looking for bad guys, and we found them, and I stepped on a bomb that was buried in the ground, and that's what happened to me."

Beimfohr was riding in a convoy just outside Baqubah in July 2005 when his truck stopped for a suspicious copper wire strung across the road. He stepped out of the truck to look at it when insurgents detonated an IED beneath his feet. All he remembers hearing was a pop.

The explosion sent shrapnel through his body and splintered the bones in his right leg, severing his femoral artery. It would later have to be amputated at the hip. His left leg had to be amputated on site, just below the knee.

A week after the explosion, the Long Beach native woke up in a bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland. He moved to Tampa so he could access care at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center. He's staying in an apartment now. The home in Wesley Chapel will be built to accommodate his needs in a wheelchair.

He said people here are friendly, especially when they learn that he's a veteran. He has a purple heart license plate on his car. Sometimes, when he's out to dinner, he'll find his bill has already been paid by another gracious customer.

He said other veterans, no matter what branch they hail from, almost always lend a hand.

"We've all walked the same walk and been to the same places," he said. "You can't help but have a connection with that."

Damian Marquith had never heard of Beimfohr before last week. After calling off from work so he could spend two days of volunteer work on the house, he still hadn't met the man. That didn't matter, he said. He only needed to know that he was helping a veteran.

It turns out the two were in Iraq in the same year. Marquith was about 55 miles away in Saba' al-Bor, leading a New York National Guard infantry company to protect a road from al-Qaida transports.

His unit was ambushed twice. Another time, he was riding in a humvee when an IED exploded underneath. He was fine, but he's seen horrible things happen to his friends.

When he came back to the states, he spent five months staring at the ceiling at night, asking himself what he would have done differently. It's one part of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, known among veterans as leader's remorse.

That might have been why he was on Beimfohr's lot Friday, lugging bricks, sweat pouring down the front of his shirt for a man he's never met, he said.

"I can't explain why anybody does it," he said. "But I can tell you why anyone in any service would jump at the chance to do this. I don't want to regret not doing something that was right."

By Friday, almost all of the neighbors in Saddle Ridge Estates had heard Beimfohr's story. Norm Bishop, a former Marine sergeant, walked over to talk to Biemfohr. He wore the Marines crest embroidered on the breast of his polo shirt. He began the conversation with "when I was in," referring to his time in the service. Beimfohr had found another brother.

Bishop had already told several others in the neighborhood that Beimfohr was coming. He said one neighbor he told immediately offered to help.

"I'll mow his lawn for life!" the man said.

Volunteers gather to build Wesley Chapel home for injured Iraq vet 09/28/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 28, 2012 8:32pm]
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