SPRING HILL — In a straightforward, no-nonsense style befitting an 18-year Army veteran, Sgt. First Class John Borders detailed some of the injuries he received in Iraq when a mortar round exploded.
"My legs and left arm were crushed; my neck was broken; my liver was lacerated; I suffered some burns and I had shrapnel in my eyes and face. My right leg was amputated after the surgeons attempted to save it for several weeks and the infection just kept getting worse."
His wife, Mollie, explained. "He got infected from lying in dirty ditch water. He finally said to the doctors, 'Just take (the leg) off.' He could have lost three limbs."
Borders, 38, was injured on Jan. 5, 2006, just nine days before he was due to leave Iraq. After 54 surgeries and three years of recuperation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., the sergeant is getting a new assignment.
After getting word that he was ticketed for MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa as a counterintelligence officer, Borders and his wife began looking for a home.
Mollie Borders' parents and other relatives live in Ocala, so Mollie began looking for a home somewhere between Tampa and Marion County. She fell in love with a 1 1/2-story house in Spring Hill off Coronado Drive: four bedrooms, pool, spacious back yard, shade delivering trees, tastefully designed shrubbery landscaping and grassy perennials.
It would nicely accommodate her and her husband, daughter Brittany, 15, and son, Xander, 5.
Except that it was not handicapped-accessible.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided Borders with necessary equipment such as handrails, a wheelchair-accessible shower, materials for building ramps and a partially paved driveway. But the agency doesn't pay for labor.
In February, Borders sent a letter to the American Legion Department of Florida asking if there was any assistance the Legion could offer the family. A platoon of older warriors in American Legion posts from Tampa to Brooksville and Hudson sprang into action.
Bob Perkins, commander of American Legion Post 99, Brooksville, heard about the request. He could not and would not say no.
"Labor is the most expensive thing," pointed out his wife, Mary Kelly-Perkins, American Legion district president-elect, who is coordinating aid for the Borders family.
She estimates the legionnaires have put in some 300 hours on home refurbishing and outdoor cleanup.
"Work included raking, mulching, tearing down wallpaper, taking up carpeting and floor tiles, assembling a cedar playset that was donated by (an anonymous) organization in Ocala for the 5-year-old son, making trips to the Hernando County recycling with bags upon bags of tree limbs and weeds, leaves," she said.
Perkins was on site Friday with his constant Legion stalwart, Ed Baker, to take down a dead tree in the property's back yard.
"We've been here like dust on the floor," said Perkins, who's worked at the house several days a week since March, installing handicapped rails and helping a contractor widen doorways and make other necessary fixes.
At age 65, the Vietnam veteran said, "It's a chore for me to do this," mentioning joint and leg pain, "but it gives me a purpose. It keeps me going and I'm helping a brother soldier."
American Legion Post 152 in Tampa has purchased bunk beds for Xander's room so that he can have cousins from Ocala sleep over. A Legion post in Hudson has donated a $1,000 gift card so the family can purchase mattresses and sheets.
"This is the first house they've ever had," said Perkins. For 18 years, the family has moved from assignment to assignment, barracks to apartments. Mollie is a veteran herself, seven years with the Army.
The new home still needs an irrigation well to reduce the cost of municipal water use, and concrete for access ramps and extension of a currently gravel semi-circular driveway, said Kelly-Perkins.
The Borderses are grateful for the Legion's and Veterans Affairs' aid and intend to forge ahead.
"He wishes he could grow his limb back and go back (to Iraq),'' Mollie Borders said of her husband. "Now, instead of using his body, he's going to use his mind to keep soldiers safe."
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.