Part three: Wounded Marine receives free home, land
June 10, 2010 at 1:10 a.m.
Updated June 11, 2010 at 1:11 a.m.
Justin Rokohl survived a nightmare and earned a free dream home.
Never again will the wounded Victoria Marine worry about mortgage payments or living conditions.
More than 500 area supporters, who gathered Thursday inside a Main Street church, vowed to make sure of it.
"I couldn't believe the turnout," Rokohl said. "They hardly know me and they said, 'Hey, we'll build you a house.' I was overwhelmed."
Rokohl's 3,000-square-foot, ranch-style home can't replace his legs. The media room, pool and indoor cantina won't erase the memories.
But the calm of a wooded five-acre tract, located just minutes south of Victoria, will one day soon transport him far from Afghanistan, far from roadside bombs.
Forced to return home early from war in 2008, the 23-year-old Orange Grove native endured a two-year rehab.
In January, he landed in Victoria, in the home of longtime family friends, with a job he'd been promised and the attitude to push on.
Kimberly Reeb, his surrogate mother of sorts, worked to find the Marine a home of his own. After scouring the town for houses they could modify, she contacted RE/MAX Land & Homes of Victoria.
Veronica McCants doesn't usually answer incoming phone calls, but by chance in March the Victoria RE/MAX office co-owner took Reeb's call.
"It was a God thing," Reeb said.
McCants listened to Reeb's specifications: one story, no stairs, wide hallways. The requests piqued McCants' interest and she learned about Rokohl's prosthetics and wheelchair.
"It was such a profound moment," McCants said. "I knew instantly we found our soldier."
For months, McCants and Sarah Korczynski, her mother and RE/MAX co-owner, sought a wounded military candidate.
The Texas Sentinels Foundation, a program with RE/MAX ties, helps those who suffer severe injuries while serving in the line of duty.
The program's founder is Richard Filip, who is also the Texas RE/MAX chief executive officer and a former Army paratrooper. Filip told supporters on Thursday he'd never witnessed such a turnout, not even in bigger cities.
Filip's foundation works to find qualified troops and raise money. It teams with the Bay Area Builders Association, which works hand-in-hand with building suppliers to attract material and manpower.
This sense of community, of giving back, seemed to please McCants and Korczynski, who spearheaded efforts to draw Thursday's crowd.
Bradley Blanton, a local builder who agreed to donate his time and manage the home construction.
Chris Hessler, a wheelchair-bound home designer who worked for free to create a floor plan.
Ron Kocian, organizer of Warrior's Weekend who donated $5,000 on behalf of the group.
Already, area businesspeople and skilled craftsmen agreed to chip in where needed. Most everyone cites the same motivation for doing so.
"It's the one thing I can do to give back to somebody who's given up for his country," Blanton said, fighting tears. "We're put on this Earth to do what our calling is. Anyone who is out there who wants to help should do so because their heart is telling them to do it."
Darrell Ferguson, of Joe Ferguson Water Well, agreed with a partner to donate a water well and the labor needed to install it, a $10,000 expense.
"My son was in the Marines and God brought him back intact," Ferguson said. "God's blessed me, so I try to bless other people."
Despite the outpouring of support, organizers say they still need countless materials, needed services and about $40,000. They hope to break ground next month, McCants said.
During the luncheon Thursday, a local pastor offered a moving benediction. There exists an overwhelming sense of brotherhood when 500 heads bow simultaneously to pray.
The energy, the focus, seemed to fill the room, and Rokohl stood at the front to receive it.
He never expected such a gift, he said. Rather, he figured society would tuck him away.
"I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart," Rokohl told the crowd. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
Editor's note: This is the third story in an ongoing series about Justin Rokohl, a Victoria Marine who resumes life after suffering severe injuries in the Middle East. Next: In July, construction begins on Rokohl's new home.