Work begins on wounded Marine's Victoria home

Gabe Semenza

April 5, 2011 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated April 4, 2011 at 11:05 p.m.

Justin Rokohl begins the ceremonial groundbreaking of his new home on Old Goliad Road.

Justin Rokohl begins the ceremonial groundbreaking of his new home on Old Goliad Road.

Justin Rokohl walked to the back of his wooded five-acre property, over the freshly cut wild grass and to where volunteers will soon build him a free home.

Surrounded by friends and family, Rokohl shifted in the soil, and then he pointed. No one saw the stone facade and covered porches, which remain unbuilt, but they must have sensed how excited he is about a quiet life in the country.

After months of delays caused by federal red tape, supporters on Tuesday broke ground on land just minutes south of Victoria.

The plan for Rokohl's ranch-style home includes 2,622 square feet and three telling traits: one story, no stairs, wide hallways.

Rokohl, a 24-year-old disabled U.S. Marine, lost both legs and suffered other severe injuries when his military Humvee struck a roadside bomb during a 2008 tour in Afghanistan. For the rest of his life, he will wear prosthetics or use a wheelchair to get around.

More than 100 supporters gathered for the ceremonial groundbreaking, which caps 10 months of work to secure about $400,000 in pledged funds, materials and services.

"I think it's God's will we are here today," said Bradley Blanton, a Victoria builder who donates his time to manage the home construction. He was one of many to speak publicly during the ceremony. "It's the prettiest day we've seen in a long time. Justin, We're ready to go to work for you."

A sign posted to a temporary, makeshift pavilion noted: "Building Debt-Free Homes for Our Disabled American Heroes."

Efforts to build Rokohl a home began with Sarah Korczynski and Veronica McCants. The mother-daughter team are co-owners of Victoria RE/MAX Land and Homes, a real estate company.

Last year, Korczynski and McCants sought a wounded military candidate to team with the Texas Sentinels Foundation, a nonprofit group with RE/MAX ties. By chance, the women met Rokohl because he needed a specialized home.

The Texas Sentinels Foundation aims to build debt-free homes for those who suffer severe injuries while serving in the line of duty.

The nonprofit's founder, Richard Filip, is also the Texas RE/MAX chief executive officer and a former Army paratrooper.

"The community spirit in Victoria is overwhelming," Jeanne Filip, the RE/MAX executive's wife, told the crowd. "From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you."

Dozens of Victoria professionals donated their services, products or money to pave the way for the groundbreaking.

Chris Hessler, a home designer who uses a wheelchair, created the floor plan for free.

"When someone serves our country and can live to tell about it, I want to see him live his dream," Hessler said.

Progress on the home slowed because Rokohl will use federal Veterans Administration grant money to help fund the build.

Such grants require meticulous documentation. The government won't grant money, for example, without first knowing such details as the weight of windows when they're opened and the serial numbers on appliances.

"We had companies agreeing to donate appliances, but we don't know what model numbers and brands are until the companies actually donate it," Blanton explained.

Despite the delays, Rokohl said he was re-energized by the groundbreaking. His fiancée, a San Antonio teacher, plans to join him in the home after they marry in March, he said.

Organizers say the home should be ready in about six months.

"I don't know how I'll repay you all," Rokohl told the crowd. "If you look out your window one day and I'm mowing your lawn or raking your leaves, you'll know why. I just can't tell you how much I appreciate you."

Editor's note: This is the fourth story in an ongoing series about Justin Rokohl, a Victoria Marine who resumes life after suffering severe injuries in the Middle East.



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