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A place to call home in Hopkinton

By CASSIDY SWANSON
Sunday News Correspondent

November 08. 2014 8:36PM
Matt DeWitt, who served as an Army staff sergeant in Iraq, cuts the ribbon Saturday during a Homes for Our Troops ceremony at his new home in Hopkinton. The nation will mark Veterans Day on Tuesday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

HOPKINTON -- Calling the need to care for wounded veterans "a moral obligation of the American society," retired Army Maj. Gen. Timothy McHale on Saturday helped welcome Iraq war veteran Matt DeWitt and his family to their new home.

The nonprofit Homes for Our Troops built the specially adapted, mortgage-free home for DeWitt, his wife and two children in Hopkinton.

Army Staff Sgt. DeWitt, who grew up in Hillsborough, was critically wounded while fighting in Khalidiyah, Iraq, in 2003; both arms had to be amputated below the elbow. He was awarded the Purple Heart in his hospital room at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The family's new home was constructed by KRD Builders of Amherst, with the help of many volunteers. For those involved, building the house for DeWitt, wife Cat and sons Reed and Levi was a labor of love and joy.

"This is not charity," said McHale, who is president and chief executive officer of Homes for Our Troops, which is based in Taunton, Mass. "This is a moral obligation of the American society, to take care of those men and women who have served and sacrificed. It's a privilege and honor to be here today."

Emotions ran high Saturday as dozens of people came out to support the DeWitts and be present for the ribbon cutting.

"I wish all of America could see what the community of Hopkinton has done, in putting their arms around this young soldier and his family," said retired Army Gen. Richard Cody, who serves as board chairman for Homes for Our Troops. "We couldn't have done it without the support of the community."

Guests were treated to a tour of the new house. Matt and Cat, who were married last month, expressed gratitude as they stood outside the house that is now their home.

"I just really want to thank (Homes for Our Troops) for bringing us into their organization . and everything they do for the veterans that definitely need help and houses to continue our lives and make it easier," Matt DeWitt said.

"Everyone is so nice and so willing to do whatever they need to do for us," said Cat, who is a veteran of the Massachusetts National Guard. "Homes for Our Troops is amazing. You can't find an organization as great as them."

Cody and several other military retirees with Homes for Our Troops had dinner with the DeWitts on Friday night. Cody said the couple is excited about moving into their new home with their children to start this next chapter.

"Even though the temperatures today are in the 30s, they're humbled by the warmth of this community," he said.

Ashley Twigg, community outreach coordinator for Homes for Our Troops, told the crowd gathered that she was touched by the outpouring of support.

"There's a lot of negative in the world and bad things going on around the country - this is America, right here," she said to the crowd. "It warms my heart to be able to stand up here and see what the real America is."

In September, more than 150 volunteers from across the state and region came out to help landscape the property. The Home Depot's Nashua location also made an in-kind donation of $12,500 for the landscaping project.

Terry Costello, regional sales manager at Mastic Home Exteriors, said his company was honored to be part of the project.

"Just as you protected our freedom, our country, our families, in a like way - maybe a little simpler way - our siding will protect your home, and your family," he told Matt DeWitt. "Your service was the ultimate example of paying it forward, and today, we get to show our appreciation for what you did for us, and recognize that it can never be repaid."

Bud Fitch, legal counsel to U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, presented an American flag and letter of thanks to the DeWitt family on Ayotte's behalf.

"Homes for Our Troops, this community, and volunteers from across New Hampshire and the nation are today fulfilling our promise to support those who serve to defend us," Ayotte's letter read. "May God bless this home, Sgt. DeWitt, his family, and the United States of America."

George Langwasser, vice chairman of the Hopkinton Board of Selectman, was also on hand to welcome the DeWitts to town. Until Saturday, they were living in Weare."

We are so glad we were chosen for the good sergeant and his family," Langwasser said. "We want them to have a happy life here."

Making the day even more special, the crew of the PBS show "This Old House" was on the scene. "This Old House" has been a part of the DeWitt project for months, building a greenhouse for Matt, who is an avid gardener, and filming a special on the project, which will air over Memorial Day weekend next year.

As a finishing touch, Norm Abram, the show's carpenter, helped Matt build a custom dining room table for the family's new home.

Kevin O'Connor, host of "This Old House," recalled the ribbon-cutting ceremony in May, when Cody said that, rather than losing his arms, Matt gave his arms in service to his country.

"I would suggest that, Matt, you did not get this house - you earned this house," he said, which was met with hearty applause.

O'Connor said that DeWitt's sons were undeniably the stars of the project.

"We're at a huge advantage: they're little boys, and we show up with construction equipment," he said. "They've been a ton of fun."

Patty Catalano, deputy director of marketing for Homes for Our Troops, said all homes built by the organization exceed guidelines for buildings set forth by the Americans with Disabilities Act, with special customizations based on the needs of the disabled veteran living in the house. Some of the adaptations for DeWitt, who wears prosthetics on both arms, include sensor-activated faucets, pull-down shelving, sliding windows, and other amenities that most people take for granted, Catalano said.

While the house is finished, Catalano said the relationship between Homes for Our Troops and the DeWitts is just beginning.

For more information on Homes for Our Troops and the DeWitt family, visit hfotusa.com.

cswanson@newstote.com


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