Helping a Hero Starts First Michigan Project for Local Wounded Warrior Eric Lund

Already the community is surrounding Sgt. Eric Lund (Ret.) with support — and plans for a new home for him back in Ludington are just beginning. Randy and Christy Malliett donated a lot in their subdivision on Breckenridge off North Jebavy Drive and Randy will be the builder for the Helping a Hero project.

Lund was surprised with the gift Thursday during a gathering of community leaders and friends. At the same gathering, Bruce Mitchell donated the heating and cooling work for the home. More cash and in-kind donations will be needed, but no matter what, this home is being built. Helping a Hero founder and board chair Meredith Iler of Houston, Texas, was in Ludington Thursday to make that commitment and announce the plans.

“I’m humbled,” said Lund, a man of few words. The process is moving quickly, he said he could already tell. Lund wants to move home, and Iler said the home will be done by Thanksgiving. Lund is a 2001 graduate of Ludington High School who went on to the U.S. Army National Guard in 2003. He served with the 126th C Company and was in Afghanistan when he was injured in May 2012. Lund lost his arms, suffered additional severe injuries, and he is continuing physical therapy to make the most use of his prosthetic arms at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He’s in Ludington for the holidays and returns to Texas Jan. 14 for a hematology appointment Jan. 15. That appointment might be important for his future as he seeks arm transplants from the medical staff at Johns Hopkins University.

The university has done one successful double-arm transplant. Eric is hoping to be its next candidate. In the meantime, he has a caregiver and will need one for the foreseeable future. The home, though, will be custom built for his needs, with an automated shower with scrubbers, and other amenities that will help him live as independently as possible. He’s ready to come home and will be back even before the house is built, hoping to avoid another summer in Texas. Ludington has the woods and lakes and seasons he loves, in addition to a whole lot of people who care about him. “It’s where my family is and a lot of my friends are,” he said. “And I love the lakes. I even like the snow.”

“I love this community,” said his aunt Melissa Boggs, who organized the gathering. Boggs has been working with Iler and wants not only to build this home for Lund, but if the community raises enough money for his home, another will be built for a second “wounded warrior.” Helping a Hero has not yet built in Michigan. Lund’s will be the first. “This will start with Eric, but it won’t end with Eric,” Boggs said. Lund likes that idea, too, that his project will help the next wounded warrior. “It’s good to give back,” he said.

Local heating/cooling business owner Bruce Mitchell was invited to the Thursday gathering as a Sons of the American Legion commander, but he was inspired to donate his labor and pay toward the equipment needed. He’s been in business for 31 years and said, “God gave me a gift. If I can’t give it back, what’s it for?” He’ll seek vendor donations toward the cost as well, but no matter whether they’re on board, “I’ll take care of it.” His father served in the U.S. Army, and he has a heart for veterans and for community service. “The response has been overwhelming,” Iler said. “I love to work with a community who really knows the hero.” Because the community knows him, “it takes it to a new level,” she said of the project. “People think, ‘This could be my son or daughter.’”

“I think it’s remarkable,” Iler said of her first visit to Ludington and the response so far. Iler recounted a home build for Sgt. First Class John Wayne Walding, who told her, “This really feels like a bear hug from America. That’s what’s being played out here, too.” Already a lot and heating and cooling have been donated “without a phone call,” Iler said. “It’s a testament to this community,” she said. The Malliett subdivision off Jebavy suits Lund well. “They wanted him to be in a neighborhood and he wanted to be in the woods,” Malliett said. When it’s “a God thing,” pieces just fall into place, Christy said. Their properties are close to town yet quiet, fitting for the quiet man Lund is.

The address will be 5479 Breckenridge. The Mallietts have had their construction business in Ludington for 27 years. “It’s nice to be able to give back,” Christy said. She knows others in the community will step forward as well. “This is going to be something you can see,” she said of the inspiration for donations.

Eric, the local hero

Helping a Hero built 24 homes for disabled veterans in 2013, with plans for 40 houses this year. For the first time, Michigan will have a Helping a Hero house with the Eric Lund build in Ludington. “He will be the face for (the organization),” Boggs said. “Our community will be the face for Helping a Hero.”“We will find and help as many wounded warriors as possible.” Boggs thanked those gathered for praying for and supporting Eric in his journey of healing, giving some background about what he’s been through. He was in a Humvee when it was hit by an improvised explosive device, which flipped the vehicle, pinning Eric’s arms under it. He sustained additional injuries throughout his body in that incident as his body was exposed to enemy fighters. Eric called off his fellow soldiers, knowing their coming to help him would expose them, too. They ignored him and pulled him to safety, Boggs said.

He had lost one arm on day 1. The next day the family learned the second arm couldn’t be saved. His leg was severely broken and now it’s a half inch shorter than the other. He had a broken back, neck and hip, damage near his eyes and shrapnel throughout his face. He’ll continue his medical healing, but Boggs and Iler wanted to make it clear there will be additional healing as well as he reintegrates into civilian life and the community he was raised in. “With all this exposure, you get to know him and he’s not just that guy, he’s our guy,” Boggs said. She is grateful to those who befriend him and offer to pick him up and take him to join local groups and participate in events.

Helping

Fundraisers are being planned to help cover the costs, from a March gathering to a summer barbecue to bracelet sales. Donations of money, time and equipment are being sought now. While the lot and heating/cooling have been donated so far, roofing, insulation, drywall, lumber, cabinets, appliances and more are needed as well. “All the things it takes to build a house,” Iler said. The gathering was held at Ludington City Hall, and City Manager John Shay and Mayor Ryan Cox pledged the city’s assistance with events like the summer barbecue. Having Eric return to Ludington and have Helping a Hero build in the community is a great opportunity,” Cox said. “It’s a great way to thank Eric for representing us overseas and I’m 100 percent behind this,” he said.

The home is in Ludington’s neighbor, Hamlin Township, and the gathering Thursday included Hamlin Supervisor Nancy Vandervest, but also Pere Marquette Township Supervisor Paul Keson, Ludington City Manager John Shay, Mayor Cox, Mason County Administrator Fabian Knizacky, Michigan State Police Hart Post Commander F/Lt. Kevin Leavitt, Ludington Police Chief Mark Barnett, Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole and his new chief deputy Steve Hansen, Ludington Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director/CEO Brandy Henderson, West Shore Community College Arts & Humanities Division Chair/Professor of Theater/Director of Performing Arts Rick Plummer, Rotary International President-elect Tom Calabretta, the Ludington Area Jaycees’ John Shimel and Heather Catrow, Kelly Burwell, Cindy Genter, real estate broker Debby Stevenson, Julie Lowing, Commander of the Ludington American Legion Post No. 96 Louis Wolven, Spectrum Health Ludington Hospital’s President/CEO Mark Vipperman and CTR Drew Dostal.

To learn more, email melissa@helpingahero.org. Checks can be mailed to Melissa Boggs at 5767 Enchanted Forest Drive, Sanford, MI 48657.

patti@ludingtondailynews.com