Every November, we Americans are called to remember Veteran’s Day, which has been celebrated on November 11 since the end of World 1. November also is a great time to focus on the topic of gratitude with the celebration of the Thanksgiving holiday on the last Thursday of November each year in the United States. This is the story of a courageous, inspiring and extremely grateful U.S. Army veteran Corporal Frank Fields. Frank is a decorated wound- ed warrior who lost both of his legs as a result of an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in Iraq. He is also a worthy recipient of an adaptive home provided by Helping A Hero and its many supporters.
A 501(c) (3) non-profit organization founded in 2006, Helping A Hero provides support for U.S. military personnel who were se- verely injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Helping A Hero provides specially adapted homes for qualifying wounded service members through partnerships with builders, developers, communities, and the veteran home recipient. Helping A Hero engages community
members in providing services and resources for wounded heroes and their families. Helping A Hero also offers mar- riage programs, caregiver programs, recreational activities, and emotional and financial support.
This is the story of a courageous, inspiring and extremely grateful U.S. Army veteran Corporal Frank Fields.
FRANK’S STORY: NEW OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND LOVE
Following his rehabilitation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio (BAMC)l, Frank began his long road to recovery by facing the grief of the loss of his legs, being alone, and con- templating suicide. Fortunately, Frank made the commitment to live. Today, he is one of the top motivational speakers in the wounded warrior community. He teaches veterans to thrive and not just survive. Frank is committed to encouraging all of his friends to be all that God created them to be.
CPL Frank Fields, USA (Ret) at BAMC
In spite of all that he overcame and even with his success as a motivational speaker, Frank still felt alone. He also felt that oth- er wounded warriors needed help more than he did. Meeting Tawnee Gonzalez, widow of Marine Sergeant Marty Gonzalez, changed Frank’s life for the better.
Tawnee was married to Marty when he died on November 28, 2020. During his service in Iraq, Marty received three Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars within 30 days. Taking all of the shrapnel into his body left Marty in daily pain for the 16 years he was with Tawnee and building a new life together in what was their “new normal.” That new life for Marty and Tawnee in- cluded moving into a Helping a Hero adapted home. Tawnee’s vivacious and loving personality helped Marty face his daily struggles. Their daughter Emry, Marty’s fourth child, was the light of his life. Knowing his injuries were extreme, Marty shared his desire for his wife to love again if anything ever happened to him. For the first time in their nine-year marriage, Marty and Tawnee decorated the Christmas tree early in 2020. Marty hung his special Marine ornament on the tree, and then he danced with his daughter. Just a few days later, Marty was considered “Killed in Action” when a piece of shrapnel moved through his body, releasing an embolism that killed him instantly.
Tawnie and her deceased husband Marty
Helping a Hero founder Meredith Iler had a front row seat to watching Marty and Tawnee fall in love. They first met when Tawnee was volunteering to help wounded veterans. And now Meredith also has a front row seat watching the love story of Frank and Tawnee unfold.
Not only did Meredith establish the Helping A Hero non-profit organization, but she also worked closely with the team that designed the home for Marty and Tawnee. She also helped Taw- nee through Marty’s funeral in 2020 and the difficult months following his death. No one could have known that an interview Meredith had in North Carolina with CPL Nick Clark, US Army (Retired), about building his family a home would play a key role in this beautiful love story. Nick nominated his best friend and double amputee, CPL Frank Fields, for a home as part of the Helping A Hero-Bass Pro Shops 100 Homes Challenge.
Tawnee Gonzalez, Helping a Hero Home Program Founder Meredith Iler, CPL Frank Fields, USA (Ret) and Dan Dugger of Bass Pro Shops
When Meredith learned that Frank’s dad had died and his mother lives abroad, she encouraged Frank to select a location where he could build roots. He decided to move to Cypress, Texas, after driving through the community of Towne Lake where his friend and fellow double amputee, Corporal Sue Downes Crutchfield, US Army (Retired) had her Helping a Hero home built last year. Towne Lake is an inviting community and offers peaceful views of a 300-acre lake that is perfect for boating, water skiing, fishing fish and relaxing.
“Sitting by the water and looking out at the majestic landscape at sunrise each morning reminded Frank that God is always there, and that life is worth living,” Meredith commented.
While serving in the Army, Frank had been deployed for eight months and conducted over 100 missions before getting hit by an IED. He served as a “transporter” which required him to deliver medical supplies, take prisoners to jail, and speed to get injured soldiers to the hospital among other responsibil- ities. He witnessed daily explosions…many which he wished he hadn’t seen. Frank was a member of an infantry unit that primarily conducted missions at night. Earlier on that fateful day, November 21, 2006, Frank and his unit met at the motor pool at the Forward Operating Base (FOB), prayed, prepped for the mission, and then went out on Route Brewers…which was known for being one of the heaviest hit routes in Sauter City, Iraq. Frank was the driver in the lead HUMVEE, and they had been out on the route about 15 minutes. Without any warning, the inside of the vehicle was engulfed in fire and all three soldiers were fighting for their lives. Frank opened the door and jumped out. Moments later, he realized he had no legs to land on. His platoon sergeant came and dragged him away. Frank’s weapon melted to the side of the seat.
Frank recalls that, somehow by the grace of God, the stockpile of grenades and other ammunition in the HUMVEE did not ex-
plode, which allowed survivors in his Unit to rescue the gunner, SPC Jose Lopez, US Army (Ret).
For Frank, the next 15 years after this incident involved multiple surgeries, rehabilitation, broken relationships, dashed dreams and a promise that tomorrow would be better.
After approving his home application without announcing it to anyone, Helping a Hero invited Frank to attend the Lee Green- wood Patriot Award Dinner and Concert on May 22, 2022. Little did Frank know, this night would change his life forever: the promise of a brighter future would become clear.
Navy Seal Morgan Luttrell, MLB Legend Roger Clemens, CPL Frank Fields, USA (Ret) and Meredith Iler surprise Frank with the news he will receive a Helping a Hero Home
From the audience that night, Tawnee watched as Frank was brought to the stage and surprised with an oversized key – along with the news that he would receive a Helping a Hero adapted home as part of the 100 Homes Challenge. Tawnee started to
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cry but couldn’t pinpoint exactly why. She and Frank had both volunteered at the Helping a Hero Golf Tournament in memory of Tawnee’s late husband Marty. She had been able to share stories about Marty with Frank and he had been moved to tears watching a video tribute to Marty. Franks’ first thought was: “That could have been me.”
After the event in May, Tawnee served as Franks tour guide to help him become more familiar with Cypress and all the subdivi- sion options in that area. After spending a 10-hour day together, their friendship grew. When Frank and Tawnee had dinner that night with Tawnee’s daughter Emry, they felt like a family. At first, neither Frank nor Tawnee was willing to admit outwardly what was happening. But over the next few months, they realized that they were falling in love and wanted to share a life together.
Emry commented to Tawnee: “I like Frank. He’s my best friend. There’s no couple as cute as you and Frank, Mommy — except you and Daddy.”
The next week, Emry did a back flip into the pool. And Frank immediately rose to the challenge, took off his prosthetic legs, and did a back flip into the pool as well. Even Lola the family dog cuddles up to Frank, approving of the match!
Lee Greenwood, Country music icon and National Ambassador for Helping a Hero has played a vital role in encouraging many wounded American heroes.
When Lee learned that Tawnee and Frank were dating, he said, “I was completely surprised to find out that Frank and Tawnee were involved. I had witnessed the courage of Tawnee coping with losing her Marine after 16 years. I also witnessed the strength and determination of Frank to overcome his serious injury and be a mentor for other wounded warriors. It’s truly God’s hand that brought them together. It’s a match made in Heaven.”
NOMINATE A HERO FOR A HOME
If you know of a wounded warrior severely injured in the Global War on Terror who needs an adapted home, please visit www. HelpingaHero.org and “Nominate a Hero” for a home by clicking on the tab on the website. Johnny Morris, Founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops, launched The 100 Homes Challenge and has agreed to fund 25% of the cost of the next 100 Helping a Hero Homes. Anyone can participate by donating toward the other 75% of the cost of building the homes. Donations of any amount are always welcomed and appreciated.