America Supports You: Partnership Rebuilds Paralyzed Vet's House
By Paul X. Rutz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2006 Since his last mission, during Operation Just Cause in Panama, the tiny hallways and rooms in Tom Caldwell's North Carolina house have made simple tasks, like going to the bathroom, a multiperson affair.
Kurt Muse (center) tells the story of his rescue by Tom Caldwell at the groundbreaking ceremony for the rebuilding of the Caldwell house in Hope Mills, N.C., Dec. 19, 2005. He is flanked by Caldwell and Patricia Driscoll, President of the Armed Forces Foundation. Photo by Wyatt Smith
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Caldwell, a Special Forces veteran, lost the use of his legs in combat 17 years ago. This summer, he will have a house that allows him his independence, thanks to a partnership between the Armed Forces Foundation, a nonprofit organization based here, and North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs.
"We're very, very excited about this," said Patricia Driscoll, president of the Armed Forces Foundation. "We want people to know that even though these events happened 17 years ago, they will not be forgotten."
Driscoll said a mutual friend introduced her to Caldwell, and he immediately impressed her.
"The guy is amazing, and his family's amazing," she said. "These people will give you the shirt off their back. They just have never had any money to fix their house."
When Driscoll asked Caldwell what her foundation could do to help his family, he said he simply wanted them to open the wall in his bedroom so he could have some windows to see his grandchildren playing outside.
"We can do better than that," she told him.
An architect quickly donated his services to the rebuilding effort, and some research led to a partnership with the local VA. "We found out that there are actually quite a few housing programs that the VA has for these guys," Driscoll said.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $150,000. The state VA has pledged $50,000, and the Armed Forces Foundation expects to raise the $100,000 balance.
Driscoll expects the entire project to last six months, part of which will include turning the main bedroom into a bathroom. As it stands now, the house's bathroom is smaller than many closets, and Caldwell needs help each time he uses it.
"We're doubling the size of his house. It's pretty serious," she said.
Though groundbreaking took place on Dec. 19, construction was postponed until early this year, partly because Caldwell is traveling to Atlanta for treatment to deal with complications of his injury.
Caldwell became a paraplegic in December 1989 from injuries suffered during a helicopter crash while helping to rescue Kurt Muse, an American who had been imprisoned for making radio broadcasts critical of Manuel Noriega's government. Noriega had promised to kill Muse if Americans invaded Panama.
Driscoll said Caldwell is not only an American hero, he is also a very talented person.
"On top of all of this, this guy is an incredible artist," said Driscoll. "He carves beautiful animals and he paints really well."
The renovation of Caldwell's home will include an art studio that will allow him to continue developing his talent.
"Both the VA and our foundation are interested in setting him up for the future," she said. "We're all about helping others help themselves."
Driscoll said the groundbreaking turned into a well-attended event in which many people gathered to honor Caldwell.
"Just seeing the community come together for somebody, it's awesome, and it's awesome for (the family). They had no idea when we did the groundbreaking that all these people would show up in their front yard," she said.
One person who showed up was Muse, who drove down from Virginia for the event and met Caldwell's wife for the first time.
"Everybody was there," said Driscoll. "Friends, family, people from his unit. It was really neat."
Driscoll said she hopes this project's visibility will help spread the word to other injured veterans about programs for which they are eligible.
"We're hoping with Tom, with this big project, that we can get enough publicity out there so that we let all these guys know that they're eligible, and it's not just Tom being special," Driscoll said. "It's anyone who has been injured this way."