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Wellwishers gather as house for wounded veteran nears completion

New Castle News - 10/24/2017

Oct. 24--People used permanent markers to write on the walls of Eric and Melissa Burkett'sNeshannock Township home Monday.

And the Burketts were happy to see them do it.

Those attending the "Walls of Honor" event at the house under construction at 31 Neshannock Heights Road wrote their hopes and blessings for the future for Retired USMC Major Eric Burkett, his wife, Melissa and their six children who will move this winter into the "smart house" being built for them by the Gary Sinise Foundation.

The house is being built as part of the foundation's "R.I.S.E. program, (Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment). It is being specially constructed and equipped to accommodate Eric who sustained severe injuries in a helicopter crash while serving with the Marines in the Middle East in 2012.

The written wishes -- along with a Bible -- will be hidden once the wallboard goes up. But the sentiments and love of community members who attended the event Monday, will remain to encourage the family when they finally move into their permanent home.

"Filling this house with love," is how Chris Cuban of the Sinise Foundation described the sentiments being proclaimed in permanent marker as he addressed about 80 well-wishers attending the event.

Eric agreed, telling those gathered, "It is beyond words what this house means for us. I wish there was a bigger word than 'Thank you."

"All of you have such an amazing connection with me and my family to make this dream come true," he continued. "Every step of the way you have been helping us and praying for us. Thank you so much."

"Walls of Honor" is a tradition the Gary Sinise Foundation observes when they build a house for an injured veteran. And the first sentiment was written at the direction of the the television and movie star himself, who could not be at the event but directed others to write the following on the wall on his behalf: "These walls are written to fill your new home with love and appreciation of a grateful nation. It is a blessing to know you and an honor to support the building of your new home. Please enjoy the gift of thanks from the Gary Sinise Foundation and our many grateful supporters for all you have done in service to our country."

The home is designed for optimum mobility and accessibility for Eric who will be able to use an ipad to do everything from turn on lights and lower window blinds to check and see who is at the door. These normal tasks of everyday life have become difficult since he lost one leg and severely injured the other, and suffered eye and lung damage as well. The house will also be energy efficient.

Melissa said Monday that she looks forward to moving in the house because it will allow her husband to have more independence and move around more freely in a wheelchair. She said that to get around in a traditional house, he needs to use a prosthetic device which causes pain and irritation.

Eric said that he is looking forward to finally "settling and putting down roots."

He noted that until now, his life has consisted of moving around a lot, going from college to the military, and then spending the last few years in hospitals. The family spent the last four years in Bethesda, Maryland while Eric underwent rehabilitation.

Now his and Melissa's three girls and three boys are settling down in a permanent school and neighborhood. Once they move in, they will be able to look outside their windows into the beauty of the Neshannock woods and be a part of a neighborhood, close to grandparents and other family members.

For now, the family is living in a house on Highland Avenue which is being provided rent free by Dr. and Mrs. Richard Papa which has allowed their children to start the school year here.

Tricia Winklosky of Hope for the the Warriors, a national group, was at the event Monday and announced that they will donate an archery lab in the basement of the home for Eric who was a member of the U.S. Archery team and is a national level coach. The lab will include a 20 yard archery range, making it possible for Eric to eventually teach the sport.

Local contractor William Schafer, who is also a Commander of Post 343 of the American Legion, presented Eric a check from the post for $1,000.

Invocation for Monday's event was given by Rev. Steve Tipton, of Hillcrest Presbyterian Church, Volant.

Several of those who have contributed to the project were introduced, including Nick Pohl, manager of the Hermitage Home Depot store, Vince Snyder, architect, Bessemer Supply owner Kim Parrott, Wes Altman of Wes's Heating and Cooling, Ken Shiderly of Ken Shiderly Construction, and a representative from Jac's Kitchen and Counters in Farrell. Others involved include McCurley Houston Electric, Independent Construction Services, Zona Plumbing, Jac's Kitchens. Neshannock Township Supervisor Joe Gerlach and Lawrence County Builders Association President Joe Thomas. Cornerstone Construction Management, owned by Eric's father, Rick, is overseeing the project.

A fellow Marine who attended, Justin Marriott, said Eric was "the best Marine I ever served with."

More information about national contributors to the project can be found at https://www.garysinisefoundation.org.

m_grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com

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(c)2017 New Castle News (New Castle, Pa.)

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