Injured Marine returns to a Nashua home makeoverBy APRIL GUILMET
Union Leader Correspondent June 21. 2013 9:38PM
NASHUA — Five years after a bunker explosion ripped into his lower body while on duty in Afghanistan, Marine Cpl. Andrew Johnson is finally home.
The young father of three, who uses braces on both of his legs and continues to struggle with mobility issues after suffering a serious back injury, moved to his Dora Street home two years ago after a lengthy recovery at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, Calif.
It's been a long road to wellness for Johnson, who has readjusted well to his new civilian life working for BAE's Warrior Integration Program.
And thanks to the efforts of dozens of strangers and friends, Johnson can now also fully enjoy all the comforts of his new home.
On Friday afternoon, many of those friends — old and new — gathered on the Johnson's front lawn, eager to get a first glimpse of the home renovations made possible by Building Dreams for Marines, a New Hampshire charity helping people such as Johnson.
Operating out of the Londonderry Reserve Center, Building Dreams for Marines was formed in 2011 with the goal of assisting injured Granite State Marines, particularly those whose injuries resulted in limited mobility.
The organization's founder, Brian Hooper of MIS Mechanical, said he began working closely with the Londonderry-based Bravo Company when he and his coworkers supported Toys For Tots.
After attending a local Marines celebration and hearing that some of the Marines were unable to attend due to mobility problems, Hooper began thinking of ways he could help out.
These days, the charity has about a dozen board members and word of its good works continues to grow.
According to organization member Kevin Lagree, Johnson's home project didn't take long to complete, thanks to the many area volunteers who stepped up to assist.
"Basically, we had to gut out the entire master bathroom," Lagree said, noting that within just over three weeks, the Johnson's upstairs bathroom was equipped with a sparkling, new walk-in shower, a shower seat, new grab-bars around the shower and commode and a higher vanity cupboard and mirror, all custom-tailored to suit Cpl. Johnson's needs.
"It's much easier now for him to navigate his daily routines," organization spokesman Matt Van Wagner said.
Among those to donate goods and manpower were Odyssey Tile & Stone, Alosso Custom Carpentry, Al Monaco Construction and Ed Masi Plumbing Services.
Van Wagner said volunteers from across the state assisted with the project, putting long hours of time into the room's demolition, plumbing, electrical, tiling, dry-walling and painting, with the remaining renovation costs funded by Building Dreams for Marines.
He's hoping to spread the word of the nonprofit's good works and noted the enormous need that still exists in the Granite State.
"This is our third project we've completed but there are hundreds more," Van Wagner said. "And we're hoping to get to every one of them."
Holding their seven-month-old son, Colby, in her arms, Heather Johnson expressed gratitude for those who've helped her husband along the way.
The couple also has two older children, Adalee, 5, and Alec, 4.
Standing tall by his front steps, Cpl. Johnson said the outpouring of support he's received humbled him.
"The Marine motto, Semper Fidelis, means 'Always Faithful'," he said. "This program shows that this motto truly lives, even outside of the Corps."
Touring the Johnsons' new bathroom, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, said she'd like to help the young Marine obtain some more assistance, including a stair lift.
"Unfortunately, its way too often that our veterans have to wait a long time for things like this," the senator said.
Marine Col. Gary Lambert, who is also a state representative, thanked those who took the time to care for a fellow Marine.
"The Marine Corps is about pride, sacrifice and self-sufficiency," Lambert said. "Unfortunately, that means Marines sometimes have trouble asking for help when they need it. It's a message we need to get out because we don't leave Marines behind on the battlefield."
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau said she felt proud to see members of her community band together to help each other.
For more information visit www.buildingdreamsformarines.com.