Efforts are underway to build a house for Wilkes County native Chance Cleary, an Army Airborne veteran who nearly lost his life in Afghanistan in May 2012.
Cleary suffered a traumatic brain injury, two collapsed lungs and numerous broken bones when an improvised explosive device blew up the MaxPro armored vehicle he was driving.
He recovered better than doctors expected and returned home to Wilkes, where he moved into a one-room hunting cabin on 12 acres he bought in a remote area of Purlear.
The cabin has electricity, but a spring instead of indoor plumbing. Cleary said the lack of amenities suited him fine, but became an issue after his injured right leg was amputated on Jan. 5 due to ongoing severe pain.
Cleary’s father, Lynn Cleary of Hays, sought donated resources to build a home on the 12 acres that could better meet his needs now and in the future, but soon realized that a 501(c)(3) organization needed to receive them so they could be tax deductible.
After Wilkes Habitat for Humanity volunteer Gary Newman learned about the situation and contacted the Wilkes-Yadkin Homebuilders Association, local builder Ken Canter remembered meeting the founder of Operation Finally Home, a Texas-based 501(c)(3) entity that works with donors and builders to construct mortgage-free homes for wounded veterans and widows of those who died serving their country.
This led to Rusty Carroll of New Braunfels, Texas, executive director of Operation Finally Home, coming to Wilkes to meet Cleary, his father and Wilkes-Yadkin members a few weeks ago.
This helped solidify plans for building a 1,200-square-foot home for Cleary on his 12 acres in Purlear, utilizing a $78,000 U.S. Veterans Administration grant secured by his father, donations channeled through Operation Finally Home and volunteer efforts of four builders in the Wilkes-Yadkin association: Ken Canter of Canter Construction Co., Eric Anderson of Building Creations, Chuck Combs of Homes by Combs and Eric Huffman of Huffman Brothers Construction.
“I feel that I am giving back to someone who has an unequivocal right to live in comfort in his own country,” said Canter, adding that it’s important to note that Cleary won’t be left with a mortgage to pay when the house is completed.
Plans for the two-bedroom house include a basement with a drive-in entrance and elevator access from the basement to the living area floor. Doorways, the bathroom and other features of the house will comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act. It will be ranch-style and have a wrap-around porch, with ramps rather than steps.
Huffman, this year’s association president, said support from veteran’s organizations, various types of contractors and others is growing
Marshall Long, executive officer of the association, said more details about this support will be given at an upcoming “town hall meeting.”
Cleary spoke during a Wilkes-Yadkin meeting Thursday night at the Brushy Mountain Smokehouse & Creamery in North Wilkesboro, briefly telling how he was wounded and expressing gratitude. Afterwards he briefly discussed plans for the house with four local builders.
In an interview, Cleary spoke about how hard his father has worked to help him get a better house. “He got everything going. He’s the power behind the engine.”
He also commented on what the support from many others for the effort means to him. “It shows me that people still care about American soldiers and the sacrifices they have made.”
He said this support became particularly apparent after the effort was featured on WXII news in Winston-Salem. “It warms my soul to see so many people in a small town come together for this.”
Cleary said that despite his appreciation, he wouldn’t ask for the help. “I’m not going to go out and ask for a handout. I signed on the dotted line for this,” he said, referring to voluntarily enlisting. “I’m not salty about my situation now.”
He said he is doing well and is enrolled in training at Wilkes Community College to become a real estate agent. Cleary went snowboarding at Sugar Mountain earlier this winter. It was the first time he skied with his prosthetic leg. He also still enjoys riding dirt bikes.
Cleary said he has spoken to a few school groups about the importance of striving to overcome adversity and wants to do more, particularly in a classroom setting.
“I want to be a spokesman for that ideology… to emphasize the importance of not feeling sorry for yourself, to keep your head up and keep trying.”
Cleary said being a positive influence and helping others who are struggling will help him find a sense of purpose for what he has gone through, including the loss of his leg.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Details on making tax deductible contributions to the effort to build a home for Cleary are available in the lower right-hand corner of the Operation Finally Home website at www.operationfinallyhome.org under “ways to help.”