By Brooke West / The Eagle
Monte Bernardo, a 30-year-old army veteran, thought he was coming to College Station on Saturday to see the football game and have a final interview with representatives of Operation FINALLY HOME and King Oaks to complete the last step in applying for a mortgage-free home.
Bernardo’s eyes widened and his jaw quivered as Kyle Field boomed with the announcement that he had been the wounded veteran chosen to receive the home on behalf of a partnership between Operation FINALLY HOME, an organization focused on improving the lives of wounded warriors, and King Oaks, a master-planned community in Iola where Bernardo’s family will live.
With the help of his family, Bernardo walked on to the football field on two prosthetic legs, under the impression that he was just going to be honored for his service.
“I can’t begin to say how thankful I am,” Bernardo said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Bernardo served in the Army for over six years and was deployed twice to Afghanistan. On July 4, Bernardo was wounded by an improvised explosive device blast that caused him to lose both of his legs and his left hand. The thousands of fans in Kyle Field erupted with a “Whoop” as he graced the field, offering Bernardo their thanks.
“It’s not about homes or money. That is what it is about — people supporting,” Bernardo said. “There is still a war over there. I’d do it again in a second.”
Bernardo said he was planning to attend Texas A&M as an aerospace engineering major before he was injured. After the incident, he said, he was left with a lot of questions and worries.
“Getting this home takes a lot of stress off,” he said. “I was sitting in the hospital wondering where I was going to be next, how I was going to pay for a home and rehab. This is helping me be a person again.”
The home will be completely mortgage-free for Bernardo and his family, paid for solely through donations. Thad Rutherford, vice president of SouthStar Communities, the parent company of King Oaks, said there is already a “long list” of people who are pulling together to help Bernardo.
“We look at what we can do for our wounded veterans and one of the things we thought we could bring was some normalcy to his family,” Rutherford said. “This is just something small we can do for the service he has done for us.”
Operation FINALLY HOME has given custom homes to veterans across 11 states. Bernardo’s home will mark the organization’s 50th home donation. Daniel E. Vargas, executive director of Operation FINALLY HOME, said the organization’s work is small in comparison to what veterans do for the country.
“He can get his education and move forward and we owe that to him,” Vargas said. “We don’t feel that he is getting the home, he earned it … We need to find a way to give [veterans] the American dream.”
As Bernardo was wheeled out of the stadium, almost every Aggie stood to their feet and cheered for him as he passed by.
“It made it worth fighting,” Bernardo said. “Worth my legs, my hand. It’s more than appreciated. I don’t have words to explain how thankful I am for the gift of this home and for the chance to come to this school.”
Bernardo’s brother, Frank, Aggie class of 2004, said his brother always wanted to be a soldier, and fulfilled his destiny.
“I’m so proud of everything he has done,” Frank said. “You hope that [his injuries] would never happen. And on the 4th of July, that’s a pretty special day. He’s missing a few parts, but he’s still the same guy.”
Bernardo added with a grin, “Every year when the fireworks go off, that’s for me.”
Anyone wishing to support the effort can go to AggielandVeteran.com or the Operation FINALLY HOME Facebook page.
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