Group honors veterans by repairing homes for free
New Haven Register, Conn.
HAMDEN, Conn. — Frederick Joseph Miller, a World War II veteran, didn’t think he deserved the attention Saturday, but they gave it to him anyway.
The ones who knew they knew better were a crew of volunteers working for the Connecticut chapter of House of Heroes, who cleaned out Miller’s house, painted it, built a new front stoop, installed a new picture window and upgraded his home’s electrical and plumbing systems. He got new smoke detectors and ground fault protectors, and new outlets and also will get a new front door and new back steps.
House of Heroes volunteers were in Hamden, Meriden and Stratford Saturday to renovate and repair homes for three veterans who can no longer do such things for themselves, a fitting way to spend Memorial Day weekend.
The icing on the cake were the flag-raising ceremonies featuring Nashville singer and songwriter Tim Maggart, and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who presented flags to the veterans.
“Seeing him comfortable and smiling again, it brings a tear to my eye. It’s our turn to give back to him,” said Miller’s son, Frederick “Rick” Miller Jr.
A friend of the Miller family, Steve Cavanaugh of Biltmore Inc., has teamed up with veteran Bill May to start the Connecticut chapter of House of Heroes, a nonprofit organization that began in Columbus, Ga., in 2000. Since then, the organization has provided no-cost home repair services to more than 500 military and public service veterans and their spouses. In Connecticut, the goal is to do 10 projects this year, 25 next year and 50 the following year.
Miller served stateside in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1947 and attained the rank of sergeant. He was part of the search and rescue team that searched the Everglades for the infamous Flight 19, where five Navy Avenger bombers disappeared during an overwater navigation training flight in 1945. Miller said his lengthy career with Pratt and Whitney as an equipment and facilities engineer was due to the extensive training he had in the military.
The organization on Saturday also helped veteran Pfc. Maura Rettman of Meriden and Army National Guard Sgt. Rudolph Pistey of Stratford, both retired.
The elder Miller said he started to build his home on Still Hill Road in 1952 and finished in 1954, when he and his late wife, Marilyn, moved in. Not much has been done to the house since she died from cancer on Memorial Day in 1991, he said.
Their daughter, Leslie Miller, said she was thrilled that volunteers could help her father.
“It’s awesome. He’s always so giving and caring for everybody else. He always worries about his kids and his grandkids. It’s nice to see him getting help,” said Miller, whose children are Taylor and Jordan Jacques. Jordan Jacques is well known in town, having had cancer three times since childhood. “I’m grateful there is an organization out there that does this for our veterans,” Leslie Miller said.
Besides Biltmore Inc., also helping Saturday on Still Hill Road in Hamden were DeLucia Home Improvements, Paul Mordecai Electric and Elite Property Services, as well as some friends, girlfriends and spouses of the contractors.
Cody Freer of Hamden was part of the cleaning crew with Debbie Kripps and Linda Davis. Freer said she wanted to help when she heard Miller’s house was going to get fixed. An emergency medical technician at American Medical Response, she said she’s gone into the homes of veterans and so often sees they can’t afford food or medicines, let alone house repairs. “It breaks my heart,” she said.
Blumenthal, who arrived in Hamden after the flag-raising ceremony in Meriden, said he was inspired by the project and the “outpouring of support” on a sweaty day. He gave Miller a flag that had flown over the Capitol, and Miller said he appreciated what was done for him.
After Maggart sang the song he wrote for House of Heroes, Blumenthal said he was going to put the lyrics in the Congressional Record and make a speech on the floor of the Senate about House of Heroes, then send the speech to Maggart.
Said Maggart, “I believe in the work they do. I wanted to write them a theme song.” Maggart was flown up for the Connecticut ceremonies and flies back to Georgia today.
May said he was pleased that the organization met its ambitious schedule.
“It was fantastic. We had quite a crew,” Cavanaugh said.