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Coalition to Salute America's Heroes Cpl. Shane Parsons at his new house on Dec. 23. Parsons lost his childhood home after his mother spent months in Germany while he was wounded, and a water leak created irreparable mold problem. The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes built a new house on the site.

Coalition to Salute America's Heroes Cpl. Shane Parsons at his new house on Dec. 23. Parsons lost his childhood home after his mother spent months in Germany while he was wounded, and a water leak created irreparable mold problem. The Coalition to Salute America's Heroes built a new house on the site. (Mychal Watts / Courtesy of Coalition to Salute America's Heroes)

ARLINGTON, Va. — All Cpl. Shane Parsons wanted for 2008 was the chance to sleep in his own bed.

And after everything the 22-year-old Army infantryman had been through, beginning with the roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq, on Sept. 30, 2006, that took both his legs, it seemed like such a simple wish.

Now, as he went through a painful rehabilitation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, “Shane would say, ‘Just have my room ready. I can’t wait to come home and sleep in my own bed,’” said his mom, Cindy Parsons.

But Cindy had to steel herself to tell her son a brutal truth: he didn’t have a bed anymore.

He didn’t have a home.

City inspectors in Fostoria, Ohio, had condemned the one-story ranch house at 1754 North Union St., along with most of its contents, after an undetected water leak led to a deadly black mold infestation.

“Basically, we were homeless,” Cindy said in a telephone interview from Fostoria. “All I had were our suitcases.”

Under normal circumstances, Cindy, 50, an emergency room nurse, would have found the leak long before matters grew so serious.

But Cindy had not left Shane’s side since flying to Germany on Oct. 2, 2006, where she rushed to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center to see her wounded son for the first time.

Miracle ChildFrom the first day Shane drew breath, he was her “miracle child,” Cindy said.

After seven years of trying in vain to start a family, Cindy and her husband, William “Rick” Parsons had pretty much conceded defeat.

In 1984 Rick was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Doctors measured his remaining lifespan in weeks; months if he was lucky. Just as the couple was trying to absorb that blow, Cindy found herself pregnant.

No one thought Rick would live to see the birth of his son, Cindy said. But he proved them wrong. Not only did he hold his newborn son on Aug. 3, 1985, it wasn’t until Shane was six months old that his father finally succumbed to cancer.

From then on, it was always Cindy and Shane, “a special team,” together against the world, his mother said.

After Rick died, Cindy rented a house for a couple years to save up for a down payment for a house, so Shane would have “a stable place to grow up.”

She finally selected an $80,000 one-story, three-bedroom ranch house with a cement foundation because it was close to a good elementary school.

Just as it is for so many single, working mothers, money was always a bit tight for the Parsons, Cindy said. There was always something that needed fixing or replacing around the house: the roof, the furnace, the hot-water heater. Cindy went back to the bank to re-finance her investment repeatedly. But they got by, she said.

So for Shane, the ranch house in Fostoria was the only home he ever knew.

Shane enlisted in the Army in August, 2004, and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, in the 3rd Battalion, 67th Regiment, part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division,. Shane’s unit deployed to Ramadi, Iraq in Dec. 2005.

"We knew he was going to go" when he enlisted, Cindy said. "That's part of why he chose the Army."

The callThe phone call that would change her life forever came on Saturday morning, when Shane always tried to call home.

Cindy, who hadjust finished showering after her 12-hour night shift at the hospital, happily raced to the kitchen to answer the phone. She couldn't wait to talk to her baby boy.

But it was not her son. And the stranger had news to stop a mother’s heart.

Shane had been driving the lead Humvee during a platoon patrol when it was hit by an explosively formed penetrator, or EFP. He and the gunner were in critical condition.

“He said Shane had been involved in a situation where he was severely injured,” Cindy said, “and that he was at a [combat hospital] and they were working on him to do the best they could. They said he had lost his right leg, and a lot of blood, and they’d call as soon as they could with more information.

“I went numb.”

A few hours later, the second call came. Shane’s left leg had also been amputated.

Cindy dropped to her knees, stunned with horror.

“I went numb,” Cindy said.

Fleeting images ran through her head of her athletic son – playing football, doing his karate, wrestling.

Then the third, most stunning blow of all fell: “I found out there was a severe brain injury, too.”

One thought, like a mantra, carried Cindy through the three days it took her to reach the bedside of her unconscious son.

“I’m coming baby, just hold on. Mom’s coming. Just hold on.”

Cindy spent months in Germany, relying on family to hold down the fort.

Too late to save houseBy the time the family checked on the house, around January 2007, the damage was done.

An all-out effort to make repairs and clean up the mold over the next several months failed.

By the end of the summer, the family had to face facts: the house was beyond saving.

“They were trying so hard to help us,” Cindy said. “It was just devastating to them when they had to sit me down and tell me” the house was a lost cause. “And then I had to tell Shane.”

“It was a very difficult situation.”

When Shane found out what had happened to his childhood home, in August, his first emotion was rage, he told Stars and Stripes on Tuesday from BAMC, where he was preparing to undergo his fourth surgery on what remains of his left leg.

Known for his sweet nature, the traumatic brain injury Shane had suffered in Iraq had changed his personality, he said, leaving him with a “short temper.”

And when he learned that his home was going to be destroyed, “I got really, really mad,” he said. “I mean, I had been living there what, 22 years? The last time I had seen it, was almost two years ago, before I went to Iraq. And now it was demolished. So it hit me pretty hard, and on top of that, to see Mom [upset] like that — I was really angry and frustrated.”

Just as the Parsons were contemplating a difficult 2008, the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes (www.saluteheroes.org) stepped in, with a Christmas gift that was too big to wrap.

On Nov. 15, the Ossining, N.Y.-based charity organization announced that it would build the Parsons a $130,000 handicapped-accessible, two-story, five-bedroom house on the site of the destroyed home.

In conjunction with the charity, “Big Kenny” Alphin, of country music duo Big & Rich, wrote a $10,000 check so the family could buy furniture.

“Words can’t describe what that felt like,” Cindy said.

Shane, too, “didn’t know what to think,” he said. “It was like fiction. You lose a house, someone gives you a whole new one — it seems like a movie.”

Cindy and Shane cut the ribbon on their partially constructed new house on Dec. 23, during a short break from Shane’s treatment.

“I don’t know when we’ll move in,” Cindy said, in part because Shane is scheduled for more surgery.

For Shane, the house is a visible symbol of the bond he feels with the American people.

“It’s amazing, all these organizations and people who want to help the soldiers,” Shane said. “I got the opportunity to go fight and take care of all these people, and this is them, taking care of me.


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