Wounded vet, accepting keys to new home, inspires with courage, music

By ZEKE MACCORMACK | San Antonio Express-News | Published: September 12, 2014

CANYON LAKE, Texas — A star-spangled crowd, marching band and motorcycle procession helped honor a wounded veteran with the gift of a new house Thursday as it commemorated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Raucous cheers and chants of “U.S.A.! USA!” greeted retired Army Spc. Justin P. Lane, the home's recipient, who lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on July 3, 2011.

Since being injured, the 27-year-old Wisconsin native has launched a singing career and tried to inspire others to overcome life's hurdles.

He told the crowd of more than 500 that he was overwhelmed by their support and by the 2,700-square-foot residence on Rebecca Way, one of more than 70 homes built nationwide for wounded veterans since 2005 by HelpingaHero.org.

“I really appreciate your love and support and respect and how much you care for the wounded warriors,” said Lane after joining Lee Greenwood, the group's national ambassador, in a duet of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Between hamming it up and getting teary about a friend killed in battle, “J.P” Lane plugged the upcoming release of his yet-unnamed album of pop rock.

“Every day I live my life to the fullest because God allowed me to live,” said Lane, whose public performance debut came in Washington at the Texas Black Tie and Boots Ball during President Barack Obama's inauguration week in 2013.

Greenwood, who shared the microphone with Lane for a rendition of his hit, “God Bless the USA,” said he passed up invitations to perform elsewhere on 9/11's 13th anniversary.

“This is the most important thing I could be doing today, honoring a soldier who stood up for America during wartime,” he said. “Now we have to stand up for him.”

Also speaking was George P. Bush, candidate for state land commissioner who served in Afghanistan in 2010 in the Naval Reserves. He called Lane “a great American” and “the personification of courage” for overcoming his injuries.

“Just as fire refines steel, this experience has made Justin even stronger,” Bush said. “Today he is well on his way to becoming a flourishing musical artist.”

The event included a solemn tribute to those killed in the 9/11 attacks, which included “Amazing Grace” played by bagpiper E.W. Forbess.

“We owe a debt to our veterans as a nation that we truly can never repay,” Meredith Iler of HelpingaHero.org said before acknowledging the businesses that donated goods and services to the home-building project.

Like the other HelpingaHero.org recipients, Lane was required to contribute $50,000 through a mortgage. He also must live for at least 10 years in the home.

Michael Cotugno, the MJC Construction builder of the home, called Sept. 11 “a perfect date” to hand Lane the keys.

“It all goes together,” he said. “Celebrating a new home for one of our heroes and remembering the victims and their families and those who went to war for us to maintain our freedom.”

Away from the crowd, Lane dismissed the loss of his legs as “no big deal” and expressed discomfort at being called a hero.

“I'm very stubborn and very competitive, so nothing will stop me from achieving my goals,” he said. “I want to inspire and motivate people to never give up.”

Lane is divorced with no kids. He said he served with the Army Reserves 428th Engineer Co. out of Wausau, Wisconsin.

Touring the completed single-story home for the first time, Lane repeatedly said, “Dang, this is nice.”

His father, Art Lane, said, “Texas has opened up its arms and given us a huge, huge hug. We're thrilled to death.”

Justin Lane's stepmother, Kristi Lane, joked, “Can I live here?” zeke@express-news.net

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