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Dan Wallrath - Inspirational & Motivational Stories

Dan Wallrath - Building free homes for wounded veterans

"Thank you. That's all I can say, "Elizabeth Reyes said, sobbing and clutching her stunned husband's arm. This was the reaction of the wife of 24 year old, Alexander Reyes. Alexander's dream of a military career came to a sudden halt after he was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Baghdad two years ago. "Laying in that hospital bed ... sometimes I felt I'd rather [have] died," Reyes said. "My life came to a complete halt." Like many wounded military veterans, the transitions form a combat life to a civilian lifestyle was difficult. His wife broke down crying because of the warm gesture shown by Dan Wallrath. Reason being, he gifted them a custom built home, mortgage-free.

For the past 30 years, Dan has spent building upscale dream houses for his clients. But in 2005, he endeavors went into a direction he could have never imagined. That year he met Steve Schulz about a project so different it would change the way war veterans lived their civilian lives. Schulz's 20-year old son, a U.S. Marine, had been gravely injured in Iraq. He knew he desperately needed to remodel his home to accommodate his son's wheelchair. "I had no idea how I was going to pay for it," Schulz said. "I just knew that I had to get it done." Dan saw pictures of his son, before and after the injury. "He was a big, strapping Marine," Wallrath said. But the after pictures were a completely different story all together. "He was ... half his size. It was so sad," he said. As a favour to a friend, Dan quickly arranged for an army of carpenters, plumbers and suppliers and remodeled the house. They made vital areas of the house more handicapped-accessible such as the doorways and bathroom. "Anything that needed to be done, Dan said, 'We'll take care of it,' " Schulz recalled. "It was just a huge, huge relief." Dan soon realized, there were many more in the US facing this problem.  "It dawned on me that people are facing this all over the U.S." Dan said.

Dan wanted to give back to the war veterans who risked their lives to protect them and serve the country. He knew best by doing what her knew how to do best; Build homes. Experience the grief in transitioning to the home front life, Dan started a nonprofit called Operation Finally Home, which provides mortgage-free custom-made homes to wounded or disabled veterans. He took his idea and pitched it to his local trade group, the Bay Area Builders Association in an attempt to convince them they should start a home-building program for wounded veterans. With donations coming in later on, they were able to build fully furnished homes to meet the customized needs of each family. What more, the homes were mortgage-free and the group covered the taxes and insurance for two years. Having this worry taken care of gave veterans and their spouses a chance to find a new career or maybe even go back to school and pick up where they left off. "If you can alleviate a financial burden off these young kids where they can concentrate on rebuilding their lives, you can really make a difference," he said. "We're moving on and moving forward. ... For someone to think about me and my family ... to build a home -- wow. That's a hero." said Lt. Erasmo Valles, a marine injured by an IED in Iraq in 2004 and ultimately had to go thru the hardship of having one of his legs amputated.

Dan is now extremely determined to help as many families reconstruct their lives as he can. He has made it a point to give back something of value to those 30,000 or so troops who've been wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq. With a goal of building 100 homes, Wallrath has been approaching various builders' associations across the country to pitch in to the cause. Now retired, Dan devotes half his time in helping reshape lives without pay. "These kids ... they're doing it for me and you," he said. "So we're the ones that need to step up and do something."

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