Community rallies to construct new home for Coast Guard vet

2014-06-09T00:15:00Z 2014-06-11T10:34:21Z Community rallies to construct new home for Coast Guard vetStory and Photos By BRETT FRENCH french@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

CODY, Wyo. — The residents of this small Yellowstone National Park border town have gone out of their way to pay for and construct a new home for a local veteran and his family.

“At first we felt like we were climbing a mountain by ourselves, but lo and behold everyone is behind us,” said Robin McClure.

Cody building contractors Robin and John McClure were the ones who searched out Texas-based Operation Finally Home for the idea and then initiated the construction of a 2,500 square foot house that will be given to Coast Guard veteran James Butz and his family when completed.

“The generosity of the community is overwhelming,” Butz said. “This whole area on this side of the Bighorn Mountains have been pitching in.”

Ground was broken on the donated lot in August and the project is about two-thirds done thanks to the work provided by the variety of professional builders, plumbers, electricians and others who have contributed to the effort. Financing has come from a number of sources: grade school children who solicited dollar donations for every chin-up they could do; athletes competing in a fitness challenge; a May 31 VFW barbecue to which all of the food and auction items were donated; and an upcoming beer fest that promises to donate funds to the construction costs.

“We knew by showing people what we were doing that people would get behind us,” John McClure said.

The original goal was to raise $150,000. By last week, that was down to about $16,000. The VFW barbecue and auction had raised another $8,500 by serving about 150 meals and with generous bids on auction items.

“Of course I would have liked to have gotten the whole $16,000, but that was a start,” said Jean Collier of the VFW, who helped organize the event. “Not a whole lot of us have a whole lot, but there is a lot of us that have a little, and if we all do a little we can chip away at it.”

Butz and his family were nominated to receive the house on the Operation Finally Home website, which is how the homes are allocated. The Basin High School graduate served in the National Guard before joining the Coast Guard where he was injured while boarding a North Korean ship suspected of arms smuggling off the coast of Hawaii in 2003. As he climbed a ladder, his leg was crushed between the two colliding ships. In the wake of the injury, he’s had 21 surgeries and a nearly fatal bone infection.

“Doctors thought they were going to have to take my leg to save my life,” Butz said. “Luckily, they saved both.”

Since returning to Wyoming he has been active with the local chapter of Wounded Warriors — even nominating other veterans for Operation Finally Home houses — and his wife, Donna, has worked with a Wives of Warriors support group. They have two children, Amanda and Thomas.

“The whole family is excited by the kids are really chomping at the bit,” Butz said. “They’ve already picked out their rooms.”

“It’s important to us that when we send people off to serve that we should be here to help them at home, too,” said John, who served in the Marines.

“And with this project there’s the opportunity to see where your donations are going,” Robin added.

The three-bedroom, two-bath house includes a one car garage. The home is compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act to ease Butz’s access, since he walks with a cane. The lot was donated by Cody real estate broker Ed Higbie.

“It’s important to us that this is a Wyoming project,” John McClure said, but he’s hoping that the effort has a ripple effect and prompts similar work in surrounding communities. He’s already talked to folks in Billings about a comparable project.

“People want to take care of our veterans,” Robin McClure said.

“If we can do it, and we don’t have deep pockets, then there should be no reason other communities can’t do the same thing,” John McClure said.

For his part, Butz said he has been stunned by the community’s efforts since his family was announced as recipients of the home at a rodeo last July.

“I’m beyond overwhelmed sometimes to be part of a community that is so patriotic and to be treated with such respect,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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