Army veteran Oscar Smith, wounded during tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, stepped from his car Tuesday, turned, walked and saw a house flying the American flag.
He stopped, drew his heels together and saluted.
“I can’t believe this is our house,” his wife would later say.
Smith has given much to his country, including 22 years of military service, including three battle tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and years away from his wife, Jennifer, and five children. He has seven Bronze Stars.
“I was in the middle of action. Smack dab in the middle of Baghdad every day,” said Smith, 47, who was a staff sergeant.
Debilitating post-traumatic stress disorder left him 100 percent disabled, stealing his sleep at night and robbing him of his sense of safety during the day.
“I can’t be in crowds,” he said. “ I can’t go nowhere, basically.”
War took his friends, his physical health and nearly his life.
“I’d still be in (the Army) except I got blowed up,” Smith said of a rocket attack.
So it perhaps seems fitting that he be given something in return: On Tuesday morning, Smith and his family received a new mortgage-free home in Lee’s Summit, courtesy of the nonprofit Building Homes for Heroes in collaboration with JPMorgan Chase bank. Some are houses that had gone into receivership.
“I’m so excited,” Smith said the night before he got to see and step into his new home for the first time. “I’m having a panic attack.”
Then the moment came at 10 a.m. Tuesday.
Smith’s children and wife gathered around him as he walked slowly toward his new 2,000-square-foot, four-bedroom home on Southeast 12th Terrace.
“I think we’re going to be all right now because of you all,” Smith said, standing with his family outside the garage door after a brief ceremony thanking sponsors of the program.
“This has taken so much worry away from our family,” said Jennifer Smith, 37. “I can’t thank you enough — everybody.”
The Smiths said the nonprofit notified the family that they would receive a new house about four months ago. Building Homes for Heroes, started in 2006, has given away 114 homes in the past five years and plans to hand over 16 more this year.
All are for disabled veterans. The is the first home the organization has given away in Missouri. The goal:
“It’s to help rebuild their lives,” said the nonprofit’s spokeswoman, Vicky Liu, who was at the opening. “Most are unemployed. They have a hard time living on their own.”
Recently, the family with five children — all girls except the youngest, and ranging in age from 3 to 15 — have been in a rented home. While Oscar Smith was deployed, the family received support from Jennifer Smith’s mother, Colleen Johnson, 62, an oncology nurse at Belton Regional Medical Center.
“They stayed with me quite a bit while he was overseas,” said Johnson, who said she was the one who urged her son-in-law to apply for the home after he was honorably discharged in 2016.
The organization receives about 500 applications for each home, on average. A board at the nonprofit decides on recipients.
“He has suffered a lot,” Johnson said. “We saw him off several times. And each time he went, he left little ones behind. … He always served his country with a lot of dignity and respect. I never heard him say a word when he had to leave.
“Was he sad to go? Yes. But I never heard him complain, and I saw the pain and suffering he went through when he got back.”
Jennifer Smith said she never worried about her husband getting PTSD. His physical injuries included a mangled left leg from a rocket attack. A gut infection unrelated to the rocket attack put Oscar Smith in a coma for days and led to internal surgery and removal of large portions of his intestines.
The worst has been the PTSD. “He barely sleeps at all at night,” said Jennifer Smith, who as caretaker of her children and husband doesn’t work outside the home. “He has nightmares.”
“I think if I see another room, I’m going to pass out. This is gorgeous. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Oscar Smith said, standing in the first bedroom at the stairs from the front door, where, directly outside, a sign was planted in the ground reading, “Home of the Brave.”