Community celebrates unveiling of Purple Heart Home
By Brenda Sullivan - ReminderNews
Manchester - posted Wed., Jul. 31, 2013
For U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee, moving into a new home built by Purple Heart Homes is truly the beginning of a new life - one that was celebrated with a parade, speeches by dignitaries and a lot of hugs among the hundreds of volunteers who made the project possible.
Lee served in the U.S. Army Reserves in Iraq for eight years. She survived four explosions of improvised explosive devices, but her greatest struggle has been recovering from the trauma of sexual assault by a fellow officer.
On Oct. 13, 2009, at a rally in Times Square to ignite action on the part of the military to address what had been a largely ignored problem in the ranks, Lee spoke publicly for the first time about her assault in 2004.
Her speech is recorded in a YouTube video in which she says, “My attacker was a fellow soldier, someone I had to turn around and defend with my life the next day. But what could I do? I was in the middle of a war zone.”
During the ceremony held at her new home on Cornell Street on July 27, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D) commended Lee for the courage it took to come forward about her assault and her willingness to testify before Congress as it deliberates tougher penalties for sexual assault by members of the military.
Other speakers also talked about how they’ve watched Lee gradually regain her feeling of value and sense of purpose, which she acknowledged herself with gratitude to the outpouring of support from the community volunteers.
Lee even took up the microphone to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a gathering of more than 100.
“I felt my heart in my throat as I watched the flag being flown and you singing the national anthem. This flag says an American patriot lives here,” said Blumenthal, who presented Lee with a Congressional Certificate of Special Recognition.
“She put her life on the line for eight years, most of that in combat… She’s overcome not only wounds from the battlefield, but wounds of sexual assault. Let no one mistake that we need to eliminate the scourge of sexual assault in the military… the best and bravest in the world must have a justice system worthy of them,” he said.
John Gallina, co-founder of Purple Heart Homes and also a veteran, told the gathering that their support will be key to Lee’s recovery. “Purple Heart Homes was started to bring communities together… [Veterans] need to feel they are supported and loved and lifted up,” he said.
“When you go to combat and then come home, you’re different. What helps the transition is the community… it has to embrace that person. Thank you for having that belief, not only in Purple Heart Homes and Sandra, but in yourselves,” Gallina said.
Lee expressed gratitude to the countless volunteers and donors who created her new home, including a large, fenced-in backyard for her three dogs.
The home was furnished by decorator George Oliphant. The crew for NBC’s “George to the Rescue” taped Lee seeing the finished project for the first time that morning. The segment will air in mid-September.
“I cannot thank you and the other sponsors enough for making my living environment so beautiful,” Lee said.
Lee said her first guests will be her parents, who are coming to visit in August. Their visit will include a week at a beach home on Cape Cod, donated by Rich Carlson and his wife.
Lee said she now plans to complete her degree in holistic health. “I want to help other veterans like me who suffer from invisible injuries,” she said, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I still have a lot of work to do on myself, but I want to be a good neighbor… I truly look forward to my life now, in Manchester,” Lee said.
To read more about this project, see “Mission Nearly Complete for Purple Heart Homes Project” at http://www.remindernews.com/article/2013/07/02/mission-nearly-complete-f....