Vietnam War veteran, Tom Harris woke up on Veterans Day with amenities in his home that didn’t accommodate his physical needs. But thanks to a team of employees from the Home Depot in State College, Harris gotexactly what he needed and more, all by the end of the day.
Nine Home Depot employees volunteered their services to remove and replace Harris’ bathtub and kitchen cabinets. The crew also upgraded the handicap ramp, installed new handrails and replaced skirting around the bottom of the home.
“I thought somebody was messing with me, but low and behold here they are,” Harris said fighting back tears. “They opened the door and they came in like a bunch of ants, and they haven’t stopped since. It’s amazing what they’re doing”
Julie Kanouff, an associate at the Home Depot in State College said the store teamed with the Home Depot Foundation as a part of the company’s “Celebration of Service” program, which ran from Sept. 11 to Nov. 11. The program aims to help veterans in need, and after learning about Harris, Kanouff said he was “the perfect candidate.”
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Harris, 71, completed three tours of service in Vietnam starting in 1966. He was a member of the 42nd Infantry Platoon Scout Dog. The platoon, developed during World War II, was responsible for handling German Shepherds. The dogs provided units with ambush warnings, discovered trip wires, traps and other unseen dangers.
During his time on the ground in Vietnam, Harris said he was exposed to Agent Orange, which he attributes to his health problems. Harris suffers from neuropathy as a result of Type 2 Diabetes. Neuropathy is a condition that results from damaged nerves in the central nervous system. The condition leads to loss of muscle control, which has caused Harris to experience difficulty walking and controlling his extremities.
“I’m weak,” Harris said. “I can barely even pick up a piece of paper. And if I need to go anywhere I have to use a wheelchair.”
Sitting at the end of his couch wearing a bright orange Home Depot shirt and his black 42nd Scout Dog hat, Harris wiped his tearing eyes and in his deep, gruff voice he said he felt like he hit the lottery.
“I hit the big one today, I really did,” Harris said. “You have no idea how happy I am about this. I’m ecstatic and I’ve been crying all morning.”
He humbly insisted that the day was about all of the people who came to help.
“They just came out and did it on their time. They’re not getting paid for this, they’re just doing it to help me,” Harris said.
Harris’ long-time friend Cheryl Grove said he is always trying to help people and she felt it was time that Harris was rewarded. Grove was instrumental in making the day possible.
“I work at a local veterans club and Julie (Kanouff) came to me in October and she asked, do you know a veteran that can use some help?” Grove said. “I gave her Tom’s name.”
Outside of Harris’ home the new materials were spread throughout the yard. Eager workers with bright orange shirts worked in concert to change a veteran’s life.
Harris said the most welcome change was in the bathroom. His old tub had a high ledge and even though friends installed bars so he could pull himself up, the simple task of bathing was becoming almost impossible. As part of the renovation, which Kanouff estimated would cost almost $10,000 if a contractor completed the work, a new walk-in shower was installed.
As the work progressed, Harris repeatedly tried to take the spotlight off of himself. The humble veteran, who served his country and has paid a stiff price, was focused on thanking everyone who walked through the house.
“This is so amazing,” Harris said. “I just can’t say enough about these people. They are my heroes. I really mean that.”
Grove was quick to praise the work, but she encouraged Harris to realize that the day was all about him.
“You deserve this Tom,” Grove said. “It’s your turn to have people help you.”