Community thanks injured vet by remodeling his home

Thursday, November 23, 2006
U.S. Army Sgt. Bryan Anderson headed to a news conference after touring his newly remodeled home Wednesday in Rolling Meadows, Ill. (Charles Rex Arbogast ~ Associated Press)

ROLLING MEADOWS, Ill. -- Last October, Army Sgt. Bryan Anderson lost both legs and one arm in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq, and death seemed imminent.

But on Wednesday, Anderson, 25, zipped down a newly built wheelchair ramp at his suburban Chicago home, lit a cigarette and declared that he'll spend his holiday giving thanks for his life and his family.

"I wouldn't stand in front of me," he warned family and friends before rolling down the ramp, raising a laugh from a crowd that had gathered to celebrate Anderson's return after 13 months of punishing rehabilitation.

For Anderson, it also was a chance to tour the inside of his newly renovated home, where he'll live with his mother and stepfather, Janet and Jim Waswo.

Companies, organizations and community residents chipped in to build the addition and remodel the original home, more than doubling the square footage. Two dozen contractors worked on the project, widening doorways, building ramps, designing a roll-in shower for the bathroom and installing an intercom system.

The effort was organized by Anderson's uncle and one-time baby sitter, Rick Schar, who lined up backing from his employer, the home-building company Kennedy Homes. The Rotary Club of Rolling Meadows donated $150,000.

"It's unbelievable. Uncle Rick is the bomb," Anderson said. "He promised me he would make it modern and not cheesy and he really held up his end of the bargain."

Anderson, who spoke to news reporters and photographers crowded on the home's driveway beside a front lawn sprouting more than 30 small American flags, said the gesture "just shows me how much people are behind their soldiers."

"If there's ever a soldier in need, I'm definitely going to be willing to help them, just like everybody else helped me," he said.

As of Nov. 1, more than 500 troops from all branches of the U.S. military have lost at least one limb in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army Medical Command spokesman Jaime Cavazos. That includes Anderson and 57 other Army soldiers who have lost multiple limbs.

At Walter Reed, Anderson met others who lost limbs but had no support from their families, he said.

"I don't know how they do it because I couldn't have done it without my family," he said.

He has learned to walk on prosthetic legs, which he plans to use most of the time. His grandmother, Rosemary Schar, said Anderson's high school experience as a competitive gymnast gave him the physical strength that pulled him through more than a dozen surgeries and arduous physical therapy.

"That has given him the strength of body, shoulders, maybe even hips -- and that's all he has left," she said.

Anderson plans to rejoin his former employer, American Airlines, but he and his brother, Bob, ultimately want to work as Hollywood stuntmen.

Anderson said the identical twins could play the same character before and after a war injury.

"I can be the 'after' man," Anderson wisecracked. But when asked how he feels about the war, Anderson grew serious.

"I don't think about that anymore. I don't watch the news. I spent two years over there," he said. "I wish the best for the soldiers, but I don't want to know about it anymore."

He said his unit has returned home safely.

"My friends are home," he said. "I don't feel like a part of me is still over there."

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