By: Jamie O’Toole
American flags lined the driveway gently rippling in the wind, as the crowd gathered around a beautiful, custom-built home in anticipation of US Army Sergeant Monte Bernardo’s arrival.
March 22 the King Oaks community welcomed Bernardo home, presenting him with the keys to his new house in Iola. As Bernardo stepped out of the car, his fiancée Amanda and his 12-year-old daughter Felicity at his side, he laid eyes on his home for the first time since its completion. Among those waiting to greet the hero were his five siblings and Operation FINALLY HOME Director Dan Wallrath, as well as countless homebuilders and developers, neighbors-to-be, fellow veterans, and volunteers.
Operation FINALLY HOME, in conjunction with SouthStar Communities and the Newman’s Own Foundation, sponsored the building of the home. Operation FINALLY HOME is a non-profit organization with a mission to provide custom-built, mortgage-free homes to America’s military heroes and the widows of the fallen. Members of the King Oaks neighborhood, the City of Iola, and the Aggieland community all volunteered their time, money, and efforts through the completion of the project.
After the presentation of the colors by the Aggie Corps of Cadets Delta Company and a few short speeches, Bernardo was handed the keys and invited to explore his new, mortgage-free home.
“Wow, it’s beautiful. I just can’t thank everyone enough,” says Bernardo, while touring the house for the first time.
Bernardo joined the army in 2006 and served two tours in Afghanistan. During his second tour in 2012, his platoon came under fire and, while leading his team, stepped on an IED. The implosion left him critically injured and resulted in the loss of both legs and left hand. He received treatment in a medical center in Maryland until his recovery and retired from the army in November 2013. Bernardo received a Purple Heart for his service.
Bernardo and Amanda expressed their appreciation for the community and the warm welcome they received. Bernardo compliments, “They are a great group of people. That’s what all of America should be.”
Along with his new home, the members of the King Oaks neighborhood expressed their excitement for the new couple’s arrival by outfitting the house with outdoor furniture, a grill, and a flagpole, along with all the remaining donations to help the couple start their new life in Iola.
“Home is where the heart is and my heart is with him. We are here together, so this is home,” says Simmons. “We are so excited and I am sure there will be many barbeques, warm Texas nights, and Aggie games.”
Bernardo already has plans to start running and make use of all of the outdoor amenities of his new living space and the surrounding acre. The couple looks forward to the limitless possibilities of their new life in Texas and calling Iola home.
For more information, visit www.operationfinallyhome.org