HOCKINSON — The interior walls in Rico Roman’s future home east of Hockinson are nothing more than wood studs.
Those studs now offer handwritten words of gratitude, encouragement and love for a man who lost his lower left leg in service to his country.
Roman, a retired Army staff sergeant, was touched by the support and by those who are building a forever house where he and his family can live.
“Thank you so much for all the time you’ve put in to make this home a dream come true,” he said to more than 50 family members, friends, neighbors, contractors and suppliers who gathered Monday morning in the half-finished home.
“I’ve still got to pinch myself every morning,” he said. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”
The group came together for a “Walls of Honor” event to write inspirational messages for Roman and his family.
“I think this will be the only time I give my niece a felt-pen marker and tell her to write on the wall,” Roman joked.
The words scrawled on studs soon will be covered by wallboard and paint, but the feelings behind them will remain forever.
“The whole goal is to fill the house with love before they move in,” said Chris Kuban of the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Sinise, who played Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 Academy Award-winning “Forrest Gump,” established the foundation in 2011 to assist soldiers, veterans, first responders and their families.
Through its Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment, or RISE, program, the foundation works with contractors and others in the building industry to provide specially adapted smart homes for severely wounded veterans.
Kuban said the Gary Sinise Foundation already has built 60 homes across the nation and will have finished or started another 20 by the end of 2019.
The Hockinson house should be completed in the next six months, in time for Roman, his wife, Ela, and his two teenagers to move in before the start of summer.
Wade Mitcheltree, a triple amputee, attended Monday’s event wearing a T-shirt, shorts and three prosthetic limbs. He was eager to share his experiences living in a Tigard, Ore., home the Gary Sinise Foundation built for him in 2017.
“It’s life changing,” he said. “Simple things as being able to get into a laundry room and throw a little laundry in when you are home by yourself. Being able to go anywhere in the house and not be restricted.
“Just the independence the house gives you,” Mitcheltree said. “There’s really nothing in the house that I can’t do or don’t do. Whether I have my prosthetics on or I’m in my wheelchair, I can make a meal.”
Roman grew up in the Portland area and in Rainier, Ore. He and his two brothers were raised by a single mother.
He joined the Army in 2001. In February 2007, during his fourth deployment in Iraq, Roman was severely injured when his Humvee was rocked by an improvised explosive device.
After three months confined to a hospital bed, numerous surgeries to both legs and more pain that anyone should have to endure during a year of therapy, Roman made the difficult decision to have his left leg amputated above the knee.
Today, he lives in a house off Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver where it’s nearly impossible to maneuver a wheelchair through halls and doorways.
Roman can get around on crutches, but that prevents him from picking anything up. He has a prosthetic leg, which he wore during Monday’s event, but it creates painful blisters and other irritations.
Roman said he has little choice but to wear his prosthetic leg for almost the entire day.
“I can’t use a wheelchair in the home that I’m in,” he said. “It’s wear and tear on my prosthetic leg, as well as on my other knee that’s injured as well. It sucks.”
His new home east of Hockinson will have features so he can use a wheelchair without trying to squeeze through doorways.
No stairs to climb when entering. Low countertops and other features in the kitchen for cooking in a wheelchair. Advanced electronics so lights, temperature and security systems can be controlled with an iPad or smartphone.
“I won’t have to ask someone, ‘Can you go grab me this or go grab me that?’ ” Roman said. “I will be able to go through the doors in my wheelchair and be comfortable in my own home.”
The two-story home will include a stairway lift so Roman has access to the daylight basement. The home will have a generous 5,700 square feet, including decks.
“The whole home is going to be barrier-free,” said Aaron Marvin, co-owner of A.C.T. Builders, the home’s general contractor.
Roman said what he looks forward to the most is being home — for good.
“That sense of being rooted,” he said. “I know now that I don’t have to go anywhere else.”