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He has 2 Purple Hearts but couldn’t afford home repairs — Then help arrived, for free

American Flag (Unsplash/Lucas Sankey)

Sitting in a chair in his family room, cane in one hand and his other arm crossed over his midsection, Charlie Moore is an unassuming hero. He can share a war story or two, but he can just as easily talk about growing up on a farm in Wisconsin.

On a humid June evening, Moore, 75, is wearing an Army hat and American flag-clad T-shirt. For more than 40 years, he has been a disabled veteran, after an accident in Vietnam left him unable to work. He wears his Army garb proudly.

The Purple Heart recipient and former prisoner of war uses humor to tell his stories.

“A military career is a good career to have,” he says, before taking a short pause. “Unless there’s a war going on.”

Moore and his wife, Mary, jab with each other like any longtime couple. But there is warmth to their jesting; it radiates across an otherwise dimly lit home in need of repairs — repairs they can’t afford and can’t do themselves.

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“They always give, completely unselfishly,” said their daughter, Lisa. “They do their best.”

What the Moores needed was a lifeline, so Lisa started making calls. And on Saturday morning, work began in Middleton to provide the family even more help than they could have imagined.

‘A new house’

The Moores’ home, located on Middleton’s Latimore Lane, has been in a shambles for years. But both Charlie and Mary are on disability, and subsequent medical bills haven’t made repairs possible.

Their roof leaks in at least six different places, which sometimes requires the placement of bowls, “like in the Western days,” Mary joked.

The subsequent water damage has slanted and warped the ceiling in one bedroom; in another bedroom there is a ceiling so tattered that the paint looks like just-opened wrapping paper.

The railings on the side of the house are so worn that it appears termites are vacationing.

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The paint job in Mary’s room has started to bubble to the point that her granddaughter can poke it and make it pop. The lawn hasn’t been mowed or watered in four or five years, with weeds and dirt taking the place of grass. The lawnmower stopped working years ago.

But through the help of the Veterans Administration, the Idaho Joint Military Family Programs and a group of volunteers, the family saw the start of a miracle Saturday, as crews got to work on completely stripping and replacing the house’s roof.

It was the first part of a free-of-charge project that will include repainting both the interior and exterior of the house, reflooring it, adding new railings, and installing new showers and toilets.

Her eyes welling with tears, Mary Moore, 65, was overcome just talking about it.

“They’re giving us a new house,” she said. “I’ve never done enough to deserve such treatment.”

Service to others

Charlie Moore fondly remembers that back in Wisconsin years ago, neighbors were quick to help one another when services in rural areas were somewhat hard to come by. It’s a way of life that has stuck with him over the years. If a barn burned down, the neighbors got together to build a new one.

“Back during World War II, you lived on a farm, you and your neighbors would trade. Say you butchered a cow, and they butcher a lamb or whatever. You trade,” he said. “It was a good life, and it taught you to share with others. And that’s where I got it from.”

Charlie showed that spirit of volunteerism when he joined the Army in 1967. He was not drafted; he chose to serve.

His career quickly took a turn when his sergeant asked for volunteers to operate the guns on a helicopter. “(Then he pointed), ‘you, you and you.’”

Charlie, originally a helicopter mechanic, was suddenly a door gunner. He was injured from flare blasts, forcing doctors to insert metal plates into his right arm and his head. He has been receiving disability benefits since 1971.

After retirement, Charlie followed his parents to Idaho, where they had just moved from California. He moved to Canyon County and met Mary, a Cascade native, at a local watering hole called Pop-Top. The two had known each other (but not dated) for about a year before Charlie casually asked for her hand in marriage at the bar. They were married in 1974.

“He turns around and says, ‘Let’s get married.’ And I said, “No, I don’t think so,’” Mary said. “(Then I said) OK.”

The couple rented trailers and homes for years before moving to Latimore Lane in 2000. Charlie’s disability and Mary’s salary while working for the state allowed the couple to make the purchase.

A house in need

The house was built in 1956 and has three roofs, one on top of the other. None of the three did a particularly good job of fighting off the first rainstorm the couple endured while living in the home. Within a month, there were leaks.

Over the next 18 years, the leaks and problems accumulated. Mary was forced to stop working in the early 2000s because of a shoulder injury. She also has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has been hospitalized on multiple occasions over the past few years. Dust and other damage around the home don’t do her condition any favors.

Lisa, who has a full-time job, lives with the couple to help take care of them. Neither Charlie nor Mary has a consistent salary other than disability payments; hospital visits and prescription costs have sucked out a major portion of their earnings.

Lisa got loans and started making payments so the family could get a working air-conditioner and furnace. That left no money for a roof, though.

Lisa prides herself on being able to come through when it matters. This time, however, she was stuck.

“I’m a fixer, and I couldn’t fix it,” she said. “And that’s very frustrating to me.”

A call for help

Lisa refers to Stephanie Barton as a “powerhouse.” Given the work Barton has put in over the past few weeks, the title seems earned.

“Talking to Stephanie, it’s easy to believe what she says,” Lisa said.

Lisa said she initially contacted the VA in April looking for help. She was given number after number to call, but for the most part, the response was, “There’s nothing we can do.”

Barton, who works as a family assistance center specialist for the Idaho Joint Military Family Programs and is a National Guard member, was a recipient of one of Lisa’s emails. She jumped on board. She began contacting people who could assist. She was able to work with Home Depot, which donated all the supplies, including roofing materials, for the project. LaFever Roofing is installing the roofing — again, for free. The Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP) partnered as well.

“Mr. Moore is a double Purple Heart recipient, and a former POW. His service and sacrifices for his country (are) deserving enough to receive help he so deserves,” Barton said.

Barton also worked closely with Team Rubicon, a veteran-based disaster relief organization established in 2010. While the group usually deals with natural disasters, it focuses on community efforts as well, according to Team Rubicon Boise administrator Rick Sego.

Prior to inspecting the property, Sego had only seen pictures of the house. When he set foot inside it, he knew how badly the Moores needed help.

“When you see it, you know it,” Sego said. “You see what their level of income is, and they’re not going to be able to accomplish some of the stuff that really needs to be done for their safety. It’s helping a neighbor, and that’s what we want to create.”

Help arrives

By 9 a.m. Saturday, a group of about 15 workers, some with Team Rubicon and some with Lefever, were sawing down rotten trees and doing preliminary work.

By 11 a.m., Sego was on the roof, with hard hat and harness, beginning to strip off shingles.

Charlie and Mary, never ones to sit back and relax, walked outside and chatted with the workers. They stood in disbelief as they watched a community of people they don’t know make life-changing renovations.

“All I really wanted was a roof. And they’ve gone over and above and beyond what I would have ever dreamed of,” Mary said.

When Barton visited with Home Depot a few weeks back to create a plan, she asked Mary whether she wanted a wood floor. Wide-eyed and in pure shock, Mary nodded and said she’d “love it.”

Renovations on the house will not happen overnight, of course; the roof itself is going to take close to five days to complete. The interior work will be redone in July.

But even though the project is barely underway, the Moores are emotional. Charlie dedicated his life to serving and lost a good portion of his working life because of it, but the family still somehow feels unworthy.

“You can’t say (thank you) enough,” Mary said. “It just feels empty.”

‘It’s amazing’

Charlie spent most of Saturday’s excitement sitting under a tent that Team Rubicon set up, catching up with fellow veterans and trading stories. He also shared his dreams of finally getting the tattoos he’s always wanted: one of a leprechaun finding a pot of gold, and one of the animated Tasmanian Devil (he had an old watch with the cartoon on it, he said proudly).

But beyond jokes and clever banter, the Moores were relieved, if nothing else. After nearly two decades of worrying and not knowing whether help would ever be on the way, Saturday served as a physical indicator of change.

“It’s amazing there’s still people willing to do that,” Charlie said.

Mary was sentimental as well, and thinking about her family. Standing on her soon-to-be-mowed lawn, she talked about the fact that when she and Charlie first bought the house, the hope was that it would be passed on to their three children. For a long while, that seemed to be a remote possibility.

“No matter what happens now, we can die in peace. We bought this place for our kids,” she said. “I can’t believe it. I just can’t.”

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© 2018 The Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.