The United States will never forget the series of terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people, but on the 18th anniversary of 9/11, Sgt. Adam Hartswick will also remember it as the day he was welcomed into his forever home.
After stepping on an improvised explosion device while serving as an Army medic in Afghanistan in May 2013, Harstwick underwent a series of surgeries. The trauma resulted in the loss of both legs from above the knees, his right index finger, the tip of his thumb and a chunk of his right wrist. To thank him for his service and sacrifice, the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation presented Hartswick with a custom-made smart home in Spring Mills on Wednesday.
“I’m speechless,” the State College Area High School graduate said after touring the house for the first time.
The first thing Hartswick did upon entering his new home was display four photos of his fellow soldiers — Sgt. Jeffrey Baker, Spc. Cody “Doc” Towse, Spc. Mitchell Daehling and Spc. William Gilbert — who were killed the day Hartswick lost his legs.
To Hartswick, they are the true heroes — “the men that didn’t come back.”
“They’re always going to be a part of my life,” he said. “I don’t want their names to be forgotten. I am alive today because of their sacrifices. They saved us all that day in their own ways. They were all absolute heroes, and someday when I have children, they will know those names. As long as I live, I am going to tell their story.”
Tunnel to Towers was created to honor Stephen Siller, a firefighter who died while helping save others at the World Trade Center on 9/11. It is believed Siller died in the south tower, but his body was never found. The foundation offers a series of programs that aim to honor and support military veterans, first responders and their families who continue to sacrifice their lives and limbs while protecting others.
Hartswick’s relationship with the foundation began as he recovered at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. On Wednesday, John LaBarbera, retired Fire Department of New York battalion commander and foundation board member, presented Hartswick with a statue made of steel from the twin towers and expressed his gratitude for first responders and those who served post-9/11.
“I can’t thank (Tunnel to Towers) enough,” Hartswick said. “It’s just amazing what you guys do. I’m really happy that my house is this beautiful.”
A procession of police, firefighters and Patriot Guard Riders escorted Hartswick, his girlfriend Sara Bordack and their dog Arlo to the smart home, where family, friends, local officials and community members eagerly awaited their arrival.
The house will allow Hartswick to live as independently as possible as it is completely wheelchair accessible, with wide hallways, oversized doors and hardwood floors. It features pull-down kitchen cabinets and an adjustable stove, enabling Hartswick to reach utilities with ease.
“It’s just little, tiny things that this house is going to make so much easier,” Hartswick said, adding that he is most looking forward to using the stove.
Hartswick serves as a board member at his local Veterans of Foreign Wars in Pine Grove Mills and works for Techline Technologies, where he helps train public servants in battlefield medicine. He said he is grateful that when he came back from serving in Afghanistan, he had strong support systems to help him recover, find employment and build his dream home.
Despite the countless resources for veterans, Hartswick said they do not distract from the ongoing war and those who continue to volunteer and protect the United States, its citizens and allies.
“I want everybody to please take a moment today to remember everybody we’ve lost since 9/11 and the last 18 years at war,” he said. “Hopefully soon, we’ll have a peaceful resolution, so we can all go home.”
© 2019 the Centre Daily Times
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