Roy Exum: A Wounded Warrior’s ‘Tomorrow’

Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Several weeks ago, when giant-hearted Mark Wilson met with the contractors who will deliver a 4th of July miracle tomorrow, he promised three things: “You will never work as hard in one week, you’ll never be paid less for the best work you’ve ever accomplished, and you’ll walk away at the end in a way you’ll never forget.”  What an understatement.

Over 1,000 people are racing around the clock to put the finishing touches on a stunning house for Andrew and Tori Smith. The sparkling new home, nestled in four wooded acres in Apison, will be presented to the “Wounded Warrior” at an 11 o’clock ceremony tomorrow morning that will feature comments by General B.B. Bell and the dream’s creator, the charismatic Wilson who has long since run out of tears of joy.

The deed to the house and property, easily worth over $500,000, will be given free-and-clear to the young Army soldier who, on the very first mission in Afghanistan on March 8, 2012, triggered an explosive device that ripped away both legs, blew violent shrapnel into his abdomen, and would surely have snuffed away his life had it not been for the immense love of his new bride, his mighty family and, now, a huge army called “Team Andrew” that on this Independence Day will once again prove that God is undefeated.

By all accounts Andrew should have died. His mother and his wife admit there were bleak moments at Walter Reed National Medical Hospital, but yesterday he was sitting in a $35,000 all-terrain wheel chair, compliments of TV commentator Bill O’Reilly (it even has ‘Force’ embroidered behind the headrest). Andrew claimed he was “guarding the perimeter” of what’s being called “Camp Hope” this week and the grateful young soldier spent every available minute trying to thank the incredible gathering of volunteers and his “newest best friends.” Tall trees and shrubbery blocked the view of his new home.

You see, Andrew, Tori and their families were temporarily exiled from the home site on Sunday following a church service and, as they eagerly await tomorrow, I can vouch for the fact they will have never seen anything to equal what pure adrenalin and deep appreciation has created in less than a week. “We started out with a concrete slab five days ago,” said Wilson, “and what has happened since then is mind-boggling.”

Sherman Smith (no kin to Andrew) has used headsets and a genius touch to coordinate the building. He is the one-week superintendent of the work force that includes well over 1,000 “worker bees” and only stops for four meals every day. “We call the 2 a.m. meal ‘Chow,’” laughed Wilson, “because we have so many who work through the nights using construction generators and huge lights.”

What is stunning is the fact so many skilled craftsmen have taken vacation time and are working as many as 16 hours per shift. Electricians, plumbers, engineers and others from all walks of life are working hand-in-hand. There’s a beautiful man with Tourette’s Syndrome who heard of the project on TV and has been there 12 hours every day. Another who was a quadriplegic due to a spine infection before a miraculous recovery, came from Knoxville and is paying for a hotel all week to be part of the team. “When the hotel found out why I was here, they immediately gave me a huge discount.”

The Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department officers is also working 24 hours a day at the site, providing security and traffic logistics for the hundreds of cars, service vehicles, delivery trucks and parking areas. “Everybody is working so well together. There have been very few glitches – believe it or not – and that is largely due to Sherman Smith’s planning and tremendous knowledge of ‘what do I do next.’”

A team of professional builders from Atlanta “just showed up” about 8 o’clock the first night and have yet to go home. County councilman Larry Henry and his wife are there every day. General Bell has done beautifully taking orders from some who have no idea who he is and Rep. Richard Floyd has carefully avoided any attention as he, according to Wilson, “has worked harder than a mule.” Bill Hullender, who found the property, has been a catalyst in the project “from day one. It wouldn’t have happened without his heart,” said Wilson.

And then there are those who are more easily understood. Wilson’s values changed when his son David was buried deep beneath the rubble when a tornado struck a Union College dormitory. David was never expected to walk again but now, as a glittering example of what Siskin Hospital’s wizards can achieve, was darting from one task to the next in yesterday’s hot sun.

Jim and Cindy Webster, whose beautiful daughter died of childhood cancer, directed dozens of volunteers as they installed “trailer load after trailer load” of shimmering bushes and plants. “The great thing about the South is that we care for our own,” said Cindy, her eyes giving her away. “This is probably the most wonderful thing Jim and I have ever been part of. You couldn’t pull either of us away.”

And then there is the big problem. How can you mention the Wilsons and the Websters without naming “at least 150 companies” that are involved? “The first four days, before everybody banished us from seeing the house before July 4, my wife and I held hands and cried almost constantly at what we saw was being done to honor our son,” said Andrew’s father.

Get this: Chattanooga’s best restaurants have donated every meal for the hundreds of people. One company after another has brought “the top of the line” in everything from light fixtures to toilets to guttering to appliances. To say any more might spoil tomorrow’s surprise but, trust me, I have never seen anything to equal Andrew Smith’s “tomorrow.” Glory Be Unto God!

* * *

The public is cordially invited to the ceremony at 11 o’clock and, more particularly, veterans of the armed services are urged to share in the magnificent tribute to “our Wounded Warrior.”  With rain in the forecast, the event may need to be moved to a nearby church or school. Sheriff’s officers and volunteers will be on hand to direct cars to parking areas with early arrival suggested.

DIRECTIONS: Go east on East Brainerd Road. Go straight at the Ooltewah-Ringgold Road stop – staying on East Brainerd Road -- and proceed past Apison Elementary School until you take a right onto Bill Jones Road. The property is well-marked.

* * *

While there is little debt remaining, those wishing to donate to “Steps 2 Hope” can send charitable gifts to Mark Wilson at “Steps 2 Hope,” 1900 Central Avenue, Chattanooga TN 37408. Other projects for deserving young people are in the works.

* * *

The sun'll come out tomorrow 
Bet your bottom dollar 
That tomorrow there'll be sun 
 
Just thinkin' about tomorrow 
Clears away the cobwebs 
And the sorrow 'til there's none 
 
When I'm stuck with a day 
That's gray and lonely 
I just stick out my chin 
And grin and say, oh … 
 
The sun'll come out tomorrow  
So you gotta hang on 'til tomorrow 
Come what may 
 
Tomorrow, tomorrow 
I love you tomorrow 
You're only a day away 
 
The sun'll come out tomorrow 
So you gotta hang on 'til tomorrow 
Come what may 
 
Tomorrow, tomorrow 
I love you tomorrow 
You're only a day away 
 
Tomorrow, tomorrow 
I love you tomorrow

You're only a day … away!

-- from the Broadway play and movie, “Annie”

royexum@aol.com

Wounded Warrior Andrew Smith and his wife Tori going down the driveway to the couple's new home. It will be presented at a Public Ceremony at 11 a.m. on July 4th. The motorized all-terrain wheel-dozer was a gift from TV commentator Bill O'Reilly.
Wounded Warrior Andrew Smith and his wife Tori going down the driveway to the couple's new home. It will be presented at a Public Ceremony at 11 a.m. on July 4th. The motorized all-terrain wheel-dozer was a gift from TV commentator Bill O'Reilly.

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