Valley News -

By Alex Groves
Associate Editor 

Homes for Our Troops holds two Southwest Riverside County events for veterans


Last updated 6/20/2018 at 1:51pm

Alex Groves

Marine Corporal John Smith talks about being injured while in the line of duty and the effort it took to come back from that during a Homes for Our Troops Key Ceremony Saturday, June 9.

A nonprofit that specializes in providing specially-adapted homes to severely wounded veterans held two events in Southwest Riverside County last weekend.

On Saturday, June 9, Marine Corporal John Smith received his brand-new home on Via Las Rosas in Menifee during a ceremony that was attended by his new neighbors, volunteers and local dignitaries.

On Sunday, June 10, volunteers were hard at work landscaping the yard of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Grashen's future home on Altamos Road in Temecula. Grashen will receive the key to his home during a separate event in the coming weeks.

Both of the disabled Marines' homes came with major special adaptations to meet their needs, including widened doorways for wheelchair access, roll-in showers and doors that would automatically open with the swipe of a hand. The cost of the homes was covered by nonprofit Homes For Our Troops through its donors and corporate sponsors.

John Smith

"All of it is definitely a blessing," Smith said as he peered inside his home following the June 9 key ceremony. "I love this place ... The flooring, the ceiling and everything. I'm just ecstatic right now."

Smith, an Infantry rifleman, lost his right leg and the vision of his left eye during the first Battle of Fallujah April 12, 2004, when a mortar round landed in the center of his unit's defense.

He spent the next four weeks in a coma and woke at a medical center with his leg amputated. He was told he would never be able to use his hands again and would be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Smith, not one to accept such a prognosis, was already on the move quickly after receiving a prosthetic and soon was able to walk and write.

Smith said he was excited to move into his first brand-new home with his wife and son and was glad for all the features it offered, such as the automatic doors as well as high up cabinets and a large tub to match his height. The rural backdrop of the home was also great, he said.

"You've got your fortress of solitude and a street over is the city, so you can do what you need to do, come back and just listen to the sound of birds and watch the sky and stars at night," he said.

In the hours before Smith's home was turned over to him, a ceremony was held that was attended by area business owners, representatives for veterans' groups and local dignitaries. State Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington and Menifee City Councilwoman Lesa Sobek were among the speakers at the event.

As a way to welcome here "new neighbor," Councilwoman Sobek presented Smith with a jar of peach jam she had made and told him the city was excited to have him.

"Keys not only will open the door to this beautiful home, but they open the door to anything that is possible in the future," Sobek said. "My prayer that this home will assist you in restoring some of your freedom and independence and that it will focus on recovery and rebuilding your life ... We welcome you to our Menifee family and welcome home."

State Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez said she anticipated Smith would find a warm welcome in his new neighborhood.

"In your neighborhood, you're going to find a lot of people who want to get to know you, not because of your service necessarily but because you are now our neighbor," she said. "So embrace that because they're going to love you like a big Italian grandma and maybe overlove you and feed you too much."

Darrell Jermaine Gibbs, who served alongside Smith, said even though Smith was no longer around following the attack, knowing Smith was still alive was a big motivator.

"He gave me the drive, he gave me the will and he gave me the determination to stay in the Marine Corps, to push through," Gibbs said.

Matthew Grashen

Dozens of people showed up to landscape the yard area of Matthew Graschen's home, putting down grass, plants and trees.

Grashen, a rifleman with the Fox Company 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, was on his first deployment in Afghanistan Aug. 1, 2013, when he stepped on an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that resulted in the loss of both his legs.

After undergoing months of surgeries, Grashen was able to learn how to walk and run on prosthetics and now has an active lifestyle that involves many forms of exercise, including running, hiking, swimming and weightlifting.

He and his wife, Miya, have a young son, Johah, and another child on the way.

Grashen plans to attend culinary school to become a chef. His new home will have a fully accessible kitchen with lower counters and pull down shelves that will help Grashen to practice his cooking skills.

The retired Marine says he is grateful for the help he has received.

"It is a humbling experience just to know that there are people out there that truly care about the happiness and welfare of our Veterans," Grashen said in a statement. "Thank you for giving us a true home."


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