EXETER TWP., Pa. — After three weeks of being put up at a hotel, John DeWald returned home Tuesday to something he only dreamed about.
"It's like being in a brand new house. It is like a brand new house," said DeWald, a Vietnam War veteran who served with the Marines.
The Veterans Coalition of Pennsylvania rallied friends, neighbors and even strangers to fix DeWald's house that he no longer could live in. They donated their time, money and resources to do everything from the floors and the roof to the electrical work and plumbing.
For the first time in 10 years, DeWald now has hot water.
Sarah Ash of the Biker Church is one of many volunteers who helped almost every day. She said it was all worthwhile to see how appreciative DeWald was when he saw his home completed.
"A lot of hard work was for good, was for very good, and more to come," Ash said.
Robin "Cherokee" Gilmore, chairman of the Veterans Coalition of Pennsylvania, spearheaded the effort and secured donations from his organization in addition to local churches and many others, including people such as Scott and Kristy Birmingham, all of whom worked tirelessly to make sure DeWald could get back into the home he loves.
"John DeWald is my grandfather. He is my father. He is me. He is my son, so this man, this Marine, this American veteran represents what all of us who have worn the uniform stand for," said Gilmore.
And that's exactly why so many wanted to pitch in, but it wasn't easy.
"I would guess there were probably 30 truckloads of stuff that came out of here," Gilmore said. "You could not move in there. You couldn't breathe in there."
But now, you can do both, and DeWald said he's forever grateful.
JDog Junk Removal & Hauling, which is owned and operated by veteran and military families, hauled away everything for free — just another example of how much time and effort people dedicated to helping DeWald.
"It's beautiful. I think it's wonderful. They did a great job," he said. "I wish I could pay you all back, but I don't know how."
"I told you how to pay us back," Gilmore said. "You know how to pay us back. You have a good life, brother."
Renovating the house and putting DeWald up in the hotel for three weeks has been expensive, and the costs just keep going up because his roof is still not finished, so the Veterans Coalition is asking for donations.