A heartfelt homecoming

NEWPORT BEACH — Three years ago, Glen Mayer was sitting behind an American Legion booth at a fair in Palo Cedro, near Redding, when Bill Dunn happened upon the unexpected welcome mat.

Dunn, the 1st vice commander of American Legion Post No. 291 in Newport Beach, struck up a conversation.

The fellow veterans exchanged small talk. Mayer mentioned that his son, David, was serving a second tour in Iraq. Dunn said he'd keep the young Army specialist in his prayers.

The men met again at an American Legion convention in Bakersfield earlier this year.

"How's your son doing?" Dunn asked.

"Guess you haven't heard yet," Mayer said.

The news was grim.

In March 2008, Spc. David Mayer was part of a convoy en route to Baghdad when his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device designed to penetrate thick armor.

The molten copper and fragments ripped at his legs, and those of two of fellow soldiers. All three lost both legs and are now double-amputees. A fourth soldier suffered a broken leg.

David Mayer spent two years recovering from his injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He said the hospital's care, plus talking about his injuries and future with other wounded vets, kept his spirits up.

"In order to cheer someone up, you have to be cheerful," he said.

When word came the wounded serviceman would be heading home to Southern California until he found his own place, Dunn wanted to roll out the red carpet for the 32-year-old veteran.

While the Newport Beach chapter made preparations to have its honor guard meet Mayer at the airport, Mayer had other plans. He chose to drive from Walter Reed to his mom's house in Fullerton in a car specially designed for his disability.

On Wednesday night, the Newport Beach chapter of the American Legion finally got to welcome Mayer, honoring him at its meeting with full honor guard, thunderous applause and countless thank yous from servicemen and servicewomen.

Some veterans, like Marine Fred Arnold, choked up with emotion talking about Mayer's sacrifices.

"The general public needs to be aware of these military heroes living among us," Arnold said.

"It is our duty to provide support for them … we cannot turn our back on them."

In that vein, Mayer points to a national program helping out amputee soldiers, Homes for our Troops, based in Taunton, Mass.

Running on donations and handy volunteers, Homes for our Troops builds custom-made homes for amputees. With stoves, shelves, bathrooms and everything else built specifically for that soldier's disability in mind, veterans like David Mayer get a chance to lead a life like everyone else.

"They're giving us our independence back," Mayer said. "Just coming out of the military and you're an amputee, you basically have three problems: How am I going to pay the bills? Where am I going to live? And how am I going to get from point A to point B?"

The organization has built more than 40 homes for soldiers coming into 2010. Right now, the group is looking for land for Mayer's home, most likely in the Inland Empire.

"They're very friendly. These people are people who just want to give back to soldiers," he said. "It's a life-stabilizing event."

How To Help

For more information on Homes for our Troops, go to http://www.homesforourtroops.org or call (508) 823-3300. For information on how to help servicemen and servicewomen financially, go to semperfifund.org or call (760) 725-3680.

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