MIKE WEST / Courier Editor
It's been a long, three-year battle by Sgt. Franz Walkup and his wife, Shannon, but they are nearly home in Cannon County.
Groundbreaking for their new adaptive home was held Wednesday [July 8] on a beautiful lot outside Woodbury near Eastside School. Old friends, relatives and guests from across the country were on hand for the event.
"The house will make me more independent, it will make my life a lot easier," Franz said following the groundbreaking.
For Shannon, the new house will be "everything."
" It's a forever home. It's where we're going to live. It's where we are going to have children and it's where we're going to grow old. The day can't come soon enough for us to move back to Tennessee," she said.
Following the ceremony, the young couple headed to Colorado where Franz will learn a new trade, gunsmithing.
Nothing has been easy for the closely-knit couple since Franz' second tour of duty in a war-zone. He had a noble reason for joining the Army. His older brother, 1st Lt. Frank Walkup, was killed in combat in Iraq in 2007. Frank's funeral was inspirational with Cannon County residents lining the road, with American flags in hand, all the way to the cemetery.
On Sept. 29, 2012, Franz was serving as a forward observer tracking military targets on a mission with Afghan National Army. Suddenly some of the Afghans turned on the Americans was Franz was shot five times.
Franz's injuries resulted in major nerve damage to his right leg and to his back and major abdominal injuries. Some 78 surgeries followed. He refused repeated requests from physicians who wanted to amputate his leg.
Ironically, some said his wounds weren't serious enough to get much help from the Veterans Administration and others. Franz and his wife were turned away repeatedly.
"You're not injured enough, the sacrifice wasn't great enough," Franz said he was told time-after-time.
Thanks partially to the news media, Franz' story began to spread. Most significant was a story on Channel 9 in Washington DC. That's how "Lt. Dan" found out about the Walkups' plight.
Actor Gary Sinise played the role of "Lt. Dan" in the movie, "Forrest Gump." That role and the response it received help kindle a drive in Sinise to help veterans overlooked by the system.
A veteran himself, William Wagasy, delivered a message from Sinise at the Woodbury groundbreaking.
"Gary wants to make sure that these veterans are not treated like the veterans of the Vietnam War when they came home," Wagasy said.
"After Gary played Lt. Dan in the movie Forrest Gump he got involved with the Disabled Veterans. When 9/11 happened had a new calling. He formed the Lt. Dan band in 2003-2004. He started doing USO tours, entertaining the troops, doing whatever he could to make sure our troops overseas knew that they were not forgotten," he explained
In 2009 he started visiting our wounded in the hospitals and he met the first surviving quadruple amputee...and said I'm going to build you a home. In 2011 he brought all of his diverse efforts under one umbrella the Gary Sinise Foundation. By the end of this year, we will have 35 homes either completed or in some phase of development.
"Our mission statement is all about community. We honor our defenders by building, educating and inspiring communities. No body can do it alone. Its about getting corporate America involved and honoring our defenders who help defend our and way of life here at home," said Wagasy.
Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch then addressed the crowd.
"Since 9/11 2.3 million Americans have volunteered to serve our nation in time of war. They didn't have to go, we haven't had a draft since 1973. This young man, after losing his brother Frank, didn't stay home, he said I'm gonna serve," Lynch said. "Less than 1 percent of our country serves in uniform."
'I want to congratulate the people of Woodbury, Tennessee, because you soon will be joined by a true American hero, Lynch said.
"Freedom isn't free. We are paying a cost for freedom every day. Franz has paid a cost, Shannon has paid a cost. Those who have served have paid a cost. Be conscious of that. We need to continue to support our soldiers and our first responders so this nation can continue to celebrate its independence, so our kids and grandkids can continue to share the same freedoms we have today," Lynch concluded.