The world tends to forget about all the veterans and soldiers who put their lives on the line trying to defend their country. It’s easy to congratulate them after a victory and even easier not to give them enough credit for the hardships they go through. However, one foundation, the Gary Sinise Foundation, chooses not to overwrite their deeds and help them out after the war days are over.
Many will lose their limbs, get fatal injuries, suffer from post-traumatic stress, and in worse situations, die. Gary Sinise, the founder of the charitable organization, dedicates himself fully to ensuring that army veterans, soldiers, and defenders get the care and attention they need after war.
The organization has been in existence for over four decades, aiding out thousands of veterans and their families. It doesn’t seem to slow down any time in the future. Sinise has family members who have served in the military that inspired his organization, but so did his role as Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump.” Sinise said the role changed his life and even led him to found the Lt. Dan Band, which performs for active-duty military overseas.
In 2019 one deserving marine, Jonathon Blank, was given a custom-built house from the Gary Sinise Foundation after he lost both of his legs in an IED explosion in 2010. He also suffered trauma to his head and upper body and still suffers from insomnia, migraines and chronic pain. The home is fully accessible and made to serve all of Blank’s needs. Keep reading to learn more about Blank and what this home means to him.
Jonathon Blank and his close friend Jonathon Nelson have a true bond that can only come from serving together in the United States Marines. The two veterans became friends after serving together in the same special operations unit while in Afghanistan over ten years ago. Nelson was present during the explosion when Blank lost his legs.
That has not stopped the pair from hiking together, however. One day while driving past Mount Timpanogos in Utah, Nelson decided that he wanted to take Blank with him to the top. “I thought this would be something epic for him to experience, to actually get into the saddle,” Nelson said.
It is not a surprise that the two would want to tackle this journey together. While in combat, the pair shared an abundance of blood, sweat, and tears while serving their country.
Nelson climbed 14.3 miles to the top of Mount Timpanogos with Blank on his back. This was quite the physical feat, considering that Blank weighed 135 pounds and the hike boasted an elevation gain of 4,500 feet.
Fellow hikers Nate Larid and Phil Casper were coming down the same trail when they saw Nelson and Blank. They were awestruck. “When you see that, you see that determination for them to do what they do, and you want to do that for you and your families,” Laird said.
Blank said that the hike was significant because it proved to other people that anything is possible. “Not only have I lived through this, but we’re also special operations guys. We can do anything”, he told Fox59. “We can maybe instill that mindset into other people.”
When Blank first came home after his injury, he realized how dramatically his life had changed. Tasks like getting up and down the stairs in his home were now so much harder. “Some days it just gets old. The world is not meant for people with disabilities,” Blank said. “It’s just a hard truth and that’s something that I’ve dealt with every day since I was injured.”
“It’s such an incredible gift,” Blank shared, adding that some of his Marine friends got teary-eyed when they heard the news. “Even some of those tough guys, when they found out about this, they got pretty emotional about it.”
Blank also had the opportunity to collaborate on ideas for the home while it was being built. “Honestly, I didn’t really know that I would be so involved with the planning and the layout of the building,” he said.
Blank’s girlfriend, Brittney Harris, also spoke out on how much the home would change his life before it was built. She said:
“He’s dragging, hauling all his stuff up and down the stairs all the time. Nothing slows him down, but just to imagine cupboards that he can pull down and reach rather than having to jump up there — it’s going to be such a huge difference for him.”
The home is customized with lighting control and other tech systems to help Blank. Blaine Christensen, co-owner of Advanced Integrated Systems, said:
“We’re proud to have helped provide Sergeant Blank with a home that will forever change the trajectory of his life; it’s a tremendous gift from the American people and corporations like Legrand. He is enjoying the amazing amenities his new home provides and loves how it gives him the ability to do things that haven’t always been easy for him.”
It’s apparent that nothing has stopped Blank from living his best life. No matter what adversities are thrown his way, he has proven that he can overcome anything. The veteran posted a clip on Instagram showing off his athletic abilities with a huge smile on his face. The post’s caption was filled with plenty of inspiring hashtags, including “#neverstop #sendingit #nolegs #noquitting.”
Fortunately, it seems like Blank has a lot of space to move around in his home. In November 2020, Jorgenson Builders posted a heartwarming photo to Facebook showing Blank in front of his home that was crafted thanks to the Gary Sinise Foundation. The caption read:
In this season of gratitude, we’re so grateful we got to build a specially adapted smart home for the @GarySiniseFoundation’s R.I.S.E program benefitting (sic) USMC SSgt Jonathon Blank. What a great program to be a part of! We were able to turn the home over to Jonathon on Veterans Day. We hope he loves his new home and want to welcome him to Midway!
According to the Gary Sinise Foundation website, R.I.S.E. stands for Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment. The program focuses on building smart homes for “severely wounded heroes” by providing home modifications.
While Sinise found fame through acting in numerous plays, films, and TV series, his legacy is surely as a humanitarian. Aside from his work with the Gary Sinise Foundation, he is also on the advisory council of Hope For the Warriors, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing non-medical care to combat-wounded service members and their families. Sinise has been honored numerous times for his efforts in helping wounded veterans, including the Sylvanus Thayer Award in 2015 and an award from the Location Managers Guild in 2020.
What do you think of this gift from the Gary Sinise Foundation? Does Blank’s story inspire you? Let us know, and be sure to send this on to your friends and family.