LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Matt Bowman strode onto the gravel that will become the driveway at his new house. The smooth cadence of his steps and Bowman's steady gaze captured the eyes of onlookers, maybe just long enough to make them forget this Marine was walking on prosthetic legs.
Surrounded by his three young sons and wife Paige, Bowman accepted the applause of about 50 people gathered in southern Lafayette. The crowd and the Bowmans have a stake in the house going up at 4019 Homerton St.
In February 2011, Bowman lost his legs to an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan. Bowman and his family members spent the past 1 1/2 years pouring their energy into his recovery at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md.
Back in Lafayette, residents and corporations decided the best way to thank Bowman for his service and sacrifice was to build a house designed to accommodate his new physical needs.
"I thank everyone for all of the support from the community," Bowman told the group. "Thank you for coming out."
"We're finally home," Paige Bowman said. "This is it. This is where we'll stay."
A Lafayette fire truck delivered Bowman, his wife, 4-year-old Jayce, 2-year-old Brett, and 7-month-old Liam to the home site. Mayor Tony Roswarski met them in the driveway.
"This is a small token of the depth of appreciation for your service and what you've been through," Roswarski said for a story published Tuesday in the Journal & Courier (http://on.jconline.com/MZ8HS4). "We surround you with love, compassion and care. I couldn't feel more blessed to be from such a wonderful community that always comes together."
Cargill, Alcoa, the Semper Fi Foundation and others donated money through Habitat for Humanity. Several suppliers in Lafayette donated materials. Tempest Homes donated the lot in Woodfield Village subdivision. Lafayette firefighters are spearheading the construction effort.
"We've done the framing and set the trusses with help from Downham Homes," said Todd Ford, the Lafayette firefighter who is organizing the work and the volunteers.
"This is not even two full weeks of work. We have a lot of help show up."
"The Lafayette firefighters are building it like they're building their own house," said Ken Bowman, Matt's father. "We can't thank everybody enough."
"It's overwhelming and exciting, the amount of support from everyone in Lafayette since the first day," said Matt's sister, Amber Alois. Another sister, Amanda, works at Cargill.
"From the moment it happened, we knew we had to do something, something concrete and lasting," said Ben Breazeale, Group Leader at Cargill Aghorizons.
The Cargill Cares Committee of Greater Indiana plus a local match generated a contribution of $28,000.
"I'm a Marine myself, and we are pleased and blessed to be a part of this," Breazeale added.
The Semper Fi Foundation donated $20,000 to pay for accessibility modifications in the house.
"It's an honor to be here today," said Keely Hughes, who presented the check.
Hughes said her dad is a Marine and she is involved in NROTC at Purdue University.
Metal prosthetic legs and high-tech carbon fiber kneecaps are not deterring Bowman from his dream of getting a college degree.
"I love this town," said Bowman, a 2007 McCutcheon High School graduate and former wrestler. "I always wanted to come back here. I want to be a history teacher because I love American history."
The community support will continue after the Bowmans get the keys to the house in October. Bowman was selected for the Wounded Warrior Project and will meet with a financial adviser, attorney and orthopedic surgeon to ensure he stays on track to his goals.
Story and photos distributed by The Associated Press.