A long journey home for Sgt. Bouchard

by Town Reminder

A long journey home for Sgt. Bouchard
Community builds a dream home

By Dennis P. Hohenberger
Turley Correspondent

GRANBY – A few years ago, U.S. Marine Sgt. Joshua Bouchard returned back to Western Mass after he survived serious injuries in Afghanistan. He received a boisterous welcome as he rode through the streets of Holyoke, led by the Rolling Thunder, a veterans motorcycle club.
This time around, as he drove the six miles down Route 202 North, he garnered an equally impressive welcome. Led once again by Rolling Thunder, Bouchard was led a no longer empty lot on Chicopee Street. He was greeted by a sea of red T-shirts, hardhats and American Flags. The Marine was home at last.
Bouchard became the latest recipient of “Home for Our Troops,” a national organization that builds home for disabled troops. Last Friday equaled a 21st Century barn raising, as hundreds of construction workers and skilled crafts people raised walls, built roofs, installed windows, and weathered sealed the nearly 2,700 square-foot home.
The work will continue throughout the spring. Bouchard, still an active duty Marine, will get the keys in June. The young Marine, who lost a leg in Afghanistan, was scheduled to return this week to Walter Reed Army Hospital just outside Washington, D.C., for more rehabilitation.
Bouchard said he applied with Homes for Our Troops shortly after his initial return in July 2009. Then, he was 60 pounds lighter, and not all that removed from the battle field. Though selected for a home build, it did not become real for him until he met with the organization. “It’s still amazing how fast they can do it,” he said of the build.
Homes for Our Troops has built more than 100 homes for injured veterans and their families. The national group vowed more builds.
Bouchard described his recovery as a “big loop,” as he has endured cycles of improvements and drawbacks. “You keep going back and forth,” he said, whose face is fuller, his hair slightly longer than the Marine buzz cut. “Now it’s more about adapting, being around more civilians, and not being so structured like the military.”
By the time his service ends in December, Bouchard will have served nine years in the Marines, which includes reenlisting after he was injured. He said he goal was to serve 20 years, but the injuries changed those plans.
He said the home will represent “freedom” for him, a place where he can have independence, without having to “squeeze through a tiny door.” “Once I get my house, from there I’m going back to college,” said Bouchard. He wants to study sound engineering, preferably at UMass-Amherst.
Bouchard thanked local veterans groups, like the Marine Corp League, for their support.
“As I became an outpatient and I was able to go out a little bit more, there’s definitely that support,” he said. “It’s great to be around older veterans, because they had it rough when they came back.”
He wants to continue the legacy of helping his fellow veterans. “It just feels like the right thing to do,” he said, as he readied for the motorcycle and police escort to his new home.
His stepmother, Sue Bouchard, said he has been “overwhelmed” and “humbled” by the experience. The new house will not need ramps and he will be able to cook and do laundry. “Everything will be at his level,” she said.
Along the route, Bouchard was escorted once again by Rolling Thunder and local motorcycle clubs, including Fire and Iron Station #109, a group comprised of firefighters. Children from the Granby Public Schools and the newly opened MacDuffie School held up banners and waved flags as Bouchard’s motorcade drove past. Drivers pulled to the side of the road and offered thanks to the Marine.
Once on site, the Holyoke Caledonian Pipe & Drum Band played the Marine Corp theme, while an Marine Corp League Honor Guard stood at attention and saluted their comrade. David Whiteley, a pastor from Virginia., performed the invocation.
A.J. Crane, of A. Crane Construction Company, the lead contractor, said he expected framing and roofing finished within three days, as crews battled high winds. He was joined by 50 framers, who quickly assembled support walls.
“It’s truly our pleasure,” said Crane about the build. “It’s not big deal. All I said was, ‘We got a veteran who lost a leg in Afghanistan,’ and everyone volunteered. This guy went to Afghanistan and fought for all of [us], everyone standing here, so I can play softball on Sundays. I will spend as much time as I need to build this house.”