As a boy growing up in Plano, Texas, Andrew Litz pretended with his brothers that he was a soldier. But it was the events of 9/11 that changed Litz’s life forever, convincing the mechanic that he had to step up and serve his country.
“Watching on TV when the second plane hit,” Litz, 32, says, “I had never felt that kind of emotion. I felt helpless. I felt compelled to do something.” Months later, he was an active Marine and was soon deployed to Iraq, feeling that in the infantry, on the ground, “I was exactly where I was supposed to be.”
But on April 20, 2005, during Litz’s third deployment, an improvised explosive device in Ramadi, Iraq killed two of his buddies and left him coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, a traumatic brain injury, and both a fractured back and neck. Nothing has been the same for him since.
Some days are worse than others, Litz admits. His wife, Heather, 29, and their two children, Zachary, 8 and Madison, 6, are a team committed to helping him heal as he continues to struggle through bouts of pain, blinding migraines and memory loss. But over the last week, the Litz family has found comfort in their new home: A five-bedroom, four-bathroom haven in Gunter, Texas built by Operation Finally Home and dedicated in a special ceremony on Nov. 2. For Andrew and Heather Litz, it represents the first house they have ever owned.Founded by now-retired builder Dan Wallrath in 2005, Operation Finally Home has built more than 86 homes for wounded soldiers in 17 states. “Andrew is a shining example of our heroes,” says Wallrath, 62, whose Texas-based nonprofit currently has 44 additional houses under construction across the country. “He sacrificed so much of his life for his country and now he can’t work because of his injuries. We can do this little bit to say thank you.”
This Sunday, November 10, at 7 p.m. ET, PEOPLE teams up with Operation Finally Home for Homeward Bound, a live four-hour national telethon on the Military Channel, hosted by Alan Alda and Joe Mantegna to support veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. (Homeward Bound is now accepting donations at both 1-855-824-7873 and HomewardBoundTelethon.org)
For the Litzes, who renewed their wedding vows after Andrew’s injuries to honor “the new people we’ve become,” Heather explains, facing challenges together and healing is now a central focus of their lives.
Their new home helps to facilitate that recovery. “Andrew can be at peace out in nature at our new house,” Heather says. “I know being here is going to relax him. It is going to get better and better.”