AP Photo/Jae C. Hong.
Last Friday was Jerral Hanckock's birthday, Alive Day, and the day he received the keys to his new smart home after years of trying to maneuver his wheelchair inside his cramped mobile home.
From Dennis L. Anderson of Task & Purpose:
For the past two years, history students from Lancaster High School raised more than $300,000 to build this tribute home to one of their community’s most severely wounded veterans of the Iraq War. The Gary Sinise Foundation and allies kicked in the rest of the close to half-million dollars to finish the grassroots housing drive that resulted from a classroom visit by Hancock.
“I just went to talk to the class to tell them about my experiences,” Hancock told the audience gathered at Friday’s event. “I wasn’t expecting anything from it.”
Supervised by history instructor Jamie Goodreau and led by student Nicole Skinner, the group that was inspired by Hancock’s account of ordeal and triumph organized their own organic nonprofit, Operation All The Way Home.
The students started raising funds two years ago, immediately after hearing Hancock share the grim facts of combat and catastrophic injury.
A remark Hancock made during a “living history” presentation to the students organized by Goodreau awed the students. A few of his words became the signature phrase of their determination to build a home for the vet who rolled his electric wheelchair into their class to talk to them.
“Life does have to go on,” Hancock said at the class event in 2013. “Whether I choose to sit and pout or go with the flow is up to me.”
On the morning of May 29, 2007 - Jerral's birthday - his unit was on a mission supporting Special Forces troops in the search for high-value targets in Sadr City.
Spc. Jerral Hancock, 1st Cavalry Division, was the driver. When the IED detonated, Hancock was immediately showered with white hot steel. The armored vehicle’s interior transformed to shrapnel that ripped and burned Hancock.
It was the present Hancock got for his 21st birthday. He was trapped, his body shredded and burning inside the vehicle.
The United States lost few tanks during eight years from 2003–2011, but the IED munitions supplied to Iran-backed Shiite militias found the 70-ton behemoth’s weak point: the thinly armored underbelly between the treads. Hancock’s crew mates jumped or were thrown free, but Hancock roasted in the burning hulk for 90 minutes before he was cut free, with some rescuers already believing him dead.
He surprised them.
Shrapnel severed his spinal cord to paralyze him below the chest. Burning metal and wiring charred his torso into a scarred, fleshy canvas creating ornate “tanker” tattoos he still bears today. His left arm was sheared off above the shoulder. He calls it his “chicken wing.”
Hancock’s 21st birthday became his “Alive Day,” the day the enemy almost, but not quite, succeeded in killing him.
Eight years later, Jerral has finally come home.
“This is going to go a long way to help with my quality of life, and my independence,” Hancock said Friday, soon after hundreds of supporters, contributors, sponsors, donors and volunteer builders cheered, and sang “Happy Birthday,” with 8-year-old daughter Anastasia chorusing “Cha Cha Cha.”
“I’ll be able to help my dad,” fifth grader Julius said, darting in and out of the crowd, clad like his father, in a camouflage ball cap and t-shirt.
“This patriotic American military community … it’s something you don’t see,” Hancock told the group gathered Friday. “You guys basically did something that’s never been done, all the OATH students … mainly the community support was beyond what I expected, beyond what anybody expected. The community as a whole stepped up. I am really grateful for everything that everybody has done, and I just want to say ‘Thank You.’”
Happy birthday, Happy Alive Day, and welcome home, Jerral!