Last year, Vietnam veteran John Holaday received the best Christmas gift ever: a new home built with love.
A little over two months ago, the 77-year-old veteran only had a mattress and clothes. Delaware County Veteran Affairs officer Nathan Jones first met Holaday while he was on a routine visit.
Holaday had no running water, power, sewage, and drywall, and the health department wanted to remove him from his home.
“They had every right to want to do that to protect his health,” Jones said.
But after serving on the front lines of the Vietnam war and losing two of his close friends to the war, Holaday said there was nothing complicated about living in those conditions.
However, Jones knew that was no way for any human to live, let alone someone who sacrificed so much for this country. So, he decided to be about it and do the right thing.
“I can tell you without a doubt, the VA is good to us veterans. I’m not slamming that at all,” he said. “It’s more about the overpromise and underdeliver kind of things that have happened.
Our philosophy is, ‘Look, if they’re not going to do it, boots on the ground will.’ That’s just how we’re bred in the military.”
Jones wanted to build Holaday a new house, so he took to GoFundMe and Facebook to raise funds.
Within 48 hours, contributions started pouring in. An organization called Providing Hope VA donated a substantial sum.
A gentleman from South Carolina gave $30,000, and a faith-based organization that wanted to remain anonymous also purchased approximately $12,000 to 13,000 worth of building materials.
Several local groups also rallied to help with this project.
“From there, we partnered with the local schools, Muncie Area Career Center and the buildings trade class,” Jones said. “Roughly 140 individuals helped, and roughly somewhere around 30 businesses helped.”
All sorts of people in the neighborhood also came to help.
“It was amazing to watch, and quite the task to manage and oversee,” he said.
Jones said he had managed partial builds before as he owns several properties, but this one was his first “tear-down and rebuild” from scratch.
Jones provided Holaday with temporary housing during the 67 days it took for them to finish the home.
During the big reveal, Holaday sat in his white truck as he waited to see his home from the inside. He had driven by several times, but he wasn’t allowed to see the interior until the big day.
As he was helped out of his vehicle, the veteran began to sob. He was greeted with a happy “Welcome home!” by the dozens of community members who made this rebuild possible.
“You were there for us, so we’re here for you,” a man could be heard saying in a video recording of the reveal.
“You sacrificed for us, so we’re sacrificing for you,” said another. Overwhelmed, Holaday continued to sob as Jones led him to the door.
With eyes wide open, he stepped foot into his newly built home. “It’s so beautiful,” Holaday said, still sobbing.
Holaday said he hasn’t cried this much since his mother died, but today was different because these were tears of joy.
His street address also had a special link to his late mother’s memory. The street number was his mother’s birth date, and the street itself is named after her favorite singer, Tony Bennett.
Holaday stood at the doorway for a while before making his way into the bedroom. There was his niece, whom he recently reunited with after over a decade of separation.
There was a blue blanket laid across the foot of his bed, and she told him the story behind it.
“That was dad’s. Mom made it for him,” she said.
“And you’re giving it to me,” Holaday responded, pointing to himself.
He sat in the middle of his bed and began to sob, his face buried in his hands. The blanket belonged to his late brother.
Every detail in the house—from the Christmas decorations to the “Home Sweet Home” signs, toothpaste and body wash—were all placed there with love.
“This is better than Christmas…So many people donated their time and money to make it come true for this old man,” Holaday said.
He said his favorite thing about the entire home was having all the people who helped build it come together in his living room.
Jones plans to launch a foundation to build homes for veterans in Delaware County and, eventually, all of Indiana. You may contact him at (765) 576-0285 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in helping make his vision a reality.
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