Can a Small Rural Community Save a Vietnam Vet from Homelessness? John’s Story — part 2 (#Home4JohnandLexi)

John, Lexi, and Dee at a fundraiser

In part 1, we had only a quick glimpse of what many of our Veterans face in service to their country:

“Many soldiers have watched the sunset over the battlefield while tucked behind trees, sandbags, concrete walls, and the confines of man-made trenches. Little did many of them know, as they waited in the darkness, that their night would likely reflect that of the songs they had heard as children. They would learn that rockets do give off a red glare, and bombs do burst in the air…overhead…behind them…in front of them…and sometimes — on top of them. The sad reality is that many of our soldiers would leave the battlefield only to find themselves among the tens of thousands of seemingly “nameless” souls roaming the streets of our cities and rural counties. Too many of our Veterans would, indeed, go from the battlefield to homeless — from heroes to hungry — from praised to forgotten.”

In early July of 2017, Dee Santana called me to tell me about the plight of a man, John, she had gotten to know in the small rural town she lived in of Rockwood, TN. Understand, this is an odd phone call for Dee to make…not because she isn’t a caring person — because she is a VERY caring person. Though the world has not always been kind to Dee, and she has a life story this writer would love to tell you all one day, she still leads with her heart…eyes wide open, because she is nobody’s fool, with hand extended to help. But Dee’s heart is generally drawn to the needs of the four-legged fur-balls before those with two arms — two legs, and the means to fend for themselves. Perhaps that is what drew her to John in the first place — his constant companion — Lexi.

The how is of little consequence now…it is the why that matters the most. In spending time with John and Lexi, Dee had begun to realize that their living situation was becoming somewhat perilous. And finally, John revealed that it appeared the city was going to “take” his home from him, leaving the duo homeless.

Dee, feeling the need to intercede on their behalf, began a campaign to gather the Rockwood troops and clean up John’s property in hopes that City officials would decide in favor of John and allow them to remain on his own property. She began calling out to various members of the community and making plans to clear and clean up the land around the house. But there was more to the issue than Dee was initially aware of…much more.

As you might expect, living in a small rural community is both a blessing and a curse. It is small enough that everyone knows everyone, so strangers are quickly recognized as new to the area…and the downside…well, everyone knows everyone — so everyone pretty much knows everyone’s business. Rockwood is small — population, according to, in 2016 was still under 5,500 — which, if you’ve ever been there, you must wonder if they’re counting the wildlife too — it is a small community.

Rockwood/Roane County is a close-knit group. Helping each other is part of their routine — they do it day in and day out. This is nothing new for them. It is evidenced on the county’s Facebook page, Happening Now in Roane County. A quick scroll through the page will find countless posts where Dave, Mark, or Joe doesn’t have a place to stay tonight…or the Smith’s, Jones’, or Gilbert’s cupboards are empty…and in no time, there will be multiple posts from the community with someone offering a couch for the night, food from the pantry, and/or an individual stating that they will be stopping by the grocery store on their way home from work and will bring food by before supper time. WOW! Consider, too, that according, the 2015 estimated median household income in Rockwood was $28,791 with the per capita income at $17, 838. These folks don’t have a lot of disposable income; yet, they may very well represent the heart and soul of America…the people with the least tend to be the ones who are most likely to give the most often — it’s not about how MUCH you give, just that you are willing to help~

So how did this Vietnam Vet’s situation slip by this caring community?

Rockwood had grown very accustom to seeing John and Lexi walking the sidewalks throughout the days and nights. He had lived there for decades. John has always been a quiet man who generally kept to himself. An avid reader of history, he usually had his nose in a book and kept his conversation between himself and Lexi. Of course, there were always the occasional greetings between himself and passers-by.

The towns folks had grown accustom to John’s ways — he never said anything — he never asked for help.

This isn’t the case of one man — one Vietnam Veteran who lost his way and hasn’t the mental capacity to take care of himself. John is a very intelligent man who can sit and talk for hours on end about many topics of great interest and importance, but his passion lies in history. But like many, the day-to-day matters of life — the ones society requires us all to participate and adhere to — just got away from him.

It was not his pride that stopped him from asking for help, rather it was just not something he considered doing…you see…John is a Vietnam Veteran — the one that comes to the aide of others — the one who soldiers on.

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Please continue to follow this journey where you will learn more about the fundraising efforts of this town, the various individuals from the local Veteran’s Administration, and Mr. Willie Franklin with “A Home 4 Hero’s” (this is the correct spelling of the organization).

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