'A testament to what can be done by a group of motivated veterans'

Eddie Felton spent 26 years in the U.S. Navy. One of the strongest lessons he learned from that service was to never leave a comrade behind. So when Felton saw a fellow veteran struggling in their city of Barnesville, Ga., Felton decided he had to help him. Teaming up with other Legionnaires and community members, they were able to make perhaps a life-saving difference for that veteran.

Felton, then a member of American Legion Post 577 in Barnesville, was working as a post service officer when he got to know 75-year-old Army veteran John Green. Felton saw Green had been sleeping in his car and later found out that Green had done so for years because his home was in major disrepair. As colder weather began setting it, Green was sleeping in his running car to stay warm.

“I knocked on his (car) window, and I told you, ‘You cannot do that,’” Felton said. “If you had a little pin hole in your car, carbon monoxide poisoning would kill you. So I told myself, ‘You have to do something.’”

Felton began gathering community support to assist Green and, in doing so, was told that Willie B. Hatcher American Legion Post 516 in nearby McDonough, Ga., had previously assisted veterans in similar situations.

Members of Post 516, which recently was named the Department of Georgia’s Fourth District Post of the Year, came to assess the situation.

A tree had fallen on Green’s house, and the veteran had never been able to afford to get his home repaired. Cardboard boxes were stacked against walls to keep the heat in and animals out. There were issues with using running water, and Green slept on a recliner in his living room.

“This house was 75 years old, and Mr. Green was born in the house,” Felton said. “We came to find out there was a lot of termite damage and water damage from the roof.”

Some materials were donated, but more were needed. Felton attempted to raise funds to help cover the expense to do the necessary repairs but was unsuccessful.

“A number of us started to pay for materials and things out of our pockets, which got to be rather expensive,” Felton said. “So I went out and started looking to see where else I could get some funding. I contacted Home Depot, and that’s when the ball got rolling.”

Felton was able to secure a $25,000 grant to renovate Green’s house. “From that point on, it took us about a month and a half to complete the project,” Felton said. “It was a very, very, very extensive project. Everyone had told us there was no way possible for us to go in and get that house refurbished.’

Felton said that members of the community – including the Barnesville Police and Fire departments, the Lamar County Sheriff’s Department and Henry County Commissioner Blake Prince, a member of Post 516 – all worked to complete the project. Four-man crews initially worked on Saturdays at first, but eventually the team began working six days a week for nine to 10 hours a day. Additional volunteers, including some in the construction and carpentry business, began to help out.

On Dec. 22 – after more than $32,000 in materials and 4,000 hours of volunteer time – Green was able to move into his house. Watching him do so brought on a variety of emotions for Felton.

“It was very impressive, but at the same time it was very heart-breaking,” Felton said. “When I first met Mr. Green … he always appeared to be sort of down (and) didn’t feel it was going to be possible. As the project was coming to a close, you could see a change in his demeanor. Just small things like when someone would come into the house … he would be there with his broom and his dustpan sweeping, making sure that the floor stayed clean. To me, that said a lot about him and his pride.”

Green told WSB-TV in Atlanta that the camaraderie formed in the military carries over to the civilian world. “We served together, we work together, we stayed together, we can help each other,” he said. “That’s how it should be like.”

Felton eventually transferred his membership to Post 516, in part because of the response he saw the post show to Green’s situation. “One of the things I learned when it came to dealing with American Legion Post 516 is that they don’t say no,” he said. “They do whatever’s necessary to make it happen.

“They are all about business. I recommend to anybody and everybody that American Legion Post 516 is the benchmark, and (the post) every other American Legion post should try to pattern itself after.”

Prince told WSB-TV helping Green was an example of how working together can make a difference. “It’s really been a big project for the whole entire community,” he said. “This is a testament to what can be done by a group of motivated veterans.”