When Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Justin Gaertner’s story of despair and hope appeared in the Tampa Bay Times a few weeks ago, residents of the Orchid Lake RV Resort in New Port Richey, Fla., decided to help the young man out.
Gaertner was 21 when he lost his legs in a 2010 explosion while serving as a Marine in the Afghanistan war, and the Times chronicled the inspiring story of his journey to find independence as he confronted life after war as a double amputee.
After seeing the story, the residents organized a reception and fundraiser on Saturday (Jan. 14) to honor Gaertner’s service and for his courage after his injuries. “I wanted a hug and not a handshake,” said resident Patty Young. “He reminded me of my grandson. This is the most fantastic thing we’ve done at the park. We want to thank him for what he did.” Young said her grandson is in the Navy.
At the gathering, there was a presentation of colors by a U.S. Marine Corps contingent, patriotic music by the park’s singing group, the Florida Keys, and a presentation of gifts to show their appreciation.
Gaertner said he will continue physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center through the spring. He then plans to return to Florida. He hopes to attend Florida State University for about a year, then transfer to the University of South Florida.
Homes for our Troops will be building him a home in Hillsborough County this year. He is still deciding on where to purchase land, but he knows that he will need volunteers and donations to complete the home. (Contact Homes For Our Troops if interested in helping at www.homesforourtroops.org/site/PageServer.)
He has a job lined up with the National Counterterrorism Agency in Tampa so he said that is where he would like to build his home.