Wounded Afghan war vet gets a sweet ride on the road to recovery

By April Guilmet | Union Leader | Unionleader.com | October 7, 2011

LONDONDERRY — Moments after being handed the keys to his new Ford F-250 pickup truck, Marine Cpl. Charles Donnelly could barely conceal his excitement, even skipping a few steps as he hopped into the driver’s seat, his wife of a year and a half, Kerry, by his side.

With his boyish grin and confident swagger, it’s hard to imagine that Donnelly, a resident of Merrimack, is still recovering from a serious injury received while serving in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan last spring.

Marine Charles Donnelly in new truck
Marine Cpl. Charles Donnelly eagerly checked out his new Ford F250 pickup truck Thursday evening as his wife, Kerry, hopped in the passenger seat. (Photo by APRIL GUILMET)

On May 13, three years after enlisting, the young Marine was on patrol with the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion when he stepped on an improvised explosion device. His wounds forced doctors to amputate his left leg below the knee.

While the past several months have been grueling, Donnelly is slowly returning to his normal routine, having perfected the art of walking on his prosthetic limb and, as of last night, driving around town in what he described as “the truck of his dreams.”

On Thursday evening, Donnelly gathered with friends and relatives at Ride-Away Handicap Equipment Corporation in Londonderry, where he was presented with his shiny new vehicle, along with a $10,000 grant from the Semper Fi Fund.

The grant, combined with Veterans Administration funding and Donnelly’s own contribution, were all used for the purchase of the new truck. Officials declined to disclose the truck’s purchase price, though the Rodman Ford dealership of Foxboro, Mass., reportedly offered the vehicle at a low price.

Ride-Away officials, along with members of Help Our Military Heroes (HOMH), a Connecticut-based charity aimed at assisting injured veterans with various needs, also assisted in the donation process.

“It’s a very little thing we could do to help,” said Ride-Away President Mark Lore. “Once everyone heard Chuck’s story, so many people stepped up to help. This is how we’re able to do what we do.”

“The story truly began at Walter Reed,” added HOMH President Laurie Hollander, who met Donnelly shortly after his injury.

According to Hollander, the organization works regularly with the VA and the Semper Fi Fund to help expedite the application process for injured veterans in need of assistance.

“We bridge the gap between what the VA supplies. The VA is a very caring organization, but they deal with a massive volume,” Hollander said. “So we make the process simpler to help these folks become mobile sooner.”

While Donnelly was fortunate in the sense that his injuries didn’t require any special adaptations to be made on his new truck, that didn’t deter Hollander and others from wanting to help.

“Once you meet him, you just can’t let him go,” she said, noting that she’ll never forget her first meeting with the injured Marine, who always maintained a positive outlook.

“When we visited him at Walter Reed, he was pushing his wife around in his wheelchair,” she recalled. “As a mother, I just wanted to help take care of him.”

Kirt Rebello, director of community outreach for the Semper Fi Fund, agreed, noting that the organization was able to assist Donnelly from the very beginning, even assisting his family with travel arrangements so they could be by his side during his long weeks of recovery, first in Bethesda, Md., and then at Walter Reed.

Founded in 2004, the Semper Fi Fund has helped more than 6,500 injured veterans and awarded over $53 million in grants to assist with transportation, adaptive housing and family needs.

Donnelly said he couldn’t be happier with his new set of wheels.

“This is awesome. I’ve wanted one of these since I was a little kid,” he said, noting that the truck’s high cabin and automatic transmission will make it easier for him to get around.

“Driving a little car can get a bit difficult for me,” he said as he eased himself into the driver’s seat.

“This feels amazing,” he said.

Donnelly, who is on temporary leave from the Marines this week, will return to Bethesda for continued treatment early next week.

He plans on driving there.

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