Disabled Marine lives in tower at speedway to raise money for homes for veterans

Scott Burns asks little of the fans streaming into Charlotte Motor Speedway for the May races.

Atop a 20-foot aluminum tower, the disabled Marine from Tupelo, Miss., has delivered his spiel for hours on end since Concord firefighters hoisted him up on the morning of May 17.

“Support our veterans,” he said into a wireless microphone hours before the start of the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race that night. “Donate a dollar. One dollar. Seven days I’m going to stay on top of this tower.”

By the end of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Burns hopes to have raised at least $75,000 for the nonprofit Purple Heart Homes to renovate seven homes for disabled or wounded veterans in five states. They include Army National Guard Specialist Bryan Duckett of Charlotte.

“Donate $3, and I’ll give you a pair of Thorlos socks,” he announced.

Burns dressed in a white golf shirt and donated Star Spangled Banner shorts.

Look down and you’ll see a tattoo on his right calf. “I’m with stumpy,” it says. The tattoo includes a hand that points to his left prosthetic leg.

Burns, 42, was injured when he fell off a truck at Camp Geiger in Jacksonville. He had 15 surgeries, and his left leg was amputated below the knee. He has back pain and right ankle problems.

He said he decided to help fellow veterans because he knows firsthand what those injured or wounded endure.

Over seven years, he’s raised money for Cell Phones for Soldiers, Wounded Warriors and the last two years for Purple Heart Homes.

Statesville buddies Dale Beatty and John Gallina formed Purple Heart Homes after being wounded in Iraq. They saw it as a way to help other wounded vets. Beatty, a staff sergeant, lost both legs below the knees. Gallina, a specialist, suffered brain trauma.

The nonprofit has built or renovated 41 homes for veterans in various states and has eight projects under way, spokeswoman Vicki Thomas said.

Burns raised $9,000 for the organization last year. He’s raised about $70,000 for the various groups over the years.

The most harrowing night on his tower over the years was when tornado-force winds struck, ripped off the tower’s top and did other damage. He came through unscathed.

Burns, who has a wife, a 15-year-old daughter and an adopted baby boy, expects to have spent 168 hours on his Honor Tower by Sunday. The tower is in the Fan Zone at the speedway’s main entrance and has a Porta-Jon and a cot on the second of its three levels. People bring him food.

“The hardest part is watching people walk by and not put a dollar in,” he said.

Many drop in a buck or two or three, and Burns has fun with some of them.

“People with really red hair should donate a dollar,” he said to a young woman with neon red hair. She put in $3, and Burns tossed her a pair of socks.

“I think he’s phenomenal,” Thomas said as Burns repeated his pitch throughout the day. “He’s away from his family for two weeks, an infant son. … Whenever you think of loving your country, Scott Burns epitomizes that.”