Charlotte veteran partners with peers to build a home on Memorial Day

Darius Murphy, 12, scooted around the framing of a house going up in west Charlotte’s Reid Park neighborhood, eager to point out the bedroom that will be his.

His grandfather – Gary Randolph, a Navy veteran who quietly recalls serving at Pearl Harbor in the early ’70s – drove nails and straightened framing on this crisp Memorial Day morning, the kickoff for the second annual Veterans Build.

That’s a Habitat Charlotte program to engage veterans in helping their fellows create homes. Randolph will be the owner of this house, and he, fiancee Linda Kane and two grandchildren – Darius and 14-year-old Daisia – hope to move in by mid-August.

Surrounding Randolph were half a dozen other veterans – men from the Navy, Army and Marine Corps, plus about a dozen more Habitat workers, all in hardhats. Together they erected smaller framing structures, installed a bathtub, and checked and rechecked plumb lines. Sheets of sheathing and sky-blue insulation lay to one side, and trusses waited in the back.

Watching from the sidewalk: Army veteran Milas McClain, 91, who served in the China-Burma-India Theater in World War II. McClain lives just a block away with his wife of 65 years, Janie.

Randolph met the McClains earlier this year, when he and other Habitat workers made repairs in the McClains’ home.

Randolph was so moved by the McClains’ “spirituality and hospitality,” he says, that he decided he wanted to live in Reid Park, too. Habitat community outreach coordinator Anna Zuevskaya estimates the organization has about 50 homes in the area, a place dominated by rentals. “I’m just thrilled to be in the community,” said Randolph.

Habitat’s Prince said with donated labor and some materials, homes typically cost between $90,000 and $120,000.

McClain, whose two sons also served in the Army, said he was moved by the veterans’ collaborative effort. “You see (in the news) where veterans are not getting the proper care that they gave to this country. This means a lot.”

John Baxter, a Habitat board member who chairs the family selection committee, is also a veteran: He served as an infantry lieutenant in 1969-70 in Vietnam.

“Most of the people in the military were drafted or came right out of high school,” he said. “The world was a little tougher for them.” So he’s proud of this effort and hopeful for more. “As Americans, we have a collective sense of guilt about veterans and feel we need to do more.”

Randolph felt buoyed by the collaboration. “It’s a bond, knowing you have fellow veterans to give you support.”

Darius, who figures he might go into the Army (not the Navy, he said, because sharks are not his favorite thing), added his youthful gratitude.

In the morning, when hammering could not overcome the birds’ songs from the trees along the lot’s outline, he took up a black marker.

On a red-white-and-blue framing 2-by-4 that would be hidden by day’s end, encased in sheathing and insulation, he wrote a thank-you note to his grandfather and others. Asked to read it, he apologized for misspellings first, then said, “Darius was here. Thanks for the beautiful house. Sorry for veterans we lost. We’ll always remember you.”