Article by Barb Sieminski, Feature Writer & Photo by Bonnie Manning, Feature Photographer
In 2009, a local warrior marched off to battle, excited to be doing something to create a better life for those in dire need overseas and also to put a confident face on his own country’s wondrous freedoms.
Today, that proud soldier’s best friend is a guy named Tucker. Tucker, you see, thinks he is a dog. He even eats the family dog’s food. But Tucker, an adopted black-and-tan-striped cat, provides a valuable “safe place” for Matthew Moeller, the former E4 Specialist U.S. Army combat engineer who after one deployment to Afghanistan and an encounter with a roadside bomb, returned to Fort Wayne for good.
He came home 100-percent disabled.
“Matt has massive PTSD, insomnia, anxiety and depression, along with back and knee problems,” said Sarah Moeller, Matthew’s wife. “It’s not really the physical issues that we have (to worry about); we learn to adjust. It’s the mental issues that provide the most problems. Some days he won’t want to leave the house, and other days he will not want to be around people.
“Before deployment, Matt liked going places. Now, even Thanksgiving and Christmas are difficult for him. The PTSD makes it difficult for him to be in large crowds, and that means places like zoos, parks, festivals, sometimes grocery stores. It means we spend a lot of time at home.”
The couple and their nearly 3-year-old son, Joel, live in a small townhouse, which makes it difficult for Matt, a Purple Heart recipient, to get around and up and down the stairs. He can only sleep on the loveseat downstairs.
“Matt has a slight limp and is supposed to be using a cane. He doesn’t because he hates that he’s 27 and has to use a cane,” said Sarah, adding that he feels everyone is staring.
Life’s been hard for the couple. But a ray of hope began penetrating the gloom last year. Ann Marquardt, Matt’s aunt and a realtor with Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber, alerted the family to an aid organization called the Homes for Wounded Warriors Program and suggested they look into it. After submitting the required paperwork in January, Sarah received a phone call with the good news they had been selected as this year’s delegate.
HWWP is a designated charity of the Upstate Alliance of REALTORS, which serves as the coordinating sponsor for the Matthew Moeller Home Build. According to their website, their mission is “to build a mortgage-free home for a pre-screened, 100-percent disabled wounded warrior. Due to Matthew’s unsuitable housing arrangements, we have set an aggressive goal to help HWWP raise the $67,000 necessary to break ground on the home in Sept. 2014 and hopefully dedicate it in Jan. 2015.”
Their new home will be in the Bay Meadows housing addition off Landing Road, said Sarah, who called the house “a blessing. It’s something I honestly never thought would happen.”
Asked how the public can support not only veterans but also their families, Sarah answered without hesitation.
“The biggest help would be by realizing that the family puts up with the worst. Don’t ever doubt the family, and never make excuses for the veteran when something happens. Realize with mental trauma, they may or may not get better. It’s not only the veteran’s life that gets turned upside down, but the family’s life, too, and it can bring just as much darkness over every other member as it does the veteran.”
Matt will sometimes play with Joel as best he can; however, he has a much lower tolerance for tantrums.
“The screaming is way too much for him to handle, and if Joel runs off outside, Matt can’t keep up to catch him,” lamented Sarah.
“We haven’t really done anything since he’s been home. The outings we have done are scarred by conflict or his pain. We typically never leave the house and when people come to visit, (it can be) ruined by conflict. Sometimes it’s because Matt can’t comprehend something, or he’s forgotten something and gets angry. It just dampens the whole day.
“He jumps when a car backfires, or when fireworks are going off. He feels like he’s back over there. If there are unknown cars in our parking lot, or he sees shadows of people, he will stand by the window or check for suspected danger periodically.”
During the Moeller HomeBuild Campaign, Katrina Kay, UPSTAR Association executive, was enthusiastic about Sarah.
“Patient, supportive and caring are the words I’d use to describe Sarah,” said Kay. “I’ve watched her patiently wait for Matthew to respond to an interviewer’s question, knowing just when to step in and help him remember the facts. I’ve seen her move instinctively into position to help Matt rise from a chair. And I’ve heard her say that taking care of her husband and son is her job, when asked if she worked outside the home. Matt is blessed to have Sarah’s unconditional love and support. She is truly dedicated to her family and to his recovery.”
The community is asked to join the cause to help the Moeller family with a new beginning, either by donating cash or volunteering labor and materials donations. Visit the website www.MoellerHomeBuild.org for more information or call UPSTAR at (260) 426-4700.