BRADLEY — While driving through rural Greenwood County, Abram told his father, John Klein, that this is where the happiest people live.
They now call that place home.
Klein, a former U.S. Army Specialist, became one of almost 400 former service members who have been given a mortgage-free home by Military Warriors Support Foundation, a national nonprofit.
“There’s no words that can express what you guys do for us,” Klein said Thursday in front of his new home in Bradley, wiping away tears.
The foundation’s Homes4WoundedHeroes program awards mortgage-free homes and three years of financial mentoring to combat-wounded veterans and Gold Star spouses. Since 2010, it has awarded more than 830 homes, almost half of which have come from Wells Fargo, which donated the home Klein moved into Thursday. Klein’s Bradley home was the first in Greenwood County awarded by Homes4WoundedHeroes to a veteran.
“The house is just a carrot,” said the foundation’s Katie Slattery. “Our goal is to affect change in people’s lives.”
To that end, each month for three years, veterans who receive a home through the program have to meet with a financial adviser. They are also barred from incurring new debt, which means they can’t use credit cards or open new ones. The average family, Slattery said, sees a $33,000 reduction in debt.
Klein drove to the house in Bradley from Savannah, Georgia with his girlfriend, Marquita Taylor; his two sons, Aiden and Abram; his mother and her partner; and two dogs.
When Wells Fargo’s Ryan Twitty handed Klein the key to the house, he dropped it and bent on one knee to pick it up. He pivoted, then asked Taylor to marry him.
She said yes.
Klein said the house gave his family an opportunity for a refresh after several difficult years.
Klein received a Purple Heart after he was wounded during his service in Iraq, trauma from which he still suffers. Four years ago, the mother of his two children died.
“I want to dedicate this to my wife that passed away,” he said standing outside the house, which overlooks rolling hills in one of the most tranquil portions of the county. “This was our dream, to own our own home.”
Klein said he chose the area because of its resemblance to his hometown, a “little bitty church town” tucked in the mountains of northeastern Tennessee. His children had also grown up in a rural area, and he said that after three years in Savannah, they couldn’t wait to drive four-wheelers and go fishing again.
When Klein first returned from Iraq, yellow ribbons, a symbol of support for the troops, were everywhere, he said. Gesturing to ribbons decorating his new house, he said they have become less common.
“It’s just like we don’t have the support now that the war’s been over for a few years,” Klein said. “It’s like everybody forgets, but we have no choice but to remember. Every day.
“I don’t care if nothing else happens to me. This is all I needed.”