Pomeranian Coast

The Venice Air Force Vet received a new roof from Mighty Dog Roofing, Owens Corning

SARASOTA COUNTY – After a 20-year absence – serving in the Gulf War and working as an instructor for a national truck driving school – Richard Eaton wanted to return to southern Venice and put the family home in order.

This week, Eaton, who served in the Air Force on Operations Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, received a new roof from Purple Heart Homes and the Owens Corning Roof Deployment Project.

Purple Heart Homes, a 13-year nonprofit organization based in Statesville, North Carolina that provides housing solutions for disabled veterans, recommends eligible veterans for Owens Corning’s national roof repair program.

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Eaton, a disabled Air Force veteran, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder two years ago. He served in the Middle East in 1990-91 and commended the non-profit organization for a smooth application process.

“You’re such a godsend to people, I can’t tell you,” Eaton said. “They are so professional, they are so polite.”

A sense of history

After retiring from the service, Eaton worked in Indiana as a trainer for the Truck Driver Institute.

In 2008 he returned to the Venice area to take care of his mother Marie and stepfather James Brill.

He bought the Roslyn Road home from his mother in 2017 after she wanted to move north to Goshen, Indiana, to be closer to her grandchildren.

Philip Crutchfield, co-owner and president of Mighty Dog Roofing, left, and Owens Corning representative Curtis Hagens, right, were present Tuesday, July 26, 2022 as roofers removed old clapboards and tar paper from a home in south Venice.  Air Force veteran Richard Eaton receives a new roof as part of the Owens Corning Roof Deployment Project.  Mighty Dog Roofing Southwest Florida, a platinum Owens Corning roofer, is working on the project.  Eaton was selected through a partnership with Purple Heart Homes.

Eaton worked in real estate and functioned as best he could despite the PTSD.

He was also heavily involved in the volunteer South Florida Clean Water Movement and a community initiative to save the North Jetty Fish Camp, which was built in 1946 from an old Ybor City streetcar.

“I’m one of the few people who really believe in roots,” Eaton said. “You can’t replace old Florida, you can’t replace history…that’s how it is.”

Eaton was 5 years old when the plane his father was trying to fly back from Indiana crashed near Ocala during a thunderstorm.

Eaton, the youngest of five brothers, has faint memories of his father – mostly sitting on planes – and a deep bond with his home, which shares a corner lot with a banyan tree and two live oaks.

He shares the home with his fiancé, Robin Oneill, and three small dogs – Molly, a Chihuahua mix; Lulu, a Pomeranian; and Roxy, a beagle mix.

Eaton and Oneill grew up in the same neighborhood, graduated from Venice High School together, and even worked together at the same Winn-Dixie.

They got back together about three years ago and Oneill – herself a disabled veteran – helped him through the paperwork to qualify for a disability.

Eaton has tried therapies for his PTSD, but little has helped.

“I have severe nightmares every night and then wake up terminally ill every morning,” he said. “On a pain scale of 1 to 10, I’m a 10 — I have what they call full-body migraines.”

He is also sensitive to light.

“The first light, first thing in the morning, causes a lot of pain,” he added. “I wake up in the fetal position every day now.

“The only thing they told me about it was don’t expect it to get better.”

Air Force veteran Richard Eaton and his fiance Robin Oneill watch as roofers from Mighty Dog Roofing remove old clapboards and tar paper from their South Venice home Tuesday, July 26, 2022.  Eaton receives as part of the Owens Corning Roof Deployment Project.  Mighty Dog Roofing Southwest Florida, a platinum Owens Corning roofer, is working on the project.  Eaton was selected through a partnership with Purple Heart Homes.

During the disability filing, Eaton learned that a third of the 450,000 troops deployed during the first Gulf War were considered totally disabled.

“Every night my brain thinks it was the gulf war and I can wake up as focused as possible but every chemical – like I just walked through a minefield – is in the body and that actually happened and they have no way, to stop it as soon as it is triggered.”

ways of help

Eaton said he didn’t know he was entitled to help until Oneill told him.

Those he worked with at the VA said many Gulf War veterans were like him.

Purple Heart Homes is one of several nonprofit organizations that have stepped in to help veterans through difficult times.

Locally, the Denis V. Cooper Foundation has partnered with Kingdom Roofing to provide a new roof for Vietnam veteran Horras Sheffield’s home, and Goodwill Manasota has been particularly active in veteran work.

Candice Jo, “CJ” Bannister, an eight-year Air Force veteran familiar from working with several vocal veteran outreach organizations and currently a philanthropic advisor at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, also serves on the board of directors of Purple Heart Homes.

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Once Purple Heart Homes identifies a need, they turn to partners to help solve the problem – in this case Owens Corning, which relies on its Platinum Roof Contractors to get the job done.

Mighty Dog Roofing Southwest Florida had nine workers – about two crews – who removed old shingles and the double felt underneath, leaving the base plywood behind.

Leaking sheets of plywood are replaced – crews normally bring three sheets of plywood, but they quickly found that more would be needed on a midday supply run.

Mighty Dog co-owner and President Philip Crutchfield had worked in software prior to launching the Lakewood Ranch-based franchise in February 2021.

Crutchfield said a Sarasota County crew can start the process by removing shingles on one day and then, after scheduling a day for the inspection, finish the job on the third day.

On this intermediate day, the teams start work on another house.

“It’s a moving musical chair, we’re moving people around all the time,” Crutchfield said, noting that half the crew would be moving from Eaton’s house Tuesday afternoon to a different location to do this work.

Together with a silent partner, he decided to become a roofer because it offered the opportunity to do good “and do things right”.

Since 2016, Owens Corning has provided new roofs for more than 350 veterans nationwide.

Once Eaton’s roof is replaced — which could be ready as early as Friday — it will be the sixth to be completed in Florida this year, said Curtis Hagens, area sales manager for the Southwest Florida region for North American Building Materials Sales Distributors of Owens Corning products.

“We try to give back whenever we have the opportunity to honor someone who has served,” Hagens said.

Earle Kimel covers primarily South Sarasota County for the Herald-Tribune and can be reached at [email protected] Support local journalism with a digital subscription to the Herald-Tribune.