PEYTON — As he revs the engine of his 1972 red Chevrolet Chevelle, Retired Air Force Senior Master Sergeant Israel Del Toro joins the convoy of first responders and Patriot Guard riders escorting him from the Falcon Fire Department to his new mortgage-free home in Peyton.
"It's an honor for us to be invited and participate," said Patriot Guard Rider Jim Balcerovich.
"He's a real hero to us and we are happy to have him in our community," said Falcon Fire Lt. Brian Deckard.
His driveway lined with dozens of people ready to welcome him home. It's a special ceremony honoring the man who nearly gave his life for our country.
"We are the greatest country on this Earth and it's because of young men and women like DT who volunteered to go into harm's way," said retired NYFD Fire Chief Jack Oehm.
In 2005, Del Toro was burned over 80 percent of his body when his Humvee hit an IED in Afghanistan. He was given a 15 percent chance of surviving. His motto" Stay Strong, Finish Strong" guiding him on his recovery as well as a promise he made when he was only 12 years old to his dying father.
"The last thing he tells me is, 'Promise to take care of your family' and you know a 12-year-old kid is like why is Dad saying take care of your family? I said, 'All right, all right Dad.' Then we hung up and the next day he passes," Del Toro said. "Those words have shaped who I've become, what I do, how I fight."
That kind of hero's fight also the inspiration for the foundation that gifted him this home, mortgage-free. Tunnel to Towers Foundation was created to honor New York city firefighter Stephen Siller who died on 9-11.
"Stephen left his truck on the highway, put 60 pounds of fireman gear on his back, ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel which is 1.7 miles and he joined in the rescue effort that morning," said Oehm.
"People like Stephen, these are the people who inspire, who are the true heroes," Del Toro said.
As he cuts the ribbon before he walks into his new home for the first time, Del Toro jokes the massive scissors injure him.
"Ah I took a finger," he laughs.
Del Toro is known for his sense of humor about his injuries but is also well aware that the blast that took most of his hands has impacted his mobility.
"Obviously you can see my injuries that I'm limited with how I can earn a living," Del Toro said. "Just not having that burden of Oh my God how am I going to pay the mortgage this year means a lot."
His wife, Carmen, in tears as she talks to me about the big gift her family got all thanks to some very generous local and national donors.
"I think it's hard to accept something like this," Mrs. Del Toro said. "It's a big thing. A house!"
A home designed just for him, filled with smart technology. All for a man filled with an unwavering duty to country and family.
"Now they're taking care of my family, which again is a little tough for me to accept because it took two years for them hounding me to accept (their offer)," Del Toro said.
Del Toro was also given another special gift from the Tunnel to Towers foundation during his home dedication ceremony. It has steel on it from the World Trade Center. The fire chief said the steel has the DNA on it of all the lives lost that day.
***When Del Toro told me he needed some help moving I called our friends at Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center in Colorado Springs. They quickly assembled a team of volunteers to help, as they often do for many veterans in our community. It's just another great part of this story for a man, and a family, who have sacrificed so much.
To donate to Tunnel to Towers Foundation click here: T2T.org.
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