The Bronx welcomed two new New Yorkers on Friday, as U.S. Army Specialist Semisi Tokailagi and his wife arrived to see their new home in Harding Park.
The home was donated by the Military Warriors Support Foundation's Homes4WoundedHeroes program, which secures 100% mortgage-free homes to veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Friday was one of the most exciting, special days I've had as a Bank of America employee," said Bank of America New York City President Jeff Barker. The Homes4WoundedHeroes program works with the support of financial institutions.
Tokailagi, a native of Fiji, received a Purple Heart after being injured in the line of duty in Afghanistan when a mortar shell exploded near him, landing him in a coma for seven days.
After undergoing emergency surgery, Tokailagi was under intensive care in a hospital in Germany. He has had to relearn how to read and write and has suffered damage to his eyesight. He hopes to become a mechanic with the help of military vocational training programs, Barker said.
Tokailagi and his wife had visited the Bronx some time ago and fallen in love with the area, deciding that one day they would live there.
And now that day is not far off: Bank of America volunteers began work on the house Friday to prepare it for its new occupants. Tokailagi and his wife are slated to move in next month.
The welcome wagon was led by two local kids, Jaime and Cameron Pattee, toting "welcome home" posters for their new neighbors. The young Pattees hung out with New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who was on hand to shake hands, sign autographs and and offer Tokailagi a warm Yankees welcome.
"I'd just like to say thank you for your personal sacrifice and allowing us to do what we do freely," a choked-up Girardi said.
Barker noted that the neighborhood is perfectly suited to receive this new inhabitants: The neighbors who crowded around to receive Tokailagi told him he's in good company, as the area is full of local and national service members from all forces, ranging from the NYPD and FDNY to the Navy and Air Force.
A neighbor overheard Barker expressing concern for Tokailagi, who did not know anyone in New York City or have any family in the area.
"We're his family," the neighbor told Barker. "You have nothing to worry about."
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