KAILUA-KONA — Destin Foree was overcome with emotion as he stood at the steps of a Kailua-Kona condo with his wife and four sons as the key to the front door was given to them — permanently.
On Thursday morning, the Military Warriors Support Foundation presented the first mortgage-free home in Hawaii County, donated by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, to the military veteran and his family.
Under the bright Hawaiian sun in the Kanaloa at Kona by Castle condominiums on Manukai Street, a small group gathered to present the home to the Forees.
“Thank you to everyone who made this happen,” Ililani Foree said to the crowd.
Ken Eakes, executive director of the Military Warriors Support Foundation, said he was pleased and honored to be at the event on Thursday.
“We’d like to say Destin, thank you for your service,” Eakes said. “You’ve been teaching me a lot about aloha.”
After a rendition of the National Anthem was played on the tenor saxophone and a few short remarks were given, Eakes welcomed the Forees into their home.
The lanai overlooks Kona Country Club golf course.
Wells Fargo donates homes to Military Warriors Support Foundation for use in its Homes4WoundedHeroes program, which awards mortgage-free homes and three years of family and financial mentoring to assist combat-wounded veterans and Gold Star spouses in their transition from the military to civilian life.
After serving in the Army for 16 years, Destin Foree retired in 2014. He had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and served as a combat medic and engineer officer. He received the Purple Heart for being injured in combat. He was also a recipient of numerous awards for his service.
Destin Foree suffered a traumatic brain injury as well as a back injury after he was caught in an IED blast in Afghanistan. He also suffers from post traumatic stress disorder.
After his service, Destin Foree returned to Colorado where his family was living at the time. “I tried to work,” he said. “For a long time I wasn’t accepting the fact that I was different.”
The family decided it was time to move back to his wife’s home state of Hawaii.
“After we got here, it was very humbling,” said 18-year-old Dayten, the Forees’ oldest son. “We went from a nice five-bedroom house to a three-bedroom shack, but we made it work.”
Ililani Foree said her family was virtually homeless, living with her dad.
“My boys — they endured a lot,” she said.
Ililani Foree said coming back to the Big Island was the best decision they made for their wounded hero.
“There’s no place like Hawaii,” she said. “This has been the best move for my family — just getting back to the aina.”
Since they’ve been back, Ililani Foree said, the medical assistance they’ve needed for her husband has fallen into place. He’s also found a job working with her father, keeping bees.
“Dealing with bees is therapeutic,” Destin Foree said. “I can sit there and watch them all day.”
And now, the Forees have a place to call their own.
“It’s just surreal,” Ililani Foree said Thursday. “You almost feel like it’s a dream. I can’t express how humble I feel for this gift.”
Like his father, Dayten has enlisted in the Army and won’t be spending much time in the family’s new home.
“I’m really glad my brothers have somewhere to stay,” he said.
Jim Allen, Wells Fargo state branch manager, was also at the gifting.
“It kinda gives me chills,” he said as he thought about the program to provide mortgage-free homes to veterans. “It makes me grateful to work for a company that provides this for our veterans.”
Since 2012, Wells Fargo has donated more than 350 homes, valued at over $55 million, to veterans in all 50 states.