Cliff Easley experienced the hell of war in Vietnam, but has found a slice of heaven at his home in Iowa.
Easley, 66, who served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1988, including two stints in Vietnam, was one of the first veterans in the area to benefit from a new program through Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity.
Repair Corps, underwritten by the Home Depot Foundation, provides skilled labor and up to $15,000 in home improvements for veterans who qualify.
Veterans repay no-interest loans, which go into a revolving fund for the program.
That price was one Easley was willing to pay.
The roof on the northeast Cedar Rapids home where he and his wife, Pam Easley, live was nearing its end before he saw a flier about Repair Corps.
“We thought we’d have another year left and then have to put buckets in the kitchen,” Easley said with a grin.
Both he and his wife, who have five adult sons, are part-time cabdrivers and were saving money for their home repairs.
Under Repair Corps, their roof was replaced, along with their central air conditioner and furnace.
The couple will make affordable monthly payments on the loan and volunteer as they can or donate money to Habitat in return.
Another veteran had new windows installed in his Cedar Rapids home under Repair Corps this year.
“It fits with our mission,” said Jeff Capps, executive director of Cedar Valley Habitat for Humanity. “It’s a great way to honor our veterans and revitalize our neighborhoods.”
Capps said the local non-profit was chosen to participate in the Repair Corps pilot project and selected again for the full launch of the program.
Habitat is accepting applications for the next round of five homes in Linn and Benton counties.
Any U.S. veteran with an honorable, or general, discharge is eligible. Veterans are encouraged to apply as soon as possible. Projects must be completed by June 30, 2013.
Active-duty military families are not eligible and rental properties do not qualify for the program.
Nationwide, 30 Habitat affiliates helped 80 veterans during the pilot phase. With $2.7 million in funding, the expanded program will help repair homes of more than 180 veterans in cities such as Charlotte, N.C., Nashville, Tenn., Norfolk, Va. and San Diego.
Capps said Habitat had done some work with veterans with its “A Brush with Kindness” program, which provides exterior painting and minor repair work, but Repair Corps was designed specifically for veterans.
Besides roofing, Repair Corps can also provide electrical, caulking and weather stripping for veterans’ homes or install wheelchair ramps and remodel bathrooms to be more easily accessible for veterans with disabilities.
“Some (veterans) are worse off than I am,” said Easley, who has breathing difficulties from exposure to Agent Orange during his time in Vietnam.
Not until he is pressed for details does he talk about the two silver and three bronze medals he was awarded for his time as an Army Ranger in the service.
“It was a job to look out for other people’s backs,” Easley said, modestly. One of the medals was awarded for taking out a sniper who had his sights set on five of Easley’s fellow servicemen.
After retiring from the military, Easley worked for the Los Angeles Police Department and the California correctional system, where he “baby-sat” convicted killer Charles Manson for a week.
“Looking into his eyes is like looking into the depths of hell,” said Easley, who also has worked as a LIFTS driver in Linn County and volunteers with Toys for Tots.
Vietnam veterans were not welcomed when they returned from war, he noted, citing Americans who spit on some of his fellow servicemen, and one who was shot by a woman whose son was killed in the war.
That attitude has changed, Easley said, citing the welcome current service members receive and programs such as Repair Corps.
“They said, ‘you gave to your country; this time, we’re giving back,’” Easley said he was told. “I appreciate it.”