(Plainville, Conn., July 16, 2022) For Plainville High School seniors Jaylen Thigpen and Brandon Buckingham, giving back – especially when it comes to helping out a local veteran in need – is something that is second nature.
“I’ve always been brought up to respect veterans and to give back as much as I can,” said Thigpen, a senior lineman on the Blue Devils football squad, trumpet player with the PHS Jazz Band and a familiar face to locals who may have seen him playing Taps at local cemeteries on Memorial Day. “Whether it is performing community service, or playing my trumpet for them, I try to do what I can to say thank you.”
“It’s important to me to help out veterans because they fought for us and our freedom,” said Buckingham, a senior receiver and defensive back for the Blue Devils whose father, Dennis, recently left military service after a lengthy career in the Army and Air Force. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Thigpen, Buckingham, Head Coach Tim Shea, Assistant Coach Dylan Fusco and an additional 13 student-athletes from the Blue Devils football team put their support of veterans, and commitment to community service, in action on Saturday at the Broad Street home of 71-year-old Vietnam combat veteran Peter Johnson. Johnson, a former Army radio teletype operator who is 95 percent blind due to Agent Orange exposure, was in need of some help around the house and the Blue Devils football team obliged.
It was all part of the work of House of Heroes Connecticut, the 10-year-old non-profit veterans service organization which provides one-day, no-cost home repairs focusing on safety and accessibility to military and public safety veterans in need. House of Heroes was also in Berlin Saturday, assisting a 93-year-old World War II veteran. The two projects were the organization’s eighth in Plainville, seventh in Berlin and 174th and 175th overall since its 2012 founding.
“The kids were all eager to sign up for this,” said Coach Shea. “Projects like this are a big part of what Blue Devil Football is all about. It’s humbling. It teaches them the importance of giving back and what community spirit is all about.”
Saturday’s Plainville project was made possible by Project Partner Tops Marketplace of Plantsville, while the Berlin project at the home of Army veteran Richard Glidden was supported by Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, along with volunteers from the Berlin Lions Club and Rotary Club of Kensington-Berlin.
At the Johnson home in Plainville, Blue Devil football players worked side-by-side with Tops Marketplace and House of Heroes personnel, repairing and staining Johnson’s weathered deck, and clearing and beautifying the entire property.
“It is so essential to give back to the community and to support our veterans,” said Hillary Holiday, a member of the Salerno family that has owned and operated Tops Marketplace for 40 years. “When you can give, you should, and at Tops Market we do it with a happy heart.”
“I feel so honored, especially with the kids being here today helping like this,” said Johnson, who shares his home with his wife of 49 years, Vera. Making the day extra special for the Johnsons was the fact that
one of the Blue Devils helping out, junior Marcus Kiley, used to live next door. When Kiley was in elementary school, he once asked Johnson to visit his school for a Veterans Day ceremony because, says Vera, “Peter was the only veteran he knew.”
The Johnsons were nominated for assistance by long-time family friend Marion Jamrog.
“I’ve known these two for more than 20 years and they are the most giving, loving people you will ever meet,” said Jamrog. “They never ask for anything and they needed some help.
“Peter said to me, ‘I don’t deserve this’ and I said ‘you most certainly do,’” continued Jamrog. “It is moving and humbling to see this happening. It’s truly like a dream come true. We need more of this in today’s world.”
The day was highlighted by a ceremony in Johnson’s front yard, during which the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, the National Anthem was played by Thigpen on his trumpet, and an American flag encased in a personalized, handcrafted wooden flag box was presented to Johnson by House of Heroes Connecticut Executive Director Carol May to thank him for his service.
“This is a really big thing for me,” said Johnson. “I never expected it.”