News-Examiner ArticleVeteran welcomed to Howell; presented with keys to ‘smart home’
By CHARLES DAYE, Staff Writer - January 6, 2020
The home was built specifically for Nokes to accommodate his needs as a blind double amputee resulting from his military service in Afghanistan.
A smart home is a residence that is equipped with lighting, heating and electronic devices that can be controlled remotely by phone or computer.
Nokes joined the U.S. Marine Corps on his 17th birthday in 2008 and went to boot camp after he graduated from high school in July 2009. As a corporal and rifleman, Nokes was deployed to Afghanistan for two tours of duty (September 2010 through March 2011, and January 2012 through July 2012), both times with the 1/8 Battalion Marines Charlie Company.
“During both deployments, I developed dysentery and other stomach issues, including bug bites, and I brought something home with me which led to septic shock after years of stomach issues, and the loss of both legs below the knee, and the loss of my vision,” Nokes said.
In a ceremony that was held to present the home to Nokes, U.S. Congressman Chris Smith (R-Mercer, Monmouth Ocean) was joined by representatives from the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation, local elected officials, members of law enforcement agencies and military veterans.
In 2003, Smith authored the Veterans Benefit Act that increased government funding to $50,000 for Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) programs for severely disabled service members.
The SAH government program helps veterans like Nokes live independently, but does not cover the entire cost of home ownership, according to Smith’s office.
The project to construct the home on White Street was undertaken by the Stephen Siller Tunnel To Towers Foundation with the support of its partner, Home Depot, and the Home Depot Foundation. The home was custom designed and will not carry a mortgage.
“No one deserves this more than Cpl. Nokes,” Smith said. “He is a courageous Marine with an indomitable spirit.”
Nokes said the experience of receiving a home has been overwhelming since he was not expecting “all of that.”
“I am still at a loss for words. I can think about what I want to say, but I still can’t talk about how I feel. I am still on a high from it two weeks later,” he said this week.
Nokes supported the foundation before he ever needed its assistance and he said it felt like everything had come full circle.
“The house is beautiful and from what I have been told it is flawless. The craftsmanship is amazing, the builders were dedicated in getting this project done and the hundreds of workers who were in there working had no issues.
“We went over the other day and they are still doing some work in the house. The workers are taking care not to tear up the floors. I am blind and I would never notice … just the care and the legitimate care of everybody,” Nokes said.
Ground was broken for the home on July 29. Howell Councilman Thomas Russo said at the time that the groundbreaking ceremony was likely the best day he had as a councilman.
Russo revised that statement this week and said, “I take that back. Being able to see Cpl. Nokes walk into his new home for the first time was an honor I cannot put into words.
“Howell loves our veterans and active military members and I know I can speak on behalf of Howell when I say we are honored and proud to have Cpl. Nokes as our newest resident.
“Thank you to Kathy Cunningham, the Tunnel To Towers Foundation, and all of the members of Team Shamrock for giving so much of themselves to make sure our heroes get taken care of when they come home,” Russo said.
Deputy Mayor Evelyn O’Donnell said seeing Nokes receive the keys to his home was a proud and humbling moment.
“You could tell he was extremely touched about the house (and) to be welcomed by the people. It was really humbling. I do not think I ever felt so proud to be in Howell in all my life. It is just wonderful,” O’Donnell said.
The Tunnel To Towers Foundation honors Fire Department of New York firefighter Stephen Siller.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Siller, who was assigned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1, had just finished his shift and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he got word over his scanner of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center, according to the website tunnel2towers.org
Upon hearing the news, Siller called his wife Sally and asked her to tell his brothers he would catch up with them later.
He returned to Squad 1 to get his gear. Siller drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, but it had already been closed for security purposes, according to the website.
Determined to carry out his duty, Siller strapped 60 pounds of gear to his back and raced on foot through the tunnel to the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, where he gave his life while saving others. Siller is survived by his wife and five children, according to the website.
This article was orginally posted online on Jan. 6, 2020 and can be found online at: