I always say that the families we help are metaphors for the larger story of America; this story is no exception. This week we helped a true American hero. A man who selflessly served his country in its time of need, all without seeking any spotlight or reward. The man I'm talking about is
, a former Marine who threw on his uniform and drove towards the danger on that fateful September morning of 2001.
On September 11, 2001, a day that no American can ever forget, Jason Thomas was living on Long Island and had seen the reports of those planes hitting the World Trade Center. Donning his Marine Corp. uniform, he sped toward ground zero to lend a hand wherever he could. He and another rescuer found and rescued the two Port Authority Police officers from underneath the rubble of the Trade Center and were eventually immortalized in the
World Trade Center
. The most amazing part of the story is that Jason just went home after the rescue and never came forward. He went on with his life, bought a house in Whitehall, Ohio, and got a job as a security guard at the Ohio State Supreme Court. Jason, his wife Kristi, and their five children took in Kristi's aunt and her two children, and lived a quiet suburban life as an unsung hero.
Unfortunately for the Thomas family, the home they lived in was completely substandard and falling down around them. It just wasn't safe for children to be raised in and it certainly wasn't going to last very much longer. We decided that this Marine, this American hero, deserved the security of a home he could trust would be there for him and his children, it was the least we could do. Together with our generous and talent builders,
, we built Jason Thomas and family a home not only he could be proud of, but a home that all Americans can take pride in. Our builders Bob Schottenstein, President and CEO, and Mark Norris, Division President, of M/I Homes out of Columbus, really stepped up to make this home a reality. As soon as they heard Jason's story and saw the conditions he and his family had been living in, they jumped at the opportunity to be a part of repaying this Marine for his selfless service to our country.
My project for the week was 13-year-old Jason Thomas' room. I called him "Size 13 Jason" because he is a big kid. He's my man, the quiet type, but when he does talk he means business. It's an honor to work on his room. I really wanted to capture an urban-sophisticated look with an industrial feel. I really got into metal sculpting, welding, grinding.... I even went and found some graffiti artists to add some color to the room. It turned out great, and I know Jason loved it.
We had one final task we had to accomplish before we handed the keys over to Jason and family. We were, after all, bringing a Marine home. With an honor guard, the Thomas family, the designers, our builders, a sea of blue-shirted volunteers, and with the National Anthem being belted out by R&B star
, we raised the American flag over the Thomas home on their very own flag pole. A very fitting and moving house warming for an American hero and his family.
This Sunday's special 9/11-themed
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition
airs an hour earlier, starting at 7 pm/ET, on ABC. For more on
's honoring of a 9/11 hero, see Interviews & Features.