Six years removed from being critically wounded in Iraq, Marine Sgt. Ryan Donnelly had a homecoming of sorts Wednesday.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held for his new home in Lake Ronkonkoma; and the Purple Heart recipient -- who lost a leg during his third deployment -- should be unpacking this November, in time for Veteran's Day.
Donnelly, 28, Newfield High School's 2002 male athlete of the year who was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, was wounded in 2006 when his Humvee vehicle drove over a roadside bomb. He was one of five marines in the vehicle and the only person injured in the blast. After weeks of infection, his right leg was amputated above the knee.
Now, Donnelly and his fiancee, Tina McGrory, 34, are planning to move from their single-bedroom home in Middle Island into a three-bedroom, two bath ranch home on Clarendon Road.
"It's amazing; everyone is helping out and doing the right thing," said Donnelly, minutes before shoveling the dirt in his future front lawn.
"This is an opportunity to stay on Long Island where we both grew up and to put down roots and start a family. This is a chance of a lifetime, it really is," McGrory said.
The Long Island Home Builder Care Development Corp., the charitable arm of the Long Island Builders Institute, is erecting the home through its "Building New Homes for Returning Veterans" program. The corporation built a home last year in Sound Beach for another Purple Heart recipient, Omar Domenech.
"Sometimes saying thank you for your services isn't enough, and today reflects that fact," said town Supervisor Mark Lesko. "This site and this outpouring reflects our thanks for your incredible service."
Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone, who was among officials on hand, lauded Donnelly's sacrifice and work to build a family and career.
"You build great communities around veterans. And we have an obligation to people on the home front [and] to these vets who have sacrificed so much," Bellone said.