Army veteran Ezequiel Rodriguez and his father were watching television at their home in Florida last month when they heard a loud roar.
Rodriguez, who served in the Army from 2001 to 2003, who fractured his back on a hard landing while parachuting with the 82nd Airborne Division, now relies on a wheelchair for his mobility. His father picked him up and carried him to a closet as an EF-1 tornado blew through their home, collapsing the ceiling around them.
“We started hearing that roar—it was an immense roar—like a lion roaring next to you,” said Rodriguez. “The house started shaking. That’s when my father went ahead and dragged me into the closet. I guess it was the adrenaline or something. I weigh 308 pounds. I don’t know how he did it. We just stood there and said, ‘God if this is our time, just take us with you.’”
The tornado—which spun off a line of severe thunderstorms that were sweeping across Florida that morning and afternoon—lasted only 30 seconds, but to Rodriguez, it felt “like hours.”
All around them, Rodriguez said they could hear the sounds of the roof caving in and windows breaking.
“My father was bracing me and he was holding on to me and to one of the walls of the closet,” said Rodriguez. “It was just an awful experience. Right when we got in, that’s when everything started popping and started exploding. We were afraid for our lives.”
In addition to major structural damage to the house, the storm hit the home’s exterior wheelchair ramp—a critical aid to Rodriguez’s daily life.
The members of Chapter 18 in Bradenton, Fla., saw the story on the news and knew they needed to do something.
“They lost everything—I mean everything,” said Walter Cyr, Commander of DAV Chapter 18. “For me, it is personal. I lost a lot of friends and have seen how people are affected, and to see how this is going to affect him, you can’t do enough.”
At their next meeting, Cyr brought up the situation and the DAV Chapter members responded.
“I wanted to see if we could get him some money,” said Cyr. “I wanted to provide enough money to repair and fix his ramp. We ended up being able to donate $5,000 and a new electric wheelchair.”
Rodriguez knows it could have been much worse, despite the damage they discovered upon exiting the closet following the storm. Rodriguez’s wife, who is his primary caregiver, and three children weren’t home at the time.
“Usually they are in the living room or the formal dining room when they are doing homework,” said Rodriguez. “That’s where the major part of the roof collapsed. It would have been fatal for them if they were home. With the money we received from DAV we were also able to buy my daughter’s bedroom set and our living room set. Both rooms were severely damaged during the tornado.”
In addition, thanks to the donation from DAV, the Rodriguez family was able to replace clothing ruined by the water and debris.
“This is why it is so important for our local Chapters to be involved in their community,” said DAV National Membership Director Doug Wells. “When you join the military you join a family, a family that continues to look out for each other as veterans. One of our family members was in need and the local members stepped up.”
“We are forever indebted to DAV,” said Rodriguez. “In general, DAV has helped us get back on our feet. Their was a time there we couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We are greatly thankful for what DAV did for us.”