ATLANTA — When a bomb shredded Todd Love’s legs in Afghanistan, his fellow Marines and the heat from the blast spared him from death.
The intense heat of the explosion worked to cauterize, or seal, his wounds to keep him from bleeding to death on the battlefield, Love said.
Now, he’s getting help from civilians in the form of a benefit concert tonight featuring actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band.
Organizers of the 7 p.m. show in Alpharetta turned battlefield tragedies into newfound hope for Love and other wounded veterans like him, Love said.
“They took something that’s a tragedy and they’re turning it into something beautiful,” said Love, a Marietta native who lost both legs and his left arm as a result of the explosive device that knocked him unconscious on the battlefield.
The concert will raise money for new homes for Love and Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Schlitz, whose body caught fire when an improvised explosive device detonated in Iraq in February 2007. He sustained burns over 85 percent of his body and lost both of his arms.
The Gary Sinise Foundation is working with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to build the homes for Love and Schlitz and other injured veterans nationwide. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation is named after a fallen firefighter killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Sinise says the lessons of Vietnam inspired his efforts to help veterans.
“We as citizens have a responsibility to take care of our defenders,” the CSI: New York star said in an interview.
Sinise, who played an amputee in the 1994 Hollywood film Forrest Gump, performs with his band to focus attention on the ongoing health challenges faced by veterans after they return from battle.
“We should learn and remember those hard lessons from Vietnam when we did turn our backs on our veterans and what it did to them,” Sinise said.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan create long-lasting mental and physical challenges, including the risk of suicide, for U.S. military members, he said.
“We’ll still be feeling the effects of these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for many, many years,” Sinise said. “I think we will have challenges that we are not even aware of at this point.”
It will take far more support to help veterans in coming years than the federal government alone can provide, Sinise said. U.S. citizens must pay a key role in helping them, he added.
“We have a terrible suicide challenge that we have to face,” he said.
“Sometimes these veterans just feel like there’s no way out, nobody cares,” he said. “Sometimes they go live in an abandoned car somewhere and try to disappear.”
Funds raised at Saturday’s concert will go toward building high-tech “smart” homes to help Love and Schlitz to lead independent lives, organizers say. Three fully-equipped homes have already been given to veterans in Staten Island, N.Y.; Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.; and Temecula, Calif. More than a dozen others are nearing completion or in the planning or fundraising stages.
It costs at least $500,000 to construct the homes, depending on where they are built since land prices vary, organizers said.
“To be chosen for something like this, it’s just very humbling,” said Schlitz, 35.
“You can never say thank you enough times,” Schlitz said. “It’s overwhelming sometimes.”
Schlitz believes lessons learned by doctors in Vietnam and other past conflicts made it possible for him to live. If he had been burned so severely back then, he said, “chances are I would not have survived.”
Plans call for Schlitz’s home to be built near Columbus, the Georgia city that’s home to Fort Benning, and family and friends Schlitz relies on for his care.
Love’s home will be built in the northwest suburbs of Atlanta, near where he grew up.
“It makes me happy that people out there still care and still have a heart, you know,” Love said. “It makes me so blessed, very blessed that I could be the recipient of all this love. It makes me proud. It gives me hope.”