By PENNY FLETCHER
It isn’t every day you get to meet a character from your favorite movie, but that’s just what happened to Joan Miller, owner of Dove Interiors Carpet One Floor & Home in Ruskin, and her daughter Kim Scott last month.
It would be hard to forget the character “Lt. Dan Taylor” played by Gary Sinise in the 1994 box-office hit, Forrest Gump. It’s a role Sinise, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1995 for the film’s supporting role, never forgot. The character, who lost both legs in Vietnam, was thoroughly researched by Sinise before the film was shot. What he found changed his life enough that he founded the Gary Sinise Foundation, the mission statement and purpose of which may be seen at http://www.garysinisefoundation.org.
Since he played Lt. Dan, he has not only formed a foundation to help wounded veterans but also has joined the USO, and travels worldwide to entertain troops and support morale.
“Lt. Dan” may have been the most famous person at the Carpet One Convention last month in Phoenix, but it wasn’t Sinise whom the conventioneers honored as they took on a special project to help veterans and other first responders.
Carpet One corporate officials made it clear that all dealers would participate, but it didn’t take any persuading for Miller and Scott.
“All those who put their lives on the line daily for public safety need any help we can give them,” said Scott in an interview after they returned. “Not only the military, but the firemen, law enforcement officers, emergency medical personnel and others.”
The presentations given weren’t what Miller and Scott, and Scott’s husband Odell — himself a Vietnam veteran — expected to find at a Carpet One convention.
Instead of the usual “sell-the-product” talk found at most corporate conventions, Carpet One owners and staff heard presentations from Building for America’s Bravest, a program to build “Smart Homes” for those who have lost three or more limbs in the line of duty.
One of the speakers was a fire chief, John Carroll, who had a mobile museum of the 9/11 terrorism attack on the World Trade Center in New York. He told attendees about Stephen Siller, who was an off-duty fireman when the Twin Towers were hit.
“He said Siller had to run more than a mile through the tunnel because he couldn’t get his fire truck through with everyone leaving New York,” said Kim Scott. “The father of five was killed when he reached the towers, after running all that way with 60 pounds of gear on his back.”
Siller’s loved ones organized the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, and yearly there’s a run in his honor from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the World Trade Center site.
In 2011, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation organizers began the Building for America’s Bravest program to provide especially adaptive homes for the first-ever quadruple amputee to survive, Army Specialist Brendan Marrocco. By the end of 2013, the group had broken ground on 23 Smart Homes.
“Everything is automated, even the shelves go up and down to reach the people in wheelchairs,” Scott said.
The stories told at the convention still bring tears to Joan Miller’s eyes, she said. Soon, there will be a display in her College Avenue, Ruskin store of the mobile 9/11 like the one they saw at the convention.
Carpet One’s officials are providing aid to the effort, along with Mohawk Industries, by installing flooring in the Smart Homes. Other companies sign on to build rooms, specially designed bathrooms and kitchens, shelving and whatever else is needed.
“These homes cost more than $600,000 each to build,” Scott said.
More than $40,000 was collected for the cause at the Carpet One convention in January, Miller said.
Much of that was raised by selling a painting signed by Sinise, painted by artist Scott Lobaido (www.scottlobaido.com), who dedicates his time to painting American flags on tall buildings nationwide so veterans returning to their hometowns will see them.
A second painting by Lobaido is also in the works, which will be signed by former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani, along with Sinise and Lobaido.
Contributions are tax deductible for those who wish to donate, and www.T2Trun.org (the official site of the Tunnel to the Towers annual run) can use help in all fields of building as well as monetary donations.
People may also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, Miller and Scott are anxiously awaiting the free-standing kit showing the 9/11 display that will be available for public view at Dove Interiors Carpet One Floor & Home, 2305 E. College Ave., Ruskin. It is supposed to be an exact replica of the one shown around the country by Chief Carroll, who tours the country telling of the bravery of his NYC firemen and others who risked their lives — many of whom died — during the 9/11 terrorist attack.