New Home for Christmas
For the first Christmas in years, Harry Puaa won’t have to worry about rain blowing into his house. The Vietnam veteran lives with his wife “in the oldest house on this road” – Pu`ukapele Ave. in Ho`olehua – and has called it home since the early 1940s. Now, with bedding peeking out of broken wall boards, glass windows mostly missing and a sagging roofline, living in the old house could make some people question their good fortunes.
But “Uncle Harry” doesn’t think much of it, referring nonchalantly to having spent two years in Vietnam with no house at all. “To me, it’s a house,” he says, motioning a camouflage uniform-clad arm toward a new home that is rising behind his old one.
The studio structure is being constructed by Molokai Habitat for Humanity (MHFH) through a Habitat for Humanity International and Lowe’s Home Improvement program called Hammers for Heroes, which funds home improvements for veterans.
Uncle Harry says he tried to get a loan through the Department of Veterans Affairs for 30 years. In 2009, he finally got the hefty stack of paperwork in hand, and went to MHFH for help building a new house. But current MHFH Executive Director Zhantell Dudoit said the organization didn’t have the funding at the time. When Dudoit took the position in March 2011, she drove Molokai roads to find those most in need of assistance, and took note of Uncle Harry’s house. She secured $7,500 in Hammers for Heroes funding, which covers building material and shipping costs. All labor is donated by volunteers, Dudoit added.
Hammers for Heroes funded seven projects statewide, beginning on Dec. 2, in honor of Pearl Harbor Day on Dec. 7. Uncle Harry’s house is on schedule to be completed by Christmas.
He expresses matter-of-fact gratitude for being able to live on the land his father passed down to him.
“Where else in Hawaii could you find 40 acres?” Uncle Harry wonders aloud. “I love this land; I was born and raised on this land.”
He says education was important to his father, and Uncle Harry attended Kamehameha Schools. After serving in the Army, he worked for Aloha Airlines for 40 years in terminal operations and cargo.
His father had the house built, he says – all the lumber had to be loaded by hand from the barge. As he kicks the loose, red dirt, Uncle Harry remembers how his mother would “lose it” over trying to wash out – by hand in cold water – the dirt from his and his brothers’ clothes, back when they had no electricity or running water.
While Uncle Harry and his wife now have been living with electricity and washing machine in their house, he says he’s been “fixing stuff” for the past 10 years. It had gotten to the point, though, where “you’re gonna have to fix this, then you’re gonna have to fix that.” The old structure is scheduled for demolition once the new home is built.
Site supervisor James Espaniola said “a lot of hands” have gone into framing Uncle Harry’s house – “10 at any given time.”
“By Christmas he will be living in the safety and comfort of his new studio,” said Dudoit.
Caption: Harry Puaa, center, stands with Molokai Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers building his new house, made possible through funding from Hammers for Heroes.
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