McALLEN — Twenty-five volunteers from the Pharr Home Depot and Habitat for Humanity gathered here Monday, at the home of Retired Cpl. Juan Antonio Cocio to transform the veteran’s yard.
Volunteers cleaned, gardened, hammered and sawed throughout the morning. By early afternoon, a dump truck’s worth of debris had been removed from the Cocios’ yard, a large collection of plants and flowers was sitting on a new plant rack and the couple was sitting in the shade on their porch enjoying their new yard.
“This is one of six veterans projects that we have going on in the Valley right now,” Herman Ochoa with the Home Depot Foundation said. “Every store in the Valley is doing one project for a veteran, so we continue to give back to those that gave so much to us.”
The foundation performs similar projects twice a year, usually around Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Ochoa says the volunteers put a lot of effort in at Cocio’s home.
“We did a pretty extensive cleanup job,” he said. “It was just overgrown brush. There was debris in the yard, there was an old rusty swing set, there was an old rusty treadmill, there was an old rusty tractor. It was just full of debris.”
Ochoa says the yard should look even better after a few days.
“We seeded this whole back yard, we spread some bermuda seed and then we put some top soil on it, so hopefully we’ll get some grass growing back here,” he said. “In the front we did plant some sod, it was very bare with a lot of weeds, so we raked it and cut out all the weeds, and we put some St. Augustine sod from Home Depot. In a few days she’s gonna get some really nice grass growing here.”
One of the biggest changes to Cocio’s property was a new privacy fence in his backyard.
“He has PTSD, and he couldn’t enjoy his backyard,” Ochoa said. “The neighbors have a really big dog that comes out here and starts barking every time he would sit out here to enjoy his backyard, so that’s why we built this fence, so the dog doesn’t get him riled up.”
Another addition to the property, and perhaps the most significant, was a new flag and flagpole.
When the volunteers arrived, the American flag Cocio displayed in his yard was about the size of a sheet of paper, hung from a small plastic stick a couple of feet long. Volunteers installed a new 20-foot-tall flagpole, topped by a golden eagle and a fluttering flag.
“That’s my dream come true,” Cocio said, looking at the flag.
Cocio, who walks with a cane and served as a paratrooper with the U.S. Army in Korea during the Vietnam War, says the display of kindness left him speechless.
“There’s no words to describe it, I am blessed. In ’69, when I came home, I was considered a baby killer,” he said. “And now this just made my whole life — like I said, there’s no words to describe it.”
Ochoa says the foundation intends to continue conducting projects for veterans across the Valley and across the nation for years to come.
“The Home Depot Foundation just announced this year that they’re pledging to donate, by the year 2025, half a billion dollars for veterans causes,” he said.