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Local Iraq War Veteran Recognized as Hero, Given Award

Two recent events at Manchester Community College continued the effort to acquire and renovate a home in Manchester through Purple Heart Homes for Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee.

The community effort to provide a home for wounded veteran Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee received a welcome morale boost Monday morning with a visit and award from U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman.

In a ceremony held at Manchester Community College, the senator declared Lee one of "Joe's Heroes," an honor bestowed on Connecticut residents who go above and beyond expectations in serving the community.

“She wanted to do something to protect our country, she was serving in western Baghdad, and she was injured by a series of IED explosions,” Lieberman said. “… But as is the tremendous capacity, which is the best of America, you can knock us down, but you can't keep us down. She fought to rebuild her life and be a wonderful professional. She's a real hero."

Lee gave no speech at the event, instead choosing to give a stirring rendition of "America the Beautiful" for the attendees.

After , Lee suffers from severe PTSD that includes memory problems, constant headaches and vertigo, debilitating nightmares, depression, panic attacks and muscle strain. As a result, she is now considered 80 percent disabled.

Since her return to Manchester, the community has rallied around her, trying to offer support when and where it is appropriate.

On Saturday, about 75 people attended an auction, held at the Manchester Community College and conducted by WDRC radio personalities Brad Davis and Mary Jones, that raised more than $2,000 for the Purple Hearts Homes project, a non-profit organization overseeing the home renovation project that will benefit Lee, according to Vicki Thomas of Purple Heart Homes.

Several community members donated various items, from a fire alarm system and a flat screen television to numbered art prints, for the auction.

"It's great to see people step up to such a high level of support for the project," Thomas said.

Manchester Mayor Leo Diana served as emcee of Monday’s event, and former mayor and current State Sen. Steve Cassano spoke about Lee and her personal strength.

"It's exciting because the woman has an opportunity to live in a community that really cares about people,” Cassano said of Lee. “A woman that has given up more than we can ever imagine ... she has put issues behind her that would have stopped most people. Here she is in Manchester," he said.

In addition to Lee, Lieberman awarded the Joe's Heroes award to John Gallina, another wounded veteran and co-founder of the Purple Heart Homes organization who made the trip to Manchester from North Carolina for the event.

"Two guys that decided they were going to get up from their traumas and help other people, and they created this magnificent organization," Lieberman said of the efforts of Gallina and his group.

"At a time when the great institutions of our country including the government, have lost some of their respect and credibility, the U.S. military stands as the organization that continues day in and day out to earn our gratitude and our praise. They are an inspiration, they are what America is all about. These really are people devoted to a cause larger than themselves," said the four term Senator.

The goal is to have a home completely renovated by June of 2013 for use by Lee.

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