PALERMO, Maine — Two years ago, Jeremy Gilley was rappelling out of helicopters in Iraq, where he served as a U.S. Army specialist with airborne special forces.
The 27-year-old Gilley, a Palermo native who graduated from Erskine Academy in South China, made it home to Maine safely. But just before Christmas, disaster struck for the combat veteran when he stopped to help at an accident scene on Route 3 in Augusta.
Gilley parked just in front of a crashed pickup truck early in the morning of Dec. 18 and went to help the injured driver. But a 16-year-old driving a minivan didn’t see the accident and struck the truck, pinning Gilley between two vehicles.
Gilley lost both his legs after that night.
“He’s trained in emergency situations. He did everything he’s supposed to do,” said his aunt Dottie Gilley. “He’s a hero.”
She is working to raise money to help her nephew and his family and to try to bring more national attention to his plight.
Gilley had been installing home insulation before the accident and was the primary breadwinner for his household. His father needs a kidney and liver transplant and can’t work, according to an American Legion official in Belfast.
“This is going to slow him down, but it’s not going to hold him down,” Dottie Gilley said. “The day after the accident, I said, ‘It won’t stop Jeremy.’ He’s going to get [prostheses] and he’s going to walk again.”
Veterans organizations are holding benefit suppers and raffles to help Jeremy Gilley. A spaghetti supper and raffle will be held this Sunday at the Palermo Consolidated School on Route 3 in Palermo, and a potluck supper and raffle will be held in Belfast on Saturday, Feb. 25.
Jackie Martin, the adjutant and commander of AMVETS Post 6829 in Belfast, said this week that efforts to help Gilley have taken off “like wildfire.”
“We have an overwhelming response,” she said. “We could definitely use the support from everybody and get as many people in here as possible.”
She said that she had met the combat veteran recently, when a crew from Home Depot came to his house to build a wheelchair ramp and make other handicapped-accessible improvements.
“He’s in good spirits,” Martin said. “He has such a great attitude about it.”
Funds raised will go directly to help his family, she said. Gilley lives with his mother and father in Palermo.
“I don’t want to say that they’re too proud to ask for help — but it’s not the way that they are,” she said.
Gilley was reluctant to talk about his plight when asked for an interview.
But according to Dottie Gilley, her nephew is dreaming of getting a set of top-of-the-line Nike prostheses, which his veterans benefits will not cover. She did not know how much they cost, and an Internet search did not turn up results.
“That’s what my goal is,” she said, referring to the prostheses. “That’s why I’m trying to get his story nationwide.”
She described her nephew as smart and “amazing.”
According to Dottie Gilley, returning combat veterans often don’t think of home as a dangerous place.
“They don’t think it’s going to happen to them here. He could have stepped on a bomb over there and lost his legs,” she said. “They think this is going to be the safe place, but it’s not. Because you just never know.”
The American Legion and AMVETS posts in Belfast are organizing a spaghetti supper and raffle from 5 to 7 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Palermo Consolidated School on Route 3. They’re also organizing a potluck supper and raffle from 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Belfast American Legion at 143 High St.
For information or to donate raffle items, food or money for Jeremy Gilley’s family, call Jackie Martin at 505-1131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.