By WENDY STIVER
LAMAR – When they hear the phrase “wounded warrior,” many area residents can’t help but think of Marine Corps Sgt. David “D.J.” Emery Jr.
The young man from Centre County narrowly survived a suicide bombing in Iraq on Feb. 7, 2007, and had both his legs amputated. After serving as a fighting man in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he had to fight for his life, and it was hard going.
But the community was ready to embrace him when his lengthy recovery and rehabilitation ended and he finally came home. The outpouring of good wishes and donations made a difference. Now he wants to pay it forward.
Becoming comfortable in a new life, Emery has plans to build on his growing skills at wood carving and raise funds for his fellow wounded veterans. To that end, he plans to start a non-profit organization called Wounded Warrior Woodworking.
The 28-year-old is exploring the possibilities with the help of Cindy Anderson Love, who uses her own skills to help non-profit groups.
“He wants to get going in the community. He wants to give back,” she said. “We’re at the very beginning of that.”
Nothing is set in stone yet – or carved in wood, in this case- but Emery already has tested the waters at two craft shows, offering his carvings of bears, trees and pumpkins, along with his wooden,
slatted American flags and his plaques featuring logos of the armed services and sports teams.
He displayed his creations at the Punkin’ Chunkin’ event last month at Bald Eagle State Park.
Right now, most of his inventory is stored in the driveway to his garage. Bear figures in various stages stand next to piles of the logs they are made from. Throughout are aisles for Emery’s wheelchair.
A project can start at his workbench in the garage, which – like any typical bench – is crowded with stuff on both sides of a small cleared space.
Details of each project also are accomplished here. Chain saw carving and spray-painting take place outdoors.
With cold weather on the horizon, Emery is looking forward to moving his shop into a pole shed that will sit a distance from the house and has yet to be completed. He has all the materials for the exterior, and his friends are organizing work sessions on Sundays when they can.
Love took a look at the shed’s skeleton on a recent visit to the house and pictured something different, something better for D.J.
The ideal, she said, would be a building with water and other utilities that he can get to in his wheelchair in all kinds of weather, and equipped with a dust collection system so that he won’t be breathing in sawdust while he carves.
Emery said he still hasn’t figured out how to run water to the new building, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about it. Right now, he’s got more concrete to be poured.
Pine wood is his favorite carving medium, Emery said, and he uses only four tools – a chain saw to rough out the figure, a dremel and a grinder for the details, and a torch to smooth out everything.
Emery started on this road two years ago when he built wooden shelves at the request of his wife, Angel.
“I posted a photo on Facebook and people liked them,” he said. “I made them some.”
He used a few cedar boards from an old garden bed to make a slatted American flag designed to hang on the wall. After a photo of the flag appeared on Facebook, people started asking for them, he said.
He met a wood carver at a campground who, upon learning that he was a veteran, gave him a bear figure.
“I thought, ‘I could do that,’ ” Emery recalled.
All these experiences have come together as the foundation for Wounded Warriors Woodworking.
Now he gets his cedar boards from a supply store and pine logs “wherever I find them,” he said.
A friend has been good about dropping off logs from time to time, he said, and a former neighbor gave him the wood when he had some 60-foot-tall pine trees cut down.
One of the figures Emery enjoys carving is a bear’s head peeking out of a pumpkin and wearing the top of the pumpkin as a hat. To create one, he said, there is some preparation time, then 45 minutes of carving, then detailing. After the figure sits for a few days, he uses his torch to burn “the fuzzies” off the details. Then there is coating with a mixture to protect it, spray painting, and sealing with cabinet oil.
His largest piece is 4 1/2-feet tall, much taller than his daughter Adalynn, who is almost 18 months old.
His first plan was to sell some of the pieces and donate proceeds to the Fallen Marine Memorial Ride out of Pittsburgh, but he has since learned that the annual ride is no longer held.
Through a conversation with U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Howard, and brainstorming with Love about other possibilities, he has decided he can do it all himself – from handling the chain saw to handling the paperwork involved in applying for nonprofit status.
“I’d like to be able to have something set up for the wounded guys coming home, the guys discharged from the hospital who are maybe coming back to their parents’ house and need a ramp,” Emery said. “We could help them out.”
Emery will help them with his own two hands, he said, by creating and selling his carvings and distributing the proceeds through the proposed Wounded Warrior Woodworking nonprofit organization.
His goal is to have an organization that would function something like the Semper Fi Fund, which gave him exercise equipment when he first came home. It would accept outside donations and give out funds all year around to wounded warriors from any war, who are any age, not just those newly returned from combat zones, Emery said.
He has yet to determine how he will learn about wounded warriors in need but he is confident he can work out the details with Love’s help.
Love is a magnet for information about people in need and has a way of connecting them with others who feel the need to help. With a degree in human services, she has been employed by nonprofits and now is volunteering locally to help organizations apply for grants.
She already is thinking about ways to get the pole shed completed and to acquire more equipment so that Emery can continue to help others, with his own two hands.
To assist in Emery’s plan or to find out more, email WoundedWarriorWoodworking@yahoo.com, find Wounded Warrior Woodworking on Facebook or call 814-383-0110.