Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/18/11
HOUSTON The boy reached up to hug his mom. He didn't know why, but Mom was crying. He had seen Mom cry before. "He's always been very sensitive," Sara Wood said. "When I start crying, he automatically for Mommy." Sara's husband, Scott, was a Marine. Five years ago they had a son, Landon. Three months ago they celebrated their eighth wedding anniversary. Four weeks ago Scott died as a result of injuries sustained in combat in Iraq. He was 35. Since then Sara and Landon tuck themselves into the same bed. They live in a single room in her parents' house. Scott loved football. When he was laid into his casket, underneath his military dress blues was his Andre Johnson jersey, a different kind of dress blue. He would have been wearing it Sunday, when the Texans lost to the Carolina Panthers at Reliant Stadium. He would have loved to have seen the Texans last week, when they finally made the playoffs. So when Sara was contacted about coming to the game Sunday, it made perfect sense. Landon had never been to an NFL game before. She thought he'd like that. His father sure had. The idea, she was told, was that they'd get to go to the game and at halftime their family would be recognized on the big video screen and Landon would get some Christmas presents. There was a bike and a gift basket up there. A lady asked Landon if he knew who the bike was for. "No," he said. "Who?" That was going to be the big surprise for Landon, and it was a nice moment for Sara, too. When they told her husband's story over the loud speakers, the crowd roared in appreciation. Military service always seems to hit a nerve with football crowds. Sara's lip quivered. "Scott never missed a day without his Texans jersey," Sara said. "The day he passed was actually the bye week. He is wearing an Andre Johnson jersey beneath his dress blues, so he will never miss a Texans game without his jersey. I was thrilled to get to come and bring Landon." But there was something else. They then told her Sara would be getting a new, custom-built, mortgage-free house in Alvin, a Houston suburb. Since they haven't started construction, Sara will have some input in the design. The idea is to have Sara and Landon moved in by May. Sara's eyes filled and she raised her hands to cover her mouth. Her wedding ring flashed in the light of the cameras. But the boy was still thinking about the bike, and there was so much going on. There were cameras around him. There was a cheerleader. People were cheering and music was playing. Even if he heard the surprise announcement, he didn't understand it. He sort of looked around and gave a thumbs up. "I don't think he gets it at all," Sara said. Then he saw the tears in his mother's eyes. He is missing his front teeth. Someday he will understand all this, or at least most of it. But Landon is still missing his front teeth. For now what he knows is simple. "He knows Daddy's in heaven," Sara said. "I don't know if he fully comprehends what that means. He knows Daddy's not coming back." Before he died, Scott had taught Landon the "now I lay me down to sleep" prayer. Sometimes, even in the middle of the day, Sara will peek around the corner and find Landon reciting it. "Then he starts talking to Daddy," she said. "It's just beautiful." These are the moments that inspired Dan Wallrath to found Operation Finally Home seven years ago. He had been a builder in Houston for 30 years when a friend's son sustained severe head injuries in battle. The family asked Wallrath to remodel their home. "We went over and talked to the family and found out this was not an isolated case," he said. "The whole family was turned upside down. We decided to do something." Working with corporate sponsors and the Bay Area Builder's Association, Operation Finally Home has given away 32 homes in 32 states, now, always with a big surprise. It can be difficult to keep it a secret, he said, but so far so good. "It's such a joy to see the looks on their face when they know they're getting a mortgage-free home that nobody can take away from them," he said. Knowing how big a Texans fan Scott had been, Wallrath thought a Texans game would be the perfect venue. He called Texans owner Bob McNair to set it up, then told the Sara a little white lie. She didn't know she'd be crying on television or she'd have worn her waterproof mascara, she said. She said she was overwhelmed. "Now being able to stay in Alvin and having a home in Alvin, we'll be close," Sara said. "That's what Landon needs, his Papi and his Mimi and his uncle Chase and aunt Amanda, and all the people that give him support and love."
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