It took just seven days to collect the money to purchase a new pickup for a wounded Cape Coral veteran and his Cape Coral wife. The exact amount was $49,000, with the donations mostly in $10 and $20 increments.
One anonymous donor wrote a $5,000 check. More than $10,000 was collected in 48 hours alone. The Fort Myers AutoNation Toyota truck dealership donated a trim package as icing on the cake, offered a worker discount on the Toyota Tundra crewcab truck as an added tribute.
The overwhelming community outreach to purchase the dark-blue collector's edition Tundra blew away every expectation, said Dan Ashby, a volunteer leading the effort to help purchase the truck for wounded U.S. Army Sgt. Josh Hargis and his wife, Taylor, who is expecting the couple's first child in May.
"This (community effort) is just awesome," said Ashby, with the National Coalition for Patriots, the Southwest Florida nonprofit leading the campaign. "The Hargises have a new baby coming, and now they have new truck with a free and clear title. This eliminates a lot of the stress."
The truck donation caps weeks of outreach work to recognize and honor Josh and Taylor Hargis, who in just a few months have endured more than any young couple should expect. Josh, serving with an Army Ranger unit in Afghanistan, was severely injured in October. He lost his legs at the knees; other soldiers in his unit were killed or injured. He is best remembered for saluting lying prone as he was getting shipped to an Army medical facility. The salute went viral. It was his fourth combat tour.
He accepted the truck keys Monday standing on prosthetic legs, which he will continue to practice using in rehabilitation for another year. The couple expects to settle in Cape Coral. Josh said he would likely enroll in college.
"Overjoyed," was how Josh Hargis viewed the truck donation and his emotional return to a community overwhelmingly expressing its gratitude for his and his family's sacrifice. "The National Coalition (for Patriots) has donated so much."
The couple recently returned to Cape Coral, Taylor's hometown. Josh is undergoing rehabilitation at a military center in Texas. The pair were greeted at Page Field Airport in Fort Myers by a huge group of motorcyclists with the Patriot Guard Riders and other well-wishers, including Michael Swift, a Cape Army veteran with a Silver Star and Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. The former Army Special Forces officer was wounded in Afghanistan.
"This says everything about the character of Southwest Florida," Swift said Monday at the AutoNation Toyota dealership when the keys to the Tundra were handed over to the Hargises.
The National Coalition for Patriots in just three years has greatly heightened the awareness and directed financial assistance to the men and women of Southwest Florida serving in the U.S. armed forces, said Mike Bohaychyk, the group's secretary, which has included outreach help to former U.S. Army Pfc. Corey Kent, a Cape solider wounded in combat in Afghanistan in 2010. Kent, whose father is Dan Ashby, was beaming as the Hargises drove off in their new Tundra.
"This will help make their lives better," Corey Kent said.