GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - "This can't be real!" That was the reaction from an injured military veteran as he received the keys to his new home Wednesday.
Christopher Gray is the first in South Mississippi to receive a mortgage-free house through a program that helps our nation's wounded heroes transition back to civilian life. It was an emotional ceremony.
"On behalf of all Bank of American employees worldwide, you have our utmost respect and appreciation. All I can say is Chris, congratulations and welcome home," said Eileen Elliott, Director of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch.
Chris Gray fought back tears as he accepted the keys to his new house on Sunset Drive in Gulfport.
"All I can say is, 'Thank you so much.' I never thought this was real," said Gray.
The military veteran never thought that an application he filled out six months ago would lead to this joyous moment.
The 1,557 square foot, three-bedroom, two bath house was donated by Bank of America and the Military Warriors Support Foundation. The bank spent about $29,000 to refurbish the once vacant house and fill it with all the appliances.
"It's such a rewarding thing to see someone who's so humble like Chris is, and be able to say you deserve this. You've served your country. We're so happy to be able to do it," said Elliott.
Gray served two tours in Iraq right after 9/11. In 2009, as an Army National Guardsman, he was deployed to Afghanistan. While on patrol, his Humvee ran over a roadside bomb. The blast killed one soldier and wounded three others.
"I was knocked out, so I wasn't sure what was going on," said Gray. "When I came to, all I could smell was radiator fluid. I knew I was hurt, but I didn't now how bad."
Gray suffered a broken nose, a severe concussion, and leg injuries. It was during his second hip replacement surgery when he received the news that his application for a home had been accepted.
"It's incredible! It's perfect! I mean, it's more than what I would look for when I was house shopping," said Gray, as tears filled his eyes. "I'm so grateful that I mean, something came out of it that's so incredible. I never, never thought it was real or I'd actually be standing in a house that I'd say was mine."
Gray is already moving out of his apartment, and looking forward to starting over now that he owns a piece of the American dream.
"Working at the VA Hospital, I see a lot of guys that have a lot more physical problems than I do, that have fought harder than I fought, awarded higher medals and have done so much more. To be kind of singled out is kind of humbling. I don't know if I feel worthy of it all," said Gray.
Bank of America says it's committed to providing 1,000 mortgage-free homes to veterans and first responders over three years. So far, it has donated 314 homes nationwide.