By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 31, 2009 - Hundreds of people arrived today at the home of retired Marine Capt. Dan Moran, a warrior severely wounded in Iraq, to see Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates present him the keys to his new home on behalf of the Helping a Hero organization. They came to see Moran lauded as a hero by a host of luminaries: Astros legend Craig Biggio, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurt, U.S. Rep Todd Tiahrt from Kansas , and hundreds of others from the community.
What most didn't expect is that Moran would steal their hearts in the process, thanking them with a humility and pride that brought tears to their eyes and lumps to their throats.
Gates had been personally moved before by the story of the Marine he presented his "Aggie" diploma while serving as president of Texas A&M University in December 2003.
Four years later, then as defense secretary, Gates met with Moran as he was being treated for extensive burns received in Iraq at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas .
Moran received third-degree burns over 50 percent of his body when his platoon was ambushed during his second tour of duty in Ramadi, Iraq . He also suffered a compression fracture to his T-8 vertebrae, herniated discs, a mild traumatic brain injury and an inhalation injury.
He underwent more than 30 surgeries and spent two-and-a-half years recovering at the Brooke burn center.
Wearing a Texas A&M T-shirt when Gates visited the center, Moran asked the secretary to autograph his graduation photo, then asked later for him to present his Purple Heart.
Last fall, Gates and former President George H.W. Bush joined Moran on the field during a Texas A&M football game and awarded him the Navy Commendation Medal with "V" for valor.
Today, Gates presented Moran the keys to a brand-new home in the Bridgeland community near Houston, donated through HelpingaHero.org. The non-profit, non-partisan group funds financial, emotional, educational, mentoring, recreational and scholarship support for severely injured military members and their families.
Meredith Iler, national chairperson for HelpingaHero.org, called Moran a patriot who loves his country deeply, served valiantly, and continues to reach out to help other wounded warriors as they recover.
"Dan is a real hero and a true patriot," Gates echoed. "He is an inspiration to us."
The new 3,300-square-foot home was funded by the Strake Foundation, Rex and Marilyn King and the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund.
Perry Homes built it with special accommodations for Moran's physical condition. It features tinted windows, a high-efficiency air conditioner and heating system and other enhanced temperature-control measures because Moran is no longer able to control his body temperature.
The lot was selected to allow the least amount of direct sunlight into the home. The house also includes an extended covered porch to allow him to spend time outdoors with his two children, Trey 4, and Macy, 2, without direct sun exposure.
"We are thrilled to be able to give something back to a man who has given so very much for his country, and we know our residents will gladly welcome the Morans and immediately make them feel at home," said Peter Houghton a Bridgeland community vice president.
Gates said the new home "represents a new beginning and a down payment on a new future."
As Moran accepted the keys to the new home, he put his prepared notes aside and decided to talk "from the heart."
"I can never say thank you enough," he told the group that crowded every nook and cranny in his new home to watch the ceremony, and flowed out along the front walkway and along the street.
"What do I say to people who have given me so much? What can I say? Words don't do justice," he said. "So let me tell you right now: It is going to be the way that I live my life. And the way I am going to live my life is by honor, courage and commitment."
Moran recognized everyone involved in "making this a reality" -- from those who donated money to make it possible to those who did the construction.
"You can rest assured," he told them, "You made an investment in me and other wounded warriors, and I promise you, you will get a return on your investment in me."
Moran said he refuses to live his life for himself and wants it to honor his fallen Marines and others in and out of the military who serve others.
"This is how I am going to pay you back, by how I live my life and the impact I will have," he said.
Moran said he's proud to be a Texan, an Aggie and an American.
"Americans never waiver. They never quit," he said. "And when faced with a challenge, they face it head-on."
That's a standard Moran said he plans to pass on when he talks to his son in his new backyard or in the adjoining pond.
"That's what we believe is the standard that has been set, and it's a standard we will continue to hold," he said. "Nor for ourselves, but for others."