Sgt. Diana Vasquez, her husband and their young son will soon call a mortgage-free home their own in Pecan Plantation just outside Granbury in Hood County. But, a few weeks ago, the construction came to a brief halt so neighbors, armed with markers, could write over the unfinished walls.
"And it's just exciting; it's just wonderful,” said neighbor Dell Eastwood as she drew a heart on a 2x4 stud near the fireplace.
Operation Finally Home, a non-profit that has built more than 140 homes across the country for U.S. veterans, calls this portion of each project “Notes of Love.” It’s a chance to bring neighbors from the surrounding community into the project in an effort to welcome their soon-to-be new neighbors.
Vasquez is an Army aviation mechanic with multiple injuries and surgeries who was medically discharged after service in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"It means a lot to support their service to our country,” said neighbor Judith Lowrey, who was among dozens who visited the home to write inspiration messages on the walls.
"I just want them to immediately feel they're part of the neighborhood of Pecan and just to be welcome,” said neighbor Dick Roan.
"Anytime you can actually see the goodness in people and what it can do for our soldiers, to see that in action, love in action, it's just awesome,” said Dell Eastwood.
"You can just see the burdens lifted from their face,” said Operation Finally Home founder Dan Wallrath. “Physically, you can see that, knowing that they're going to have a place to call home."
The “Notes of Love” portion of each build has become an Operation Finally Home tradition, where neighbors write on unfinished walls, rafters and floors with messages of thanks, Bible verses and blessings.
"And always remember that we appreciate the service that she gave to our country,” neighbor Joe Cook said after writing “God Bless You and Your Family” on a wall in a front living room.
But what good is all this graffiti and all this goodwill if the walls get covered up and the soldier never sees it? Well, that same afternoon Vasquez and her family were invited to the unfinished home to see it for themselves.
"That is so awesome," Vasquez said. "That is so cool. I’m trying not to cry."
"They don't know us from Adam,” she said after touring the home and reading every message. “And yet they come in here and they sign the walls with love and just everywhere you look there's signs of love."
"It's a house of love. And I'm not going to cry but, this is just…it hits you right in the heart you know.”
"And she knows these signatures are always going to be in this house,” said Duke Wilson from Weatherford. “It’s always going to give her a good feeling that people care for her and are thankful for what she did."
"I hope she feels the warmth of this community. I think she will. I hope she does,” said neighbor Jane Wilson. "I think the good we do lives on. And I'm just trying to help her, you know, feel welcome. That's all."
"I've had so many of these families tell me that, after they move in, having bad days, they walk in the home, and they can just feel all those notes of love just surround them. And just makes them feel so much better,” Wallrath said.
"This is just overwhelming," Vasquez said. "This is huge. I mean I'm speechless, just so thankful. There's not enough words to express my gratitude."
But her house, when it's finished later this year, will always bear the words and messages of neighbors wishing her well. Duty, honor and country over the fireplace.
A sentence offering a “hug” each time she enters the front door.
"I'm just so thankful. Just really humbled and truly blessed."
Blessed that if walls could really talk she'll be living in a house where they always do.
A photographer also captured each of the now hidden signatures to compile into a photo album so the family will still have them when the home is completely finished.
The home has been made possible primarily by donations of property and materials by the Anthony Family of Pecan Plantation.