For 72-year-old Solon resident James “E.J.” Kulla, the kindness of strangers made this upcoming Veteran’s Day extra special.
A U.S. Marine Corp veteran who served in Vietnam at the age of 18, Mr. Kulla was the recipient of the Home Depot’s “Doing More for Veterans” program, which involves volunteers building and repairing homes for those who have served.
Mr. Kulla, a Solon resident since 1994, was selected by fellow members of the Solon Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1863 in Solon.
“I felt he had a need,” Commander Jack Calvey of Solon said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
For five hours last week, a crew of 20 volunteers worked diligently at Mr. Kulla’s Bainbridge Road home, pressure washing the entire structure, replacing storm doors, installing new gutters and more.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Kulla said. “I was more than grateful.”
In addition to the work on the home itself, which is a duplex that he owns, crews laid 75 bags of mulch, trimmed bushes and planted new ones.
They even gave him a new “welcome” mat, he said.
“The house looks 100 percent better than it did before,” Mr. Kulla added.
This is the first year a Solon veteran has been the recipient of the program, Mr. Calvey said, which has been in existence since 2011 and has impacted more than 45,000 veteran homes and facilities nationwide.
Mr. Kulla said his time in the war had a tremendous impact on his life. He has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and has hearing loss as a result of his time in Vietnam. He did not earn a Purple Heart, he said, but didn’t want to.
“It’s one of those things, you were 18 years old and picking up your buddy’s body pieces and putting them in a bag,” he recalled. “It freaks you out. You went from being a high school kid to picking up dead bodies.”
In Vietnam, he was a machine gunner and heavy equipment operator. But in the war, “everyone is a rifleman.
“You pray every night you wake up the next morning and don’t go home in a body bag.”
Mr. Kulla dropped out of high school to enter the Marines, but received his diploma after 50 years, thanks to the urging of fellow post member, the late commander Tom Bulanda. The two went to Garfield Heights High School together.
Mr. Kulla, who is retired from Zircoa in Solon, said he plans to spend Veteran’s Day this year as he has done in the past – alongside post members at the ceremony at the Veterans Memorial Park. He has been a member of the Solon post since 1980.