OKEECHOBEE -- Any time something is happening involving veterans in Okeechobee, you can almost bet Gregg Maynard will be there. Born and raised in Okeechobee, Mr. Maynard spent his childhood out on the Prairie. His father was a Vietnam veteran, and watching his struggles after he came home gave Mr. Maynard a strong desire to help other veterans. He hates to see anyone fall through the cracks, he said. Being an Army veteran himself, only makes the bond he feels with other veterans stronger.
Mr. Maynard has a reputation around town for being one of the few a veteran can call on if he or she needs help with something. Very often on Facebook there are posts asking for help, and the first person tagged is usually Gregg Maynard. He said it began back when he heard about a man named Mr. Brown who needed a ramp built. He said he would be glad to help with that, but with his work schedule, it took him a couple weeks to get it done. This gave him lots of time to get to know Mr. Brown, he said. The man had some great stories. It turned out he was a WWII veteran, and he had taught history here in Okeechobee.
Mr. Brown’s daughter talked about how expensive home health care was and asked if Mr. Maynard knew anyone who could help with that, so he began asking around and was able to get him connected through the VA. Mr. Maynard had never dealt with the VA before, he said, and as he was leaving, the lady asked him if he was a veteran. He told her he was but said he was okay and didn’t need anything. He didn’t want to take anything away from someone who needed it more, he said. She explained the VA doesn’t work that way and got him set up. He ended up being diagnosed with PTSD, he said.
Afterward, he got to looking around and he thought, there are so many veterans, and no one is helping them. It brought back so many memories of his dad’s struggles, he said. It bothered him a lot that no one was helping them, and he took it upon himself to make sure no veteran went without help. Next thing you know, he said, word got out and he was getting hammered with projects.
A hurricane hit, and he heard a veteran had a tree fall on his house. He went over and took a look at it, and “honestly,” he said. “It should have been condemned, but the guy was 85, and that’s all he’s got, so we got busy working on that and got him situated. I kind of think all this helps me heal a little bit,” he said. Mr. Maynard said because of his PTSD, sometimes he has trouble being around a lot of people, and that is why he is a truck driver.
When he does these projects, sometimes he works alone, and sometimes he works with others. On the project where the tree was on the elderly veteran’s house, he met Wade Hunt, another man who is very active in helping the veterans locally. He hopes what he and Mr. Hunt do inspires a future generation to reach out like that.
When he did the work on the tank in the park, he said if it hadn’t been for Roger Allison, the tank would not have turned out anywhere near as nice as it did, and Marcos Montes De Oca was a big help with that as well. John Ashby helped a lot with the helicopter, he said.
One day, he was driving home from working all day on the helicopter and was tired and sweaty. His son wanted to go do something. He said, “Son, Daddy is tired. I spent all day working on that helicopter.” His son asked why he does it, and he told him he does it because “that helicopter is special to guys like your papa and other guys that fought in the Vietnam War, and to see it like that would really hurt their feelings, and I did it because sometimes no matter how much time or money you spend, it will never be worth as much as the way you make somebody feel.” His son understood that, he said, because a few years back he was in barrel racing, winning trophies and ribbons right and left, and a little handicapped girl was racing too. He said his son kept giving her his ribbons and trophies. He reminded his son of that. “You remember how that made you feel?” he asked his son. His son helps him on jobs sometimes too, as often as possible, considering he is only 11, he said.
Mr. Maynard’s dream is to open a veterans’ house in Okeechobee. He would like it to be big enough to house several veterans who are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness, and who have never accessed the VA system before. Accessing the system is a nightmare he said. It can take months for just about anything, and for someone who is homeless, that can seem like a lifetime, he explained. He envisions a type of one-stop veterans’ shop, where if a veteran can go to have many different needs met.
Mr. Maynard doesn’t just help veterans. After the last hurricane, it occurred to him that the residents of Lorida might need help, and he went out there to check on them. He was horrified to find that a week after the storm, they had received no aid whatsoever. Somehow, they had been completely overlooked by FEMA and the EOC. They had very little water and food, so he began making two or three trips a day over there to taking supplies to them until Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd made some phone calls and got them some help. “There are a lot of elderly people over there,”said Mr. Maynard. “I couldn’t just let them starve.” He said he couldn’t have done it if people in town hadn’t worked together to gather supplies though.
Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office Community Relations Specialist Jack Nash said, “Gregg Maynard is an amazing person, and he gives a lot back to the community and more to his fellow veterans. He dedicates a large portion of his time to ensure that veterans are getting their rightful benefits and medical care, that they are taken care of when they are in need, and ensuring they are not forgotten when they are gone. I appreciate him and people like him within our community.”
County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said he met Mr. Maynard while he was helping an elderly veteran repair his mobile home after an oak tree crushed the roof. It was then he came to respect and admire him, he said. “He is a loving and caring patriot.”
Mr. Maynard is currently working on building a window garden for an elderly veteran friend who has always loved to garden but is no longer up to doing it the old fashioned way. He is also renovating the same veteran’s bathroom because the man is having difficulty getting in and out of his tub.