Rock Hill hotel honored for taking in wounded Iraq veteran after house fire

Herald columnistJune 24, 2013 

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— The Marines pride themselves on taking care of their own.

Usually the awards go to tough guys in uniforms with battle scars. On Monday, they added to their list of heroes assisting “Wounded Warriors” the staff of a Rock Hill hotel owned by Indian immigrants.

The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, a unit assigned specifically to helping wounded Marines find help in civilian life after battle injuries, awarded the Rock Hill Holiday Inn staff a special citation for helping retired Cpl. Brian Dunn.

The hotel, with a special discounted rate and services ranging from free meals to room service, put up Dunn, his wife and their four kids for more than six weeks after their home in Rock Hill burned in April.

“The people of this hotel show the real meaning of patriotism,” said Maj. Charlie Hall, a York native and Iraq combat veteran who runs the Marines Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment in South Carolina and North Carolina. “We are proud in the Marine Corps to honor you, who honored us and our great country. You went above and beyond.”

In 2005, Dunn was riding in a Humvee when it was attacked near Fallujah, Iraq. His best friend was killed. Dunn’s back was broken, his eardrums were shattered, the rotator cuff in his shoulder was torn, his legs were riddled with shrapnel.

Dunn, 29, has been through several medical procedures – including cutting-edge back surgery in Germany after a long fight with the Veterans Administration for payment.

After the fire, Dunn thought he was fighting the hardest battle of his life.

“But I found a home right here at the Holiday Inn,” he said. “They treated me like family from the minute we walked in.”

Randy Singh Ahluwalia manages the hotel for his Indian-born parents, Manjula and Kanwenjit Singh. The night of the fire, he talked with Dunn and immediately offered a special insurance rate and open-ended stay terms.

Then, as days turned into weeks, the staff went further by helping the family with meals.

“It was with great pleasure that we helped Brian and his family,” Ahluwalia said. “We came to know them, and his family became part of our family here.”

The hotel put the Dunns in two adjoining rooms and made sure that the family had all it needed as they dealt with the $75,000 in fire damage to their home.

Maj. Hall knew Dunn after helping him return to civilian life after he was injured in Iraq. The two Marines wanted to reward the hotel staff with something more than a telephoned “thank you.”

The staff that helped the Dunns included people such as Alba Guzman and Victor Pullen from guest services, Karmen Young in the sales and business office, and Alan Herrera, who works in the restaurant and helps assist guests.

All these strangers and other workers “adopted” the Dunn family to make sure that a Marine family dealing with the loss of their home had something to smile about.

The award Hall gave the hotel staff Monday is a formal document, with a photo of Marines planting the American flag on Iwo Jima on one side, and a certificate of thanks on the other.

“It is an honor to help someone in a time of need, especially military,” said Manjula Singh, whose father was a soldier in the Indian Army.

But the Holiday Inn and its people are not finished helping wounded troops.

The hotel is planning a fundraiser in coming weeks for the family of Rock Hill Army Spc. Michael Millwood, who was wounded in Iraq last month. When Millwood is able to get home from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, the hotel wants to host a welcome home and help Millwood’s family.

That comes as no surprise to Brian Dunn.

“These people here, they are what America is all about,” he said. “That’s the America we fight for.”

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Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065 •  adys@heraldonline.com

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