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Pictured L-R: Lee Greenwood, SSgt Daniel Gilyeat, Charles W. Herbster, and SPC JP Lane.
Image courtesy of Helping A Hero.

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BRANSON, Mo. – On Saturday, February 3, 2024, Charles W. Herbster, President and Owner of the Conklin Company, and country music legend Lee Greenwood were awarded the Helping a Hero Defense of Freedom Award. This award recognizes great Americans who have gone the extra mile to defend freedom.

The Defense of Freedom Award is a very rare award that has only been presented three other times, with all recipients chosen by the combat-wounded heroes of Helping A Hero. Previous recipients include actor Chuck NorrisMarcus Luttrell, the Navy Seal better known as the Lone Survivor, and Joanne King Herring, who was the real-life inspiration behind the movie Charlie Wilson’s War.

Charles W. Herbster was recognized by Helping A Hero for being a consistent leader supporting our military, veterans, and first responders. He is known for his selfless dedication to those who defend our freedom and keep us safe. When Charles heard a wounded warrior in his home state of Nebraska was in need, he stepped up to the plate.

On July 31, 2006, while deployed with the Nebraska National Guard in Iraq, Army Sergeant Ben Marksmeier of Wisner, Nebraska, was gravely wounded when terrorists detonated a roadside bomb hitting his convoy. Ben was officially declared dead, and one of his dog tags was removed before an Army Specialist noticed a slight twitch from his body. Despite doubt about the report, doctors and nurses decided to try to revive him one more time, and it worked.

The Army awarded SGT Ben Marksmeier the Bronze Star for saving his fellow soldier’s life while at personal risk. Ben, who lost his leg in the explosion, thought of his fellow soldier first and threw him from the burning vehicle to safety while he was still trapped in the vehicle and critically injured.

In that attack, Ben lost his right leg and suffered extreme injuries to his left leg. Ben has undergone dozens of surgeries as doctors are still working to save his left leg, including one surgery during a month-long stay at Walter Reed in 2023.

Due to his catastrophic injuries and the ongoing battle to save his remaining leg, Ben needs an adapted home. Ben is a single dad raising his two youngest sons, Ryker, 7, and Mason, 9. He is also the proud father of 17-year-old Caiden. In addition to being an active parent, Ben started his own woodworking business. Major General Roger Lemke, the former Adjutant General of the Nebraska National Guard, and Colonel Kevin Neumann nominated Ben for an adapted home from Helping a Hero. Music legend Lee Greenwood surprised SGT Marksmeier and his three sons on national television and told them that Ben would receive an adapted home as part of the Johnny Morris 100 Homes Challenge.

Having been chosen to receive a home, one piece was missing: the land where the home would be built. After hearing of Ben’s incredible story and his need for a home in Nebraska, Charles W. Herbster agreed to donate all the funding needed to purchase the perfect piece of land for Ben near Springfield, Nebraska.

“All the pain I go through every day, there is no regret. I signed up when I was seventeen because I wanted to give back to my country what my country gave me: freedom. I am grateful beyond what my words can express to Charles W. Herbster and Johnny Morris for caring about my service,” said Marksmeier.

“When I got the news about the home, it was breathtaking. Then, Mr. Herbster wanted to give us some beautiful land, and now I can instill in my sons the work ethic of farming on this land. This has filled my heart with a little more motivation, which is hard,” Marksmeier said.

Meredith Iler, Founder of the Helping a Hero Home Program, said the home and land given by Johnny Morris and Charles W. Herbster will transform the life of Ben and his sons. “Ben wants to be an example of strength for his sons, and Johnny Morris and Charles W. Herbster are giving him that priceless gift through this adapted home custom-built just for Ben,” Iler said.

The second Defense of Freedom recipient, Lee Greenwood, is an American icon best known for his hit patriotic song God Bless The USA.  Throughout his career, Lee has worked tirelessly to thank and support our military personnel, wounded warriors, and their families. Lee served as the Helping A Hero National Ambassador for 12 years.   Lee is a rare celebrity who loves our heroes in and out of the spotlight.  He has performed and presented the keys to adapted homes to over 30 heroes, including Specialist JP Lane, USA (Ret), a double amputee who nominated him for this award.  Lee worked tirelessly for over a decade to support the Helping A Hero mission to build homes for our catastrophically wounded heroes. Helping A Hero proudly presents Lee Greenwood with the Defense of Freedom Award for his devotion and dedication to our wounded heroes.

“I nominated Lee Greenwood because he inspires me with his music and really cares for all of us who have served and sacrificed.  As a double amputee, it was life-changing when he gave me the keys to my adapted home.  Lee also made my day by texting me on my birthday, just to check in. He has been a beacon of hope to all of us in the military. He defends freedom every day,” said Specialist JP Lane.

The Defense of Freedom Awards were presented to Charles W. Herbster and Lee Greenwood by Helping A Hero Ambassadors and Purple Heart Recipients United States Army Specialist (Ret) JP Lane and United States Marine Corps Staff Sergeant (Ret) Daniel Gilyeat during the 2024 Conklin National Convention. Nebraska State Senator, United States Army Colonel (Ret), and Purple Heart recipient Thomas Brewer was also recognized during the ceremony. SGT Ben Marksmeier was scheduled to be recognized but had to attend via video due to ongoing complications from his injuries.

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About Helping a Hero:
Texas-based Helping a Hero is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization providing support for military personnel severely injured in the war on terror. Our principal activity is to provide specially adapted homes for qualifying service members as well as engage the community to provide services and resources for our wounded heroes and their families. Home recipients include veterans whose permanent injuries from combat have left them paraplegics, quadriplegics, amputees, blind, with severe burns and other injuries. Helping A Hero provides additional support programs, including marriage retreats, caregiver retreats, recreational activities, and emergency needs support. Helping a Hero Outdoors has expanded to serve our heroes through hunting and fishing outings.

About the 100 Homes Challenge:
Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops and noted conservationist, launched the 100 Homes Challenge and committed to fund 25 percent of the cost of the next 100 Helping a Hero homes. Helping a Hero invites the public to join Johnny Morris in the 100 Homes Challenge by making a donation, however large or small, to help to fund the other 75 percent of the cost of these homes.

Helping A Hero is accepting applications from post-9/11 wounded warriors needing a specially adapted home due to their combat injuries to participate in the 100 Homes Challenge. We also invite the public to Nominate a Hero. Both the home application and the Nominate a Hero form are available on our website at www.helpingahero.org.