9/11 charity helps wounded veterans live easier

Lance Cpl. Juan Dominguez benefited from the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which builds houses for wounded veterans.
Lance Cpl. Juan Dominguez benefited from the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which builds houses for wounded veterans.
CBS News

(CBS News) LOS ANGELES - On 9/11, a 34-year-old New York firefighter died a hero trying to save lives at the World Trade Center.

More than a decade after his death, he has come to the rescue of another American hero.

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"I remember waking up that morning and having the worst gut check feeling I ever had in Afghanistan," said Lance Corporal Juan Dominguez. "I felt like something bad was going to happen."

Two years ago while he was in Afghanistan, Cpl. Dominguez stepped on a roadside bomb.

"I took the blast for the whole squad, basically," he said. "I was able to see my legs and see what bad shape they were in. I knew that I would never walk again for sure."

"I was pleading to God that if he could numb me up, please numb me up. If not, if he could take me," he said.

At 26 years old, Cpl. Dominguez was facing a life where he need help to do even basic tasks.

"Wiping me, cleaning me, shaving me, brushing my teeth," he explained. "Your whole manhood is stripped from you. I mean you revert back to a baby."

And during his grueling recovery from his injuries, he realized everything in his small townhouse was now too narrow and too high.

There are more than 50 triple or quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. government gives them $65,000 dollars to build or modify a home, but it often costs several times that.

That has led to a new mission for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. It began after 9/11 to honor New York firefighter Stephen Siller, who on ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the Twin Towers and gave his life trying to save others. His brother, Frank Siller, is the foundation's chairman and says they will build 11 new homes for wounded veterans this year.

"They want their own life," Siller said. "These are Americans that paid a big price. The houses have to be designed for them to live comfortably not just today, but for the rest of their lives."

With private donations, they built this $600,000 home for Cpl. Dominguez in Temecula, Calif., where he wanted to live.

The house has an elevator and an iPad that allows Cpl. Dominguez to control the lighting, the shades and even open the front door.

He said his favorite feature of the house is the microwave.

"You just push down and the cabinets come down," he said.

He even has room to practice with his band. Cpl. Dominguez plans to eventually raise a family here with his new wife, Alexis.

"This house I guess was a sheer blessing from God and fate," he said.

It allows him to not just be grateful for being alive, but to also to truly live.

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    Ben Tracy is a CBS News White House correspondent based in Washington, D.C.