PORTLAND, Tenn. (WTVF) — Normally, when you see dozens of police cars, fire trucks and ambulances all in one spot, it means something awful has happened. But in this case, it's because of someone awfully special — 97 year old Bill Bradley.
"I didn’t realize this many people knew about me," said Bradley. "I’m amazed by it and honored too."
He was about to get a grand escort as he returns home for the first time in exactly six months. Dozens of cars filled with people who had never even met Bill, showed up to give their support.
"I called the fire department and they all come, but it was too late, it was already gone," Bradley told NewsChannel 5 in an interview this summer.
Everything he owned, including his WWII uniform and medals honoring his service during D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge, were charred beyond recognition.
After the original NewsChannel 5 story aired, it got a lot of attention in Middle Tennessee and across the country. Even a vice president at Lowe's Home Improvement saw it, and reached out to NewsChannel 5 with an idea to rebuild Bill's home.
"Never dreamed it would be this big," said Bradley, as they drove up to the new house. The end of the procession was only the beginning of the surprises. After driving past a large crowd gathered in front of Bradley's property, the veteran was officially welcomed to his newly rebuilt home.
"Where’d all these people come from?" Bradley asked his son-in-law.
To make it happen, a score of national and local companies teamed up with the nonprofit Building Homes for Heroes.
"This is the first home that we’ve ever done for a veteran that was injured pre-911," said one of the representatives from Building Homes for Heroes.
The organization has officially changed their charter to benefit veterans of any age, with Mr. Bradley being their very first.
"I didn’t realize this many people knew my name," said Bradley to the crowd gathered for a ceremony, dedicating his new house.
After the speeches were over, Bill rolled up his back deck and through the door into his brand new home. "Oh it’s beautiful," he said.
Two furnished bedrooms. Two baths. One incredibly happy homeowner.
"Like it? I love it. I’ve never lived in nothing like this before," the 97-year-old said.
"I just -- it’s unbelievable, Just to know how much work went into this day. It was a collaborated effort of so many people," said Dustin Cole, Bill's granddaughter, who helped coordinate much of the effort to help keep some of it a surprise.
Even still, Cole said the home exceeded all expectations.
"It’s beautiful, I never could have imagined it coming together like this. I mean it’s really nice," she said. "I know it’s a rough ole world but there are still really good people out there."
It may have started with an awful circumstance, but now Bill knows she's awfully loved.
"You can’t explain it, there’s just nothing like home," said Bradley.
Bradley's family plans to host a potluck Thanksgiving Dinner inside his new home in the coming days.
A NewsChannel 5 viewer also helped restore Bill's damaged WWII uniform. You can watch that story here.