CHARLOTTE, NC (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) - Dale Beatty, an Army veteran from Statesville who lost both legs beneath the knees in Iraq and devoted his life to helping other vets, died unexpectedly Monday at age 39, his nonprofit organization said Monday.
"It is with a heavy heart that we inform you of the sudden passing of our beloved Co-Founder, Dale Beatty," Purple Heart Homes said on Facebook and Twitter. "None of the family, staff, or friends were prepared for this great loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dale's wife and family."
No cause of death has been released, and Purple Heart Homes said arrangements for Beatty's service are still being arranged.
Beatty and John Gallina, also from Statesville, were wounded when a mine detonated through the floor of their Humvee in northern Iraq in 2004. Gallina suffered brain trauma. The two friends were in high school when they enlisted in the N.C. National Guard in 1996.
They founded Purple Heart Homes in 2008 because many injured veterans need new homes when they return from conflicts, Beatty and Gallina told the Observer in 2009. Others need improvements to their homes, especially as the veterans age and can't do the repairs themselves. But too often the vets get no aid, they said.
The organization has helped veterans in the Carolinas and other states coast to coast with new or renovated homes, often with volunteers providing everything from donations to labor. Purple Heart Homes completed its 300th housing project in November.
Time magazine recognized Beatty and Gallina on its Aug. 29, 2011, cover, with three other U.S. veterans likewise committed to improving the lives of others. "The New Greatest Generation," the magazine called them.
Beatty was a staff sergeant when he was wounded. Gallina was a specialist.
Beatty told Time how his left leg was amputated just below the knee at the since-closed Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. He talked about how he was given the choice whether to have the other one amputated. If he kept the leg, he'd have to spend two years in therapy and would still never be able to walk without pain. He told the doctors to amputate the right leg, too, in the same place as the left one.
Beatty always said the veterans his organization served were in much more need than he ever was. "I get around better than he does, and I'm missing both legs," Beatty told the Observer about a veteran his organization was helping in 2009.
At least 165 people had posted remembrances of Beatty on the Purple Hearts Home Facebook page within hours of the announcement of his death.
"I only had a few opportunities to meet him, but every time we talked, he was like talking with your brother," Samuel Lograsso wrote. "… Rest in peace, Dale, you are an American hero in so many ways."