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Girardi helps present new home to wounded veteran

NEW YORK -- The Yankees have made a habit of frequently honoring the military at games, and on Friday morning, Joe Girardi brought that habit away from Yankee Stadium and into the community.

Speaking at an event in conjunction with Bank of America and the Military Warriors Support Foundation (MWSF) to welcome a wounded veteran into the Bronx's Harding Park neighborhood, Girardi choked up as he thanked Semisi Tokailagi for his service to the country and helped present him with keys to his new home.

"I think it's important that we never forget to thank our military for what they do and to make them feel like they are part of our family," Girardi said. "Because without them, we don't have the freedom in our country -- the greatest country -- to be here.

"And I'd just like to say thank you for your personal sacrifice," he went on, before choking up, "and allowing us to do what we do freely."

Bank of America has pledged to make up to 1,000 homes across the nation available to military veterans through property donations to veteran-support charities, such as MWSF. Tokailagi's new home, which will be available for he and his wife to move into in July, is the first home donated in New York.

"When you can hand someone the keys to their new house -- when that happens -- there won't be a dry eye in the house," said Jeff Barker, New York City president of Bank of America.

Tokailagi earned a Purple Heart for his service in Afghanistan after suffering a traumatic brain injury and partial paralysis and blindness. He's never been a big baseball fan, but he appreciated Girardi's hospitality, as well as the kindness of his soon-to-be neighbors in Harding Park.

The neighborhood plays host to several former military members, who were in attendance to welcome Tokailagi to the Bronx. The Fiji native doesn't have relatives in New York, but the members of this neighborhood that overlooks the Hudson River have already made him feel like family.

"I still think that it might be a dream," Tokailagi said, and then motioned to his wife. "She might need to pinch me."

David Wilson is an associate reporter for

New York Yankees