A stranger made sure that WWII Navy veteran, Johnnie Hodges Sr., would be home for Christmas — and not only in his dreams.

For nearly 60 years, Johnnie Hodges Sr. called house #369 on Humboldt Parkway in Buffalo, New York, home.

It’s where he and his wife, Flora, raised their two children (Robin and Johnnie Jr.) and watched those children raise children of their own. And, after a lifetime of memories, it’s where he said his final goodbye to his beloved wife of 67 years.

But priceless memories don’t pay bills and banks never forget. So when 90-year-old Johnnie fell behind on his mortgage payment after incurring more than $73,000 in medical bills for his wife’s Alzheimer’s, he was evicted.

Bank Evicts 90-Year-Old War Veteran

WWII veteran being evicted from his home by police on a stretcher

After the war, Johnnie worked at Bethlehem Steel for decades, where he was the first African-American foreman before the company shut down the plant. He then worked part-time as a bus driver before retiring in his 80s to become Flora’s full-time caregiver.

It was during this time, living on a fixed income and with bills mounting, that his finances spiraled out of control and his house went into foreclosure.

According to the owner of the mortgage, M&T Bank, they tried for four years to evade eviction. But eventually, they were left without options.

“Under the rules that govern FHA mortgages such as this one, we went far above and beyond what was required, but there was nothing else we could do,” C. Michael Zabel, vice president of corporate communications at M&T, said in a statement

On July 9, the police showed up at Johnnie’s door, eviction notice in hand.

But Johnnie wasn’t about to go without a fight. Finally, after a two-hour standoff, officers carried him out on a stretcher. His possessions were packed up and put into storage.

A Stranger Rallies the Troops

Greg Elwood of Williamsville, New York, heard about Johnnie on the local news. Despite never having met him, his story struck a deep chord.

Greg, 41, immediately knew he had to do something to help. But he knew he couldn’t do it all on his own. So, he created a GoFundMe campaign to raise $50,000 to help get Johnnie back home.

“He fought for us in WWII and now he needs our help to fight for his home!” Greg wrote on the page.

As more and more news networks picked up the story, donations started pouring in. “We even received a donation from a 6 yr. old who raised the money at a lemonade stand,” Greg wrote in an update.

Four months and 2,000 donations later, more than $110,000 was raised — enough to buy back the house AND pay for some much-needed repairs.

“Our original goal was $50,000, that was the amount that Robin needed to purchase the home back,” Greg told ABC News. “It’s just a wonderful feeling to know that he’ll be back in that home to be able to celebrate the holidays with the family. He has a lot of memories in that home. It’s very clear he was close with his late wife Flora and I just feel good knowing that he’s at peace.”

WWII Veteran Returns Home to a Hero’s Welcome

The Patriot’s Guard Riders, a motorcycle club.

On November 6, Johnnie finally returned home.

The whole neighborhood came out to welcome him back, including elected officials and members of The Patriot’s Guard Riders, a motorcycle club.

There was even a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“I’m very happy to be back…and spend Christmas with my family in my home,” Johnnie told ABC News. “There’s nothing like being with your family. This is a beautiful home I have and it really is a pleasure to be here.”

As for Greg, he may have started out as a stranger but he’s not anymore. He’s become a treasured friend of the family’s.

And while he’s undoubtedly the hero, he’s not here for the credit. He just hopes that his actions will inspire others to see the power we all have to truly make a difference, together.

“My hope is that this campaign serves as an example of the great things that happen when people come together.” 

Greg Elwood