Wayne Binger left Joplin, Mo. a different man than when he arrived.
“I’m full,” Binger said. “My cup ran over a long time ago.”
The former Ada High School student said he initially went to see the damage in the area after the tornado in May.
“I saw it and my attitude changed immediately,” he said.
Binger watched an elderly couple attempting to lift their floor with a floor jack to get some possessions. After a discussion with them, he resolved to return to Tulsa to get the crane he uses to remove and trim trees for his business, Binger Tree Service. He obtained an expedited license to haul his crane and pulled an all-nighter making modifications for the task ahead of him. He returned to Joplin with the crane and the help of his 17-year-old son.
“The first thing my son and I did when we got to Joplin was drive to (the couple’s) house,” he said.
Binger left a note on their door and received a call from them later. He used his crane to help them retrieve pictures and other valuables.
“Even though people’s houses were destroyed, a lot of their stuff was saved under their walls,” he said.
He spent a month in Joplin, helping residents remove debris from their homes and find lost valuables.
“They lost a lot,” he said. “I’ve got stories of heart-ache, heroism and circumstance.”
One man told him about the tornado ripping off his roof.
“He fell to his knees,” he said. “He knew he was going to die. He knew it.”
The man passed out and woke up down the street among debris with only a cut on his arm. All his neighbors along his street were killed.
“He has that look about him — that thousand-yard stare that some military guys come back with,” Binger said. “I have a lot of those stories. They’re etched in my mind.”
He made a lot of friends in Joplin.
“These people had lost everything but they’d bring you a cup of coffee,” he said. He receives phone calls and letters every day and has several invitations to house-warming parties for victims whose homes are being rebuilt.
“I have an American flag that has over 5,000 signatures on it, easy,” he said. It’s signed by military personnel — from generals to privates — city leaders, state leaders and others. The flag will end up in Joplin.
He said Joplin has come a long way from its initial devastation.
“If you haven’t seen it, my words really won’t mean a whole lot to you,” he said. “It’s like the Grand Canyon. Until you step out on the rim you can’t get the depth. You can’t get the true colors or the size of it.”
Binger has turned down interviews with CNN, CNBC and Fox News. He turned down “American Truckers” twice before agreeing to appear on the show.
“I did ‘American Truckers’ because they’re big on disaster relief,” he said. Binger also did an interview with Tulsa World in his home town. He said every time he tells the stories he finds himself back in Joplin.
“Joplin broke my heart,” he said. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
He said if he gets the chance to help with any other disasters in the country, however, he won’t have to think twice. He’ll be there.