McMURRAY – When Peters Township native Alexis Abraham married the love of her life May 30, 2010, their future was secure. She was a teacher and her husband, Cpl. Doug Vitale, was serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Little more than a year later, on Sept. 25, 2011, Doug was with his squad on patrol in Sangin, Afghanistan, and he stepped on an improvised explosive device. In an instant, the young couple’s future changed forever.
The IED blast resulted in Doug, then 24, losing both legs above the knee, and caused two strokes on both sides of his brain. For nearly two years, Doug, a native of Vandergrift, has worked to recover at the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Program in Tampa, Fla., with his wife by his side. The two met while students at Slippery Rock University.
On July 29, he will officially retire from the Marines and return briefly to Pittsburgh for a week of events designated as “Welcome Home.” The couple will then return to Tampa for additional rehabilitation until their smart home in Peters Township is completed in early 2014.
The house in Peters Township will allow Doug as much independence as possible with its design and integrated technology, and will make it easier for Alexis to assist in his care. However, that costs money.
Thanks to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, and the Gary Sinise Foundation, The Lt. Dan Band, featuring actor Gary Sinise, will perform at Stage AE in Pittsburgh Aug. 9. All proceeds will go toward building the home for Doug and Alexis.
Doors at Stage AE will open at 6 p.m. with the performances beginning at 7 p.m. In addition to the Lt. Dan Band, named for Sinise’s featured role in the movie “Forrest Gump,” Danny Rodriquez will perform. Rodriquez is known as America’s tenor and the singing policeman. He is the New York City police officer who sang “God Bless America,” after the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001.
Artist Scott LoBaido will be at the concert painting a tribute onstage to thank the Pittsburgh community for supporting Vitale.
Tickets for the Aug. 9 performances start at $35 for the lawn; $60 for VIP pit seats and $160 for VIP table seats. Tickets may be purchased by calling 1-800-745-3000. To make a donation to help build the smart house without purchasing a ticket, go to www.TunneltoTowers.org, or www.GarySiniseFoundation.org.
Alexis, a 2003 graduate of Peters Township High School, vividly remembers the day she learned her husband was critically wounded. She was at the couple’s home in Jacksonville, N.C., while he served in Afghanistan and she worked as a substitute teacher. When the telephone rang, she asked one question: “Is my husband alive?” The answer was “yes,” but it was several days before Alexis learned the extent of his injuries.
She eventually sold the couple’s North Carolina townhouse and placed their possessions in storage. Alexis has lived in Florida ever since helping Doug recover and adjust.
He was about three or four men behind the squad leader and was wearing about 100 pounds of gear while on patrol in Afghanistan. Military officials theorize Doug’s weight combined with the gear was sufficient to trigger the IED.
The Lt. Dan Band concert is not the only event to help raise money for the house. Peters Township Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 764 has offered support to the couple for a year. The post has raised or helped to raise more than $90,000 for the building fund. On Sept. 22, 2011, on the one-year anniversary of Doug’s injury, the VFW held a “Hero Walk” that raised about $50,000, said Scott Huenefeld, post commander.
When Alexis’ mother, Denise Abraham, emailed the post to ask if the members would participate in some fundraising events, Huenefeld said there was no discussion.
“That’s why we’re here, taking care of one of our own,” Huenfeld said.
About $26,000 was raised in February, when the post teamed with the Peters Township High School wrestling team to sponsor a match with rival Upper St. Clair High School. Peters Township School District waived the normal fees, Huenefeld said.
And, he said, a local heating and air conditioning company donated labor and material for the smart house.
“And we keep getting donations,” Huenefeld said.
Those wishing to contribute to the building fund may send a check payable to” VFW 764 Relief Fund” with Doug Vitale Fund in the memo line, 460 Valley Brook Road, McMurray, PA 15317.
Huenfeld said before Doug was classified as retired, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.