Concert benefits Marine to the tune of $160K

August 19, 2013
“Forrest Gump” and “CSI:NY” star Gary Sinise, center, and the Lt. Dan Band performed at Stage AE Aug. 9 to raise funds for Doug Vitale, a local Marine veteran who was injured in Afghanistan. - Courtesy Gary Sinise Foundation

A continuous downpour finally abated before the concert, likely limiting the crowd. Still, the Lt. Dan Band provided a formidable boost for a wounded warrior.

“We raised about $160,000 to $170,000,” said Chris Kuban, director of media relations for Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which organized the Aug. 9 concert benefiting Marine Sgt. Doug Vitale.

The money will go toward construction of a specially equipped home in Peters Township for Vitale and his wife, Alexis.

Vitale lost both legs in an improvised bomb attack in Afghanistan almost two years ago, then had two strokes afterward that left him unable to speak. He spent the majority of two years undergoing intense rehabilitation in Tampa, Fla., before an Aug. 3 homecoming that attracted hundreds.

The sergeant is from Vandergrift, Westmoreland County, in the Allegheny Valley. Alexis is a Peters Township High School graduate.

Though the concert drew a solid audience, it was about 1,000 under Stage AE’s capacity. A full house could have raised about $250,000 – half of the $500,000 needed to build the Vitales’ “smart home” in Chadwick Estates.

Pleasant weather wouldn’t have guaranteed capacity, to be sure, but rain was a detriment.

“The weather was beautiful for the concert,” Kuban said. “But if we had had a beautiful day, I think we would have had more walkup (ticket) sales.”

Total fundraising for Vitale is approaching $300,000, though – and counting. Members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 764 have organized benefit events and continue to collect donations.

Commander Scott Huenefeld said his post has raised about $115,000 since last September through a Hero Walk, a Peters-Upper St. Clair varsity wrestling match and by “just getting the word out.”

Huenefeld said numerous residents of Peters and surrounding communities have responded to the cause, but that this spirit of generosity extends well beyond Pennsylvania’s borders.

“Because of our lovely computers,” he said, “this story has gotten out and we’ve gotten donations from as far south as the Carolinas.”

The commander said Post 764 does not have any other fundraisers planned – for now.

The Vitales will soon return to Florida so that Doug can undergo more rehabilitation before coming back here. They eventually will live with Vitale’s parents, who will move from Vandergrift to a townhouse near Finleyville in October.

Kuban, who was in Pittsburgh for six weeks marketing the concert, is pleased by what transpired at Stage AE – despite the raindrops – and gratified by what will transpire when the $500,000 goal is attained.

“Fans came out and truly supported their hometown hero. To build these homes, it’s truly a community effort.”

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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