On Sunday, former Army Staff Sgt. Oliver “Ollie” Hughes will celebrate his third “alive day.”
A vehicle Hughes was riding in exploded in Ghazni, Afghanistan, on April 13, 2011. His right leg was crushed, and his left leg was injured so badly that doctors had to amputate it.
“I call it ‘alive day’ because it’s a victory over a potential death,” said Hughes, 38. “The day we celebrate the coin flipping on our side for once.”
Hughes’ comments drew applause from the crowd of more than 200 people who gathered Thursday morning in the South Lakes subdivision in Fuquay-Varina. They were there to see Hughes, his pregnant wife and their four children receive a new free home.
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The house was donated by Operation: Coming Home, a joint project of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, the U.S. Veterans Corps and local nonprofits and businesses. This is the seventh house provided to wounded veterans by Operation: Coming Home.
The Hughes family will move into their 2,400-square-foot home on Saturday.
But first, there was a celebration. The 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus serenaded the family on Thursday. The All Veteran Parachute Team from Raeford dropped from the sky to give Hughes his new house key.
“How do I thank the cadre of people who have made this beautiful home, this awesome home?” Hughes asked. “ ‘Thanks’ is just pale.”
Ed Kristensen, area president for M/I Homes, which partnered on the project with Preston Development, said soldiers like Hughes put their lives on the line.
“Thank you for your service, your selflessness and your sacrifice – not only from you, but from your family,” Kristensen said. “We hope that we’ve given the Hughes family a home to fulfill their hopes and dreams.”
Hughes received a Purple Heart after he was injured by the improvised explosive device. He had been serving with a unit based at Fort Knox, Ky.
Hughes spent a month at Walter Reed in Maryland before moving to the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. After two years of physical therapy and multiple surgeries, the family moved to Smithfield while they waited for their new home in Fuquay-Varina.
Hughes, a former self-employed general contractor, joined the Army when he was 28, inspired by a saying from his late father.
“He used to drive me crazy by telling me there’s the difference between knowing and doing,” Hughes said. “I had a life, I had a job. ... There was a point where I looked at federal service and I made excuses.”
Hughes said he stopped coming up with excuses, and he enlisted. And he has no regrets about it.
“I have to say after nine years we’ve done what we set out to do,” he said of the military effort. “To date, none of my soldiers have died or fallen in battle. There have been a few injuries. Thankfully, I am the worst. I will accept that burden every day of the week.”