U.S. Marine Corps veteran Cpl. Ryan Wightman and his wife, Melissa, accepted the keys Thursday to their new, free, custom-built home in Fuquay-Varina.
The home is the ninth built by Operation: Coming Home, a project of the Home Builders Association of Raleigh-Wake County, local nonprofits and businesses. The effort provides homes to combat veterans with disabilities who served in the Middle East.
Wightman gratefully accepted the house keys in the presence of people and vendors who gave to the project, as well as 150 fellow Marines from Camp Lejeune.
He then asked for a moment of silence for the military personnel who never made it home.
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“I joined the Marine Corps because I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Wightman said. “I definitely feel with all these people here that I was able to accomplish that.”
Said Col. Kenneth DeTreux, commanding officer of the 8th Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune: “We all joined for different reasons, but I think at our very heart, we do it for our God; we do it for our country; we do it for our Corps, but most importantly we do it for that Marine on our right and left.”
Keynote speaker Gov. Pat McCrory presented a narrative of how much has changed for Wightman in the past four years. In March 2011, the Marine returned from his first six-month deployment in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan and married Melissa just days later.
In January 2012, Wightman was deployed a second time to the same area and was injured by an improvised explosive device, trying to help a fallen Marine. At Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, his residence the past three years, Wightman underwent several surgeries in an attempt to salvage his left leg. But it was amputated below the knee in September.
With a prosthetic leg, Wightman will begin schooling to help others with prostheses. His wife, who is a physical therapy assistant, will go back to college to become a licensed physical therapist.
“That’s mine,” Wightman said pointing to the new house he’ll occupy after being in treatment for years. “That’s just such a big thing for me to have a home that’s our own. We went from 600 square feet to just under 3,000 square feet in one day. Thank you.”
Rich Van Tassel, president of Royal Oaks Homes, the company that built the home along with volunteers, said Operation: Coming Home is a tangible way to give back to veterans and their families.
“We give this home to you with no strings attached, in the hope and prayer that you will live well for many years to come,” Van Tassel said. “You owe us nothing; you already earned this and much more.”