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A true Independence Day for an American hero


Freedom. Independence.

Two things Americans celebrate on July 4 thanks to the brave men and women who have defended our country.

For Marine Sgt. Doug Vitale and his wife Alexis, freedom and independence took on a whole new meaning this July 4th.

Vitale lost both of his legs above the knee while leading his squad on foot patrol in Afghanistan on Sept. 25, 2011 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device and the blood loss caused him to suffer strokes on both sides of his brain.

It's been a long road for Vitale, but that road has finally led him home.

The Vitales were presented the keys to their new "smart home" in Peters Township, just outside of Pittsburgh, on Independence Day. And no dedication would have been complete on America's birthday without the raising of the American flag and Marine Corps flag before they entered the house.  

"Just to have a place where we can get together with family and Doug can call home is awesome," said Alexis Vitale. "It's overwhelming. It's exciting. It's incredible.

"It couldn't be more fitting today. This house is independence for us. Independence is something Doug has lost and he is regaining it on one of the best holidays in our country. You feel so many things on this day, so this will have an important meaning in our life from now on."

The home was built courtesy hard work, commitment and dedication by many, with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation and the Gary Sinise Foundation spearheading all of it nationally, and the VFW Post 764 in Peters Township locally.

The Tunnel to Towers foundation honors Siller, who was an off-duty New York firefighter who ran through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel in his equipment to the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 when he heard the emergency call of the terrorist attacks. He was one of 343 firefighters lost that day. The foundation helps the men and women in the service who were severely injured while fighting terrorism.

"There is no country like the United States of America. There just isn't," said John Hodge, Dir. of Operations for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. "For this to happen on Independence Day, it's extremely emotional today. To see the flag raised over his home for the first time, and know what it really means."

Among those on hand at the dedication was FDNY Lt. Jack Kielty, the FDNY member that has been assigned to the Vitale family by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation and it was emotional for him.

"What it really means to me is it enables me to live with 9/11, that terrible day when we lost so many," said Kielty. "To be able to do this; to be able to make something good come out of that atrocity means a lot. Now when I think about 9/11 I think of the homes built and the service members we've helped. That pain and devastation; to make something of it helps. To do it on America's birthday is amazing."

The Steelers have been involved with the fund raising efforts for the home, from hosting a concert at Stage AE to having Vitale, a huge Steelers fan, at training camp and a game.

"It couldn't be more special on Independence Day to see one of our wounded heroes get a beautiful new home," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "Seeing Doug smile, you can't get anything better than that. That is for sure."

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