For one Sylvania soldier - who was hurt severely serving in Iraq and has since seen his community rally around him - yesterday was an emotional milestone.
Former Army Spec. 4 Matthew Drake finally was able to go home and spend a full day with more than 50 relatives and friends and family who came to welcome him.
"The first night was awesome because I was back home," Mr. Drake said on his return from a private rehabilitation center in Ann Arbor.
A fund-raising effort for Mr. Drake and his family culminated yesterday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new 800-square-foot addition to the Sylvania home of Mr. Drake's mother, Lisa Schuster, with whom the former soldier will now live.
More than $75,000 was raised from donors all over the nation for medical expenses. The $100,000 cost for the home addition was covered by volunteer labor and donated materials.
Before he enlisted, Mr. Drake lived in his own room in the basement of the family home. But his mobility problems make that no longer possible.
With her son home and because of the outpouring of support the family has received, Ms. Schuster yesterday said she was overcome with joy.
"It is really humbling, inspiring, and, in the true sense of the word, awesome," Ms. Schuster said. "It breaks my heart why we need this. But I don't know how to express my gratitude."
Mr. Drake was wounded during a suicide car bombing in Qaim, Iraq, near the Syrian border, on Oct. 15, 2004. He was the sole survivor of the attack. Two members of his Army Psychological Operations team, a U.S. Marine accompanying them, and an Iraqi translator were killed.
He suffered massive injuries, including skull and brain trauma, a fractured vertebrae, broken sternum, clavicles, and right arm, a collapsed lung, and burns and shrapnel wounds.
Mr. Drake said he does not remember the bombing, what kind of vehicle he was driving, or anything that happened from about a month before the attack.
The Northview High School graduate, who wrestled in school and was a certified personal trainer before joining the Army, said he holds no ill will against the military or the war.
"I would recommend the military to anyone. Yeah, I got hurt. Oh well," he said with a laugh.
Mr. Drake's condition has improved gradually, but he is still working to recover. The injuries keep him from walking and speaking with ease.
Among the guests at yesterday's party, which was dubbed "Matthew's Independence Day," was Patricia Corrigan, one of his junior high school teachers.
"Obviously, we were all traumatized and deeply worried, but it's truly been a miracle," Ms. Corrigan said. "He has come so far and has deep inner strength, plus a good sense of humor, which he hasn't lost.
Sean Savage, whose family spearheaded the fund-raising effort, told Mr. Drake yesterday that everyone appreciated his sacrifice.
"Today is proof that hope triumphs over tragedy," Mr. Savage said.
The idea for the fund drive started with Mr. Savage's son, Drew, who first heard about Mr. Drake's war injuries from his teacher at St. Joseph School.
Mr. Drake will be honored Thursday by the Theta Chi fraternity. The ceremony is at 8 p.m. at the University of Toledo Health and Human Services Building. The event is part of the fraternity's fund-raising effort for injured U.S. troops.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.59.60452 8.704484