Oklahomans will have a chance to meet and support some of Oklahoma’s wounded warriors this weekend at “Hold My Hand — A Hometown Hero Tribute — Wounded Warrior Weekend Event.”
This is the second year for the event which started as a way to raise funds to help U.S. Army Sgt. Rusty Dunagan, 32, a Guthrie native.
Dunagan became a triple amputee on Sept. 22, 2010, when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated where he stood on a mission in Afghanistan.
“I was conscious the whole time,” Dunagan said. He remembers the explosion and being thrown into a creek filled with filth and bacteria. He told his aunt, Susan Porter, that he didn’t think he’d been hit initially — until he looked over and saw his own leg lying on an embankment.
That day, Dunagan lost both his legs and his left arm and became the 23rd triple amputee to survive injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan, Porter said. For weeks, he struggled for his life, fighting infections in his wounds, enduring surgery after surgery. To date, Dunagan has had more than 30 surgeries.
Immediately after hearing about her nephew’s life-threatening injuries, Porter said she turned to Facebook to rally as many people as possible to start praying for Dunagan.
Porter started a Facebook page she called “Hold My Hand.”
“Oftentimes when people pray or they’re giving comfort and you don’t know what else to ask for, you just say ‘hold my hand’ or ‘stay with me,’” Porter said.
The Facebook page gained 300 fans overnight and now, it has more than 26,000 fans.
But Porter’s goal had little to do with Facebook and everything to do with supporting her nephew and other wounded warriors like him.
“He’s lost so much, I didn’t want him to lose hope,” Porter said. “I wanted him to know that there were so many people that cared about him.”
Dunagan has been living with his family in San Antonio for almost two years since the explosion. He receives physical therapy at the Center for the Intrepid at Brooke Army Medical Center.
He has received a prosthetic arm and prosthetic limb for his left leg. His prosthesis designers are working on a prosthetic device for his right leg. Dunagan’s residual limb is so short, he said, finding a proper fitting prosthesis that will stay on has proven to be a challenge.
At this year’s Hold My Hand event, Dunagan will be honored along with two double amputees: Mike H. and Paul C. The three will receive financial support from the event’s proceeds, as will several organizations, including Blue Star Mothers of Oklahoma, Patriot Guard Riders, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Partnership for America’s Heroes and Disabled American Veterans.
Last year, Dunagan used the money he was given from the event as a down payment on a vehicle that can accommodate his special needs and has enough room for his big family — he and his wife have four children.
Dunagan said the Hold My Hand event is important because it’s a way for Oklahomans to come together and support wounded warriors. Many Oklahomans, he said, want to help in some way but aren’t sure how.
Wounded soldiers incur many expenses that aren’t covered by their military pay, Dunagan said. Adaptive equipment such as shower chairs and even one-handed can openers can be expensive and have to be replaced often. These are things Dunagan said many wounded warriors need help to purchase.
If you go
At the Hold My Hand event, 200 vendors will be on hand, selling products and offering services.
A large silent auction will run throughout the event, featuring items donated by local retailers. Auction items include furniture from Mathis Brothers Furniture, Southwest Airlines tickets, a Disney World family pack of tickets and about 200 other donated items.
A list of auction items is online at www.rustyholdmyhand.com.
Porter will be at the Oklahoma Expo Building from 7 a.m. to about 6 p.m. Friday, accepting additional donations.
The event runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Oklahoma Expo Building at the State Fair Park. Admission is free and the event is open to the public. For information about the event, go to www.rustyholdmyhand.com or call 413-7328.