Local nonprofit helps reunite military families in time for the holidays

As we salute our servicemen and women this Veterans Day, it's important to remember many of them are alone or going through recovery and rehabilitation without their families around.

U.S. Army Staff Sergeant James Pierce has seen things most of us never will.

"I was injured in Afghanistan in 2012, hit by a suicide bomber where it killed 3 of my teammates, and I was one of the survivors," said retired Sgt. Pierce.

Pierce, a North Carolina National Guardsman for over 14 years, was serving with the 514th military police company out of Winterville when the explosion happened, changing his life forever.

"I stayed at Walter reed for three years.. had a plate put in my wrist, and my legs, had shrapnel in my chest, and my legs," said Pierce.

He says his recovery and rehabilitation lasted years and was a true test of faith.

"It was an extensive recovery process, I had to learn to walk again... I had to learn to use utensils again because my hand was injured," said Pierce.

During that difficult time, it was the nonprofit Luke's Wings that helped fly Sgt. Pierce home to see his family during special occasions. Luke's Wings flew him home and sometimes brought his mother and father to him. The flights are all complementary, dedicated to wounded or sick military members.

"Just having your family with you during a difficult time, means everything. Having a family member will give you hope and that kick that you need to get through the lonely times, especially around the holidays," said Pierce.

Pierce says the non-profit was essential to his recovery and if one miracle wasn't enough –– they also helped him find love.

"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have my beautiful wife, sitting right next to me," he said.

It's not in their job scope to play matchmaker, but a volunteer with the non-profit introduced Pierce to Mitzyn, who is now Pierce's wife.

"I'm extremely grateful. I think we were both coming back from bad dates that day, and we called our friend Jennifer, and this light bulb went off, and she said I should set you guys up," said Mitzyn.  

Mitzyn says she has seen how Luke's Wings has made a real impact.

"You can see it in their faces when they return to Walter Reed, they're lit up, refreshed, you can't ask more than that," she said.

"There's been times when we had some service members call us, saying thank you, you saved my life, I was very lonely getting treatment, and all I needed was my mom's hug," said Luke's Wing's Program Manager Bea Ibarra.

Now with the holidays fast approaching, flying families and lifting spirits is a top priority, and for veterans like Sgt. Pierce, it can make all the difference in the world.

"One of my favorite quotes from my dad that I received when I was in the hospital was "It's not what happens to you that will define who you are,  but it’s what you do with what happens, that will make you the man you need to be. And I just try to live by my father's guidance," said Pierce. 

Unfortunately with coronavirus, Luke's Wings went from booking 80 flights a month to just two or three, so they've expanded their services- to offer complimentary train rides and gift cards for gas. 

All donations that come in now will be going towards their "no soldier spends Christmas alone campaign." If you want to help or donate, visit https://lukeswings.org/