Six weeks ago, Spec. Aaron Bugg was dragged from a Humvee that had been hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq, his leg muscles severed and unable to carry his weight. Yesterday, Bugg walked down the aisle with the woman he has loved since junior high.
More than 50 friends and family members attended the wedding, in the stone chapel on the grounds of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington.
Bugg, 20, wore a tuxedo that had a specially made left pant leg to cover a "fixator," a device that stabilizes the leg while bone and muscle regenerate. His bride, Lisa McCroskey, 21, wore a beaded satin gown.
Bugg sat through much of the 40-minute ceremony, but he stood to take his wedding vows and for the lighting of the unity candle. After the chaplain, Capt. Robin W. Pizanti, presented the couple, Bugg held his wife's arm as they walked out of the church and down two small flights of steps.
"He wasn't supposed to walk that far," said the surprised best man, Matias Reveles, as he rushed a wheelchair to assist his nephew.
The wedding was one of 15 to 20 each year at Walter Reed, the Army's premier medical facility, which has treated 3,612 patients from Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But the ceremony almost didn't happen yesterday.
A week ago, Walter Reed's office of the judge advocate general learned that several area businesses had offered to donate their services, which involved the groom's custom tuxedo, hairstyling for the bride and three bridesmaids, wedding programs and a honeymoon night and reception at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown. Such donations violate the military's code of ethics and could not be accepted, Bugg and McCroskey were told.
But Ed Solomon, owner of Anthony's Tuxedos in Georgetown, and Fisher House, a foundation that assists wounded veterans and their families at 15 medical centers in the United States and Germany, worked out a solution.
The businesses could donate the services to Fisher House, which would give them to the couple, said Jim Weiskopf, Fisher's vice president for communications in Rockville. Like the Fisher program that provides airline tickets for wounded veterans and their families, the procedure would not benefit one person but be open to all qualified personnel, he said.
The couple, who found each other in eighth grade in Marionville, Mo., got engaged last Christmas. But they didn't set a date until Bugg came home for a month-long leave in late August, McCroskey said. They decided in January, when Bugg's infantry unit was scheduled to return from its security mission near Kirkuk, north of Baghdad.
Nine days after Bugg returned to Iraq, a bomb exploded near the unarmored Humvee in which he and three other soldiers were riding. He remembers trying to walk and wondering why he was being dragged instead. He asked the medic in a helicopter, "Sir, don't let them take my arms or legs."
He was given anesthesia and has no memory of the four days between the explosion and waking up at Walter Reed. McCroskey withdrew from classes at Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield to be with him.
A week later, they decided to marry as soon as possible. An engaged partner does not have the same visitation and legal rights as a spouse, and they wanted to be as close together as possible, they said.
When McCroskey saw the chapel, she was impressed. "I said, 'Omygosh, this place is beautiful. I would love to get married here.' "
McCroskey said she has seen some people "bail out" of relationships after a military member returns from the battlefield with severe physical or emotional wounds. That's something she said she could not, and would not, do.
"Aaron's my best friend and the love of my life," she said. "I could be home in school, but I would be thinking about him and wishing I was here."
Bugg said her presence has helped motivate him and has given meaning to his recovery, which his doctors told him could take at least six months.