Note: This week, in honor of Veteran's Day, we reach back into
our archives for a 2011 story on the beginning of the Cape Hatteras
Wounded Warrior Vacation Project, which is still going strong on
just 22 years of age, Lance Cpl. Aaron “Danny” Ruck has been
through—and survived—more than most people will experience in a
lifetime. But, early this month, the Cape Hatteras Wounded
Warriors Vacation Project had the honor of helping Ruck and his family
do something they had never done before -- vacation on Hatteras Island.
Rucks—Danny, his wife Megan, and their two young children, Austin, 4,
and Kaylee, 6 months—were the first of several families that will be
invited to stay on Hatteras as part of the project, and they arrived on
Hatteras Saturday, June 4, for a week of hard-earned and much-deserved
of the main goals of the project is to provide the Purple Heart
recipients of the Camp Lejeune area with a quality vacation,
they didn’t disappoint.
Hatteras Island community rolled out the red carpet, and the Wounded
Warrior Vacation Project was able to provide the Rucks with a rental
cottage on a canal in Brigand’s Bay, a bevy of gift certificates to
local grocery stores, restaurants, and shops, as well as a host of
unique recreational opportunities.
Rucks experienced Hatteras Island by land, air, sea, and with their
taste buds, and while there may be room for debate on just how relaxing
their jam-packed vacation was, one thing is certain -- few families
could have been more deserving of the experience or more grateful for
it than the Rucks.
joined the Marines right after he graduated from New Richmond High
School near Cincinnati in Ohio. Following boot camp, he was
to Camp Lejeune to serve with the 3/8 Weapons Company, CAAT Platoon.
And in the final months of 2008, he was deployed to a remote region in
Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, where his company
worked to secure a stretch of highway that had been used to smuggle
weapons into Iran.
January of 2009, Danny was nearing the three-month mark of his
deployment. He was out on an assignment late one night when his convoy,
the last in a line of armored trucks, hit an improvised explosive
explosion left him with shrapnel in both his knees, his right forearm,
and his right eye, second degree burns on the left side of his body, a
permanent break in his lower back, and scarring in his brain that has
resulted in problems with his equilibrium and short-term memory.
awarded a Purple Heart for his service.
the accident, Ruck was taken to Camp Bastion, a NATO base in
Afghanistan, where he spent about a month-and-a-half receiving
treatment for his wounds.
he reached out to Megan.
had known Megan all his life. She had quite literally been the girl
next door, growing up just one house away from Danny on the same side
of the street in their Richmond neighborhood.
she was a few years his senior, Megan and Danny attended the same high
school, but over the years, they had lost touch. Megan had gone to
college at the University of Cincinnati and was working as an EMT.
Danny, of course, had graduated and joined the Marines.
during his recovery, Danny took advantage of Camp Bastion’s reliable
Internet access (It is located in a much less remote area of
Afghanistan.), found Megan on Facebook, and struck up a conversation.
responded, and the two began a friendly correspondence. It developed
into a relationship that Megan had not anticipated.
we were just talking,” she said. “I never imagined it would
lead to something romantic.”
that’s exactly where it led. Physically, they were farther apart than
they had ever been in their lives, but emotionally, they had never been
just so easy to talk to,” Danny said with a smile.
had sufficiently recovered, Danny was sent back to the village where
his company was stationed.
hard,” Megan stated, simply.
there was the limited access. Danny had a very small amount
time that he was allowed to spend talking to Megan—when he was even
able to get Internet service.
times that I would get scared,” Megan said, “because I wouldn’t hear
from him for a couple of days.”
there was the time difference. Megan and Danny would take
waking up in the middle of the night to talk to each other.
the end, their efforts paid off. They were married in
of 2009, and Megan and her son Austin moved to North Carolina in
it hasn’t exactly been “happily ever after” for the Rucks.
year, Danny’s mother fell ill and passed away. He had
temporary orders to care for her, so he and a then-pregnant Megan had
gone to Ohio. While they were there, shortly after his
death, Megan was admitted to the hospital for complications with her
pregnancy. Doctors feared that Kaylee would be born
and Megan was put on bed-rest for the remainder of her
had been down that road before. Austin had been born at just 29 weeks
and, as a result, has struggled with health concerns throughout his
life. She wasn’t taking any chances, which meant that the
had to stay in Ohio.
Danny was able to get his orders extended so that he could care for
Megan, and she was able to carry Kaylee to full-term.
came the next round of bad news: Kaylee developed pyloric stenosis, a
gastrointestinal disorder that causes a narrowing of the lower part of
the stomach, through which food passes into the small
a fairly common disorder, but one that requires immediate treatment.
Kaylee underwent surgery to fix the disorder, and is now healthy and
Rucks are finally enjoying some peace and quiet.
still making up for lost time,” Megan said.
couple of months have been slow,” Danny added. “It’s been nice.”
is back at Camp Lejeune, where he is part of the Wounded Warriors
Battalion-East. He is still on active duty, but, because of the extent
of his injuries, he is in the process of transitioning into civilian
several hours a week in therapy for his back and his brain injuries,
which helps him cope with the pain.
helps alleviate the pain,” he said, “but it’s something that’s kind of
always going to be there.”
He is also
going to school, and will have his associate’s degree in criminal
justice by the first of the year.
is taking care of Austin and Kaylee, and, though she is currently not
working as an EMT, she is taking a phlebotomy class, just to keep her
family is planning to move back to Richmond—where their families still
live on the same street—as soon as Danny’s service is complete.
the tumult of their past couple of years, it’s probably no surprise
that the Rucks were so excited about their trip to Hatteras. Megan says
she thinks that it’s part of the reason they were selected for the
we’ve been through a lot,” she said.
didn’t waste a minute of their time here.
and Austin spent a lot of time fishing. They fished from the dock of
their rental cottage, where Austin caught his first fish, they went
crabbing with John McGee, and they fished from the banks of Kevin
McCabe’s backyard pond.
also had the opportunity to go cobia fishing with Capt. Rick Caton
aboard the Free Agent. Danny caught three cobias, one of which weighed
40 pounds, big enough for a citation.
also went flying with Burrus Flying Service, climbed the lighthouse
(and received a pass from the National Park Service that’s good at any
national park), rode horses along the shore at Ramp 55, and, of course,
drove out to the beach—on one of the clearest, calmest, most beautiful
days McCabe said he’s ever seen.
were just as grateful as they were enthusiastic.
told us there would be some donations,” Danny said, “but we never
was a sentiment that Megan echoed: “What these people did is above and
beyond anything we expected…I don’t think we’ve ever experienced this
that, while they were thankful to be able to take a vacation, she was
most excited for Austin.
catching his first fish, horseback riding on the beach…This is stuff
he’s never going to forget.”
their last evening on the island, the Rucks sat around the dinner
table, eating and talking with John McGee and Kevin McCabe, organizers
of the Cape Hatteras Wounded Warrior Project, and some of the program’s
supporters who had made their trip possible. There was an air of mutual
respect and gratitude—to Danny and his family for their courage and
service, and to the Hatteras Island community, for their generosity and
thing Danny said to McCabe was, “We’ll probably see you all again in
more information on the Cape Hatteras Wounded Warrior Vacation Project,
including information on monetary or other donations, visit:
or contact Kevin McCabe at 252-995-4788.
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