What’s it like to be a wheelchair user in a U.S. state that lies Tornado Alley, an area of the country notorious for its over-the-top tornadic activity? This American veteran knows all too well.
Oklahoma’s Sgt. E.H. Pittman is a hero—for more reasons than one. He would probably tell you that any incidents he had in Afghanistan were just the result of a soldier doing his duty, but the act of sacrificing his own mobility in an attempt to save eight lives in a Moore, OK convenience store during a storm? That certainly qualifies him for “hero” status.
During the incident, Sgt. Pittman was paralyzed and is now confined to a wheelchair. Pittman was at work inside the store, when what seemed like just a few minutes into his shift, tornado sirens began to sound. The store was completely razed by the tornado. Pittman got eight other people, including an infant, into the bathroom for shelter while waiting out the storm.
“You could hear the noise and then the pressure change, and I remember the roof started coming off,” said Pittman. He shielded a mother and child and one of his employees, using his own body in an attempt to save them. Unfortunately, the mother and child didn’t make it.
“I grabbed onto Bree and Megan and just held onto them as tight as I could. I threw about this half of my body over Megan to try and hold them down,” he said. “My wife had told me, Megan and her baby hadn’t made it. I just feel like I had failed at what I was trying to do.”
One other person died, and Pittman suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury which put him in wheelchair. The photo above shows Sgt. Pittman being rescued from the rubble.
After hearing Sgt. Pittman’s story, Flat Safe Tornado Shelters decided to design a storm shelter that is specially built and outfitted to suit his and his family’s needs. “We went back to the drawing board and developed something that we really hope helps him and his family feel safe and secure throughout this severe weather season,” said Lisa Ingram, a representative for the shelter company.
Sgt. Pittman was present during the construction of the shelter and watched over every stage. When he first got the chance to try it out, he was impressed. “It puts everybody at ease,” he said.
The state legislature recently honored Sgt. Pittman for his actions during a joint session with members of the Oklahoma National Guard, giving him the Oklahoma Star of Valor. As far as Pittman is concerned, however, he’s not a hero. “I just did what I hope somebody else would have done if it was my family there,” he said.
Of course, that’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect a hero to say. Here’s a news story about Sgt. Pittman’s heroism—and the gratitude that followed.