“You wake up and it feels like it was just yesterday,” Tornado victim remembers May 20, 2013

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MOORE, Okla. - For many Oklahomans, it's hard to believe it has been five years since the deadly Moore tornado on May 20.

For others, like E.H. Pittman, it's been five years of surgeries, rehabilitation, nightmares and pain.

Pittman was one of the most severely injured survivors in the EF-5 tornado that swept through Moore on May 20, 2013.

He was in the 7-Eleven on S.W. 4th and Telephone Road where three people died.

News 4 first met Pittman in the summer of 2013.

He was still in the hospital months after the tornado.

Today, he says it is hard to believe five years has passed.

"You wake up and it feels like it was just yesterday," Pittman said. "The tornado alarm goes off, and you're right back where you were. It's, it's crazy."

Pittman's memory of being pulled out of the rubble pile at 7-Eleven is as fresh today as it was in 2013.

"So they pulled me out, and I just kept telling them, 'They're right here. Everybody else should be over here.' And everything went downhill from there," Pittman remembered, laying on top of a young mother and her infant son in order to keep them safe.

When rescuers found him, he was still holding onto the shirt of the victim. She'd been ripped from his grasp.

Three victims died in the 7-Eleven; Terri Long, Megan Futrell and her infant son, Case Futrell.

Pittman survived that day, but was left paralyzed.

He still remembers taking his last steps right next to the rubble pile on May 20, 2013.

"I stood up and took a couple of steps and sat down and said, 'I can't feel my legs.'" Pittman said. "I guess that was my last three steps right there."

Getting medical treatment these past five years has been a battle.

Every medical appointment seems to require another courtroom appearance.

Pittman's medical expenses are covered under workers' comp because he was on-the-clock for 7-Eleven when the tornado hit.

Pittman works hard to maintain a positive attitude despite his circumstances.

He says he's not angry about what happened to him that day.

"As far as the decisions I made that day; no, I'm not angry about them," Pittman said. "7-Eleven's policy about not letting us go home. Ya, still angry about that. All of it could have been avoided if they had just closed up shop."

Staying behind to help cost him so much. He is confined to a wheelchair with no feeling in his legs.

"It's like something's been unplugged, and it just needs to be plugged back in," said Pittman.

Pittman had his final surgery last year to close up a stubborn wound on his back.

He'd hoped to continue to serve in some capacity in the military.

But, the Oklahoma National Guard discharged him unexpectedly late last year. He was blindsighted.

"They basically kicked me to the curb," Pittman said. "They're like, you can no longer help out anymore. So, I loved the military. I loved the guys I was with. That really sucked getting kicked out."

Pittman was counting on a military pension because he planned to stay in 20 years.

That's now gone.

His discharge papers left his family ineligible for military health benefits.

It was another tough blow for his wife and kids who are now uninsured.

According to military records, Pittman was discharged because the Oklahoma National Guard medical board determined he was not fit for duty as a paraplegic.

His injuries were incurred during his civilian job at 7-Eleven and not part of his military service.

In 2013, Pittman had served six years in the Guard, including a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.

At the time of discharge, he served about ten years, which means he is not eligible for a military pension which comes after twenty years of service and retirement from military service.

In many ways, Pittman can't catch a break.

"Yeah. Just when you think something's going your way, then life kicks ya again," Pittman said.

However, he has found beauty in loss.

He loves to garden now.

In the same way deadheading new blooms strengthen the plant, Pittman is finding strength in his core despite a stretch of cruel blows.

"Even after all of this, I try to stay positive," Pittman said. "Trying not to let things get to me. One day at a time. That's how it is."

News 4 contacted 7-Eleven about their policy of keeping workers at their post during severe weather.

They did not return our calls.

We reached out to the Oklahoma Military Department about Pittman's sudden discharge.

They sent over the following statement:

"The Oklahoma National Guard is grateful for the service and sacrifices of Sgt. E.H. Pittman, to his community, his state, and the nation. The fact he signed up to join the Army at the height of the Global War or Terrorism, speaks to his character and nature to protect and defend," said Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, adjutant general for Oklahoma.

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