This Navy Vet's Christmas Decorations Will Put Yours To Shame

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19038083

Go time — 1730 hours.

Charlie Pugh took a remote control out of his custom red flight suit, pushed a button and bathed his Chesapeake neighborhood in Christmas.

So much so that no one else on his street in Watermill Cove really has much in the way of decorations.

"If you're gonna do something, you've got to do it right," said Pugh, 41, a retired Navy pilot. "If I just threw some lights out there, what would that be?"

Neighbors watch nightly from Thanksgiving to New Year's in what's become their own holiday ritual. The rest of the country can watch at 8 p.m. Monday.

Pugh's family is among four profiled in the season premiere of ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight," competing for $50,000 and a trophy. A Glen Allen family will be in a Dec. 12 episode.

Pugh's episode, which was filmed in October, meant he started installing his decorations in the heat of the summer. In earnest. Usually, he's still programming the display and takes two weeks off work in October to set everything up.

The show's producers found him through his Facebook page, Pugh Family Christmas Light Show, then filmed for four days, he said.

Pugh made a special control panel resembling one on an F/A-18 for show co-host Carter Oosterhouse. Since it was a prop, it was stored after filming. Pugh teaches in F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet simulators at Oceana Naval Air Station. His display, and the strategy he used to build it, has several nods to servicemen.

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"I had a three-prong attack: technology, military and emotion," said the former lieutenant, whose call sign was Pug. "Everything's DIY. It becomes a personal challenge. I'll get an idea in my head and want to see if I can actually make that happen. When it does happen, it's: 'What's the next thing?'"

His front yard is filled with close to 30,000 LED lights, each capable of flashing millions of colors. The lights are attached to plastic piping shaped to resemble trees and arches. Santa's sleigh, which is pneumatic and lights up, bobs up and down. More lights are mounted on the two-story home he shares with his wife, Bridgette, and their children, Sara, 13, and Mason, 11. They help him set up.

The lights and Santa are choreographed with eight songs in a 25-minute show on Pugh's radio station, 89.7 FM. The tunes range from classics, like "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," to AC/DC's "Thunderstruck." A message board in front of the display flashes information, thank-yous and greetings from two deployed troops, Cmdr. Jeffrey Farmer, a former flying buddy, and Petty Officer 1st Class Carmelo Bocachica, a neighbor.

"They make such sacrifices for us, so the least I can do is an extreme Christmas display," Pugh said.

He plays the music just loud enough so anyone who gathers at a small circle on his street can hear it without a radio. The display is on from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5:30 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Neighbor Katherine Logan puts her three pajamaed children into jackets every night to watch the show before bed.

"Charlie puts so much sweat power but also a lot of love into his light show," she said. "We know he really appreciates everyone loving it as much as he and his family do."

Displaying perseverance

Pugh has always loved Christmas, but his holiday spirit broke Mach 1 after he saw an extreme display by Allen Holt, a Chesapeake resident who competed on the television show in 2013.

So, four years ago, he started doing research, ordering lights and tinkering. "As soon as I'm done (one year), I start thinking about next year. … It's a personality disorder, I'll tell you that much."

Bridgette Pugh said the hobby appeals to his nature as a tinkerer — "if he wasn't doing this, I guarantee he'd be doing something else" — and isn't surprised at how involved it's gotten. She is, however, somewhat Christmased out by the time the display is up and running. "I love Christmas, but I don't understand the bigness factor."

Sara, who was dressed like an elf on a recent night, sides with her father in terms of never-ending Xmas love. She uses his holiday hand-me-downs to decorate her room. Mason is more in line with his mother. "When he gets older," Pugh said, "he may find some Christmas passion he doesn't know about yet."

His own Christmas Day comes every night when he presses the "on" button. He doesn't ask for presents because come Jan. 1, he's spending money on new lights.

Pugh estimates the price tag for the display at about $10,000 over four years — though he's afraid to sit down and get a precise number — but he said his electric bill only goes up about $7 a month in the fall, thanks to the low-voltage LEDs.

Regardless, his biggest challenge isn't money, it's space. He's running out of room on his lot. So instead of expanding outward, he's going upward.

On Jan. 2, everything goes dark — the display, his house and his mood — until next fall.

"It's a black hole of suck."

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© 2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.).Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.