Purple Heart recipients like you’ve never seen or heard them before featured in VET Tv’s new docuseries, Veterans Laughing Together9 min read
VET Tv, the streaming video on demand (SVOD) channel launched in 2017 by retired Marine Captain and former Wounded Warrior Donny O’Malley, will release its first-ever non-scripted reality TV show full of darkness and irreverence when Veterans Laughing Together debuts on Wednesday, July 8. The show, which shines the spotlight on eight American heroes and Purple Heart recipients in a manner that you’ve never seen or heard before, is likely to elicit just as many tears as it does laughs. Veterans Laughing Together features eight episodes and will run for eight consecutive weeks starting July 8.
“This is a first-of-its-kind show with eight amazing Purple Heart recipients,” beamed O’Malley. “They’ve been hit, they’ve been traumatized and they’ve seen and experienced all of the worst that war has to offer, yet because of the level of trust they have in us, they tell their stories to our audience in a way that very few people ever get to see or hear. You’ll hear about the physical trauma they all experienced in combat, and the injustices that followed. They experienced the worst of it, yet they have this unbelievable sense of irreverence and they’re still able to laugh about it all, and that’s why we chose them.”
That irreverence is what really sets Veterans Laughing Together apart. The first episode features Marine Corps Corporal Paul Gardner, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after a bullet severed his spinal cord during a firefight in Iraq. Gardner was wounded during the initial 2003 invasion of Iraq when his platoon was engaged in a firefight with more than 100 Fedayeen Fighters in the Baghdad suburb of Al Tarymiah. While reloading his rifle, an enemy fighter took advantage of the situation and fired off a burst with his AK47 assault rifle, with one of the bullets entering just under Gardner’s left armpit. The bullet destroyed his spleen, collapsed his left lung and completely severed his spinal cord, instantly and permanently leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, yet Gardner’s re-telling of the story leaves the entire group laughing and crying.
Subsequent VLT episodes feature Army Sergeant First Class Joseph James, W-2 Army Special Forces Operator Nathan Smith, E-3 HN Navy FMF Corpsman Shane Edmaiston, Army Staff Sergeant Vanessa Brown, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Waples, Marine Corps Lance Corporal Anson Roberts, and Vietnam War veteran and Marine Corps Lance Corporal Sean Dillion. Complete biographical information on each of the show’s featured guests and Purple Heart recipients can be found below.
The Purple Heart is the United States’ oldest and most prestigious military medal still awarded. It goes to men and women who were wounded or killed in combat while defending our country. Its history dates back more than 200 years.
Veterans Laughing Together is the 18th original series created by VET Tv, also known as Veteran Television. Based in Carlsbad and launched in 2017 by O’Malley, VET Tv sets out to recreate, parody and celebrate the military experience for those who served. It uses dark and irreverent comedy to recreate the post-9/11 military veteran experience. Everything VET Tv does is grounded in the same intention, to use humor and camaraderie to bring veterans together, to heal the mental wounds of war and to prevent veteran suicide. VET Tv is available online at https://www.veterantv.tv/ and via streaming apps on Apple, Google Play, Roku and Xbox.
A native of Queens, New York, O’Malley spent six years in the Marine Corps as an infantry officer, rifle platoon commander and fire support team leader before finishing his Marines tenure in the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Naval Medical Center San Diego. O’Malley also is the founder of the nonprofit foundation Irreverent Warriors, which is dedicated to preventing veteran suicide. Through Silkies Hike events staged throughout the country, O’Malley and Irreverent Warriors have brought together more than 60,000 U.S. veterans together to help build social connection among veterans in order to reduce the number of veteran suicides. O’Malley is also a published author, having penned the novel Embarrassing Confessions of a Marine Lieutenant, which parodies his career in the military.
Additional Veterans Laughing Together Biographical Information
Episode 2 – Army Sergeant First Class Joseph James: A U.S. Army Sergeant First Class (E-7), James deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom once and Operation Iraqi Freedom three times. SFC James’ extensive list of awards includes the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, four Army Commendation Medals, three Good Conduct Medals, the Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon (numeral 2), two Overseas Service Ribbons, the Air Assault Badge, and the Combat Action Badge. On April 8, 2008, SFC James’ Humvee was struck simultaneously by two improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The first explosion struck the engine block and disabled the vehicle, while the second tore through the center of the vehicle, entering through the front passenger door and exiting through the driver’s side rear door. SFC James was the gunner on the vehicle, sitting on a sling seat above the other service members where he could fire the machine gun mounted atop the vehicle. SFC James lost both legs in the blast. He fell into the vehicle but remained conscious. He quickly began to apply tourniquets—which helped save his life—before crawling out the back of the vehicle to seek help. Immediately after the explosion, SFC James was transported by Blackhawk Helicopter to a hospital in Baghdad, where he underwent emergency surgery. The full extent of SFC James’ physical injuries included a right below-knee amputation, a left above-knee amputation, and numerous shrapnel wounds. Due to the size and depth of the shrapnel found in his back, SFC James also underwent an emergency abdominal exploratory surgery to search for additional shrapnel and internal bleeding. It is estimated that SFC James underwent a total of approximately 18 surgeries throughout his recovery.
Episode 3 – W-2 Army Special Forces Operator Nathan Smith: Smith joined the Army after 9-11. Wounded in July 2018 while fighting ISIS in Nanagarhar Province, Afghanistan, Smith was the assault cell leader of a multinational team. During a mission to take the capital of ISIS in Afghanistan, Smith got into a grenade fight with ISIS fighters trying to overrun his unit, and he suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Several weeks later, after being medically cleared, Smith’s unit engaged in another serious firefight that was known as the Iron Phalanx. As ISIS fighters overwhelmed their platoon, resulting in multiple casualties. Smith devised a plan to put the convoy’s MATV’s in an “L” shape formation to provide moving cover while they attempted to recover their fellow dead and wounded soldiers. Smith received a Bronze Star with Valor, an Army Commendation with Valor, a Purple Heart, and a second Bronze Star during his service. He was injured a third time on Sept. 10, 2018, just two days after being released from medical observation for a traumatic brain injury. Smith officially retired from the special operations forces in December 2018 on a medical retirement.
Episode 4 – E-3 HN Navy FMF Corpsman Shane Edmaiston: Edmaiston joined the Navy and picked corpsman as his job to avoid combat, yet he was injured by a hand grenade while on a foot patrol serving as an FMF Corpsman with 2nd Battalion 7th Marines on October 14, 2005. Due to a mix-up, a ground medevac never arrived and Edmaiston was forced to walk back to his forward operating base. He had been on a squad-sized foot patrol where the mission was to move all vehicles away from a voting site where voting would be taking place the following day. After completing the task, they were ordered to do the same for other voting sites on the opposite side of their area of operations. A group of kids followed them during their entire six-hour patrol. Among the group were two teenagers who threw grenades, one at the Marine behind Edmaiston, last in formation, and one at him, next to last. The grenade knocked Edmaiston out for a few seconds. When he came-to, the other Marine that was hit was still down in the road. He ran to him, got him to cover, patched him up, and then treated himself. Edmaiston then searched the area while waiting on the medevac that never arrived, so he and his fellow Marines walked back to the FOB and he was later transferred to a hospital. Edmaiston was later told that the grenade was an old Russian grenade from the 1980’s, which was credited with being the reason that the grenade didn’t kill him as close as it landed.
Episode 5 – Army Staff Sergeant Vanessa Brown: Brown did two total deployments, one each to Iraq and Afghanistan. During her deployment in Afghanistan, Brown’s convoy hit an IED that flipped their vehicle. The driver fell on top of her and Brown suffered six broken vertebrae. She was flown to Landstuhl, Germany and her upper spine is now held together by eight screws, rods and plates. During her second deployment in Iraq, Brown was working as a mechanic on a service and recovery team. During a mission that took them through Mosul, her vehicle was ambushed and Brown was hit by gunfire in her rib cage. As she tumbled to the ground, several Iraqi locals dragged her to the side of the road and she feared being taken captive. Fortunately, she was so badly injured that she was removed by medevac and taken back to Germany.
Episode 6 – Army Staff Sergeant Robert Waples: Waples was an Army Infantryman/SF in both the 115th Infantry and the 20th SFG(A) whose tours included Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. A West Philadelphia native, Waples is a former policeman who worked undercover in narcotics before moving to Maryland and becoming a Sheriff’s Deputy in the Washington D.C. area. He comes from a family with a long history in law enforcement. His uncle was one of the nation’s first African-American FBI agents. Waples originally joined the Army in 1994, right out of high school, and in 1998, he joined the National Guard. Shortly before 9-11, Waples applied for special forces duty, and after the towers fell, his unit was activated. Because of his previous Army experience, Waples was assigned to an A-Team and he was sent to Afghanistan before even completing the qualification course. He fought all over Afghanistan, including Operations Anaconda and Mountain Viper. Looking to spend more time with his family, Waples transferred to the Maryland National Guard’s 115th Infantry. His unit however was activated and deployed to Taji, Iraq. He participated in numerous operations, and while serving on a hunter & killer team, he was wounded in a complex IED ambush during which he sustained a concussion, a traumatic brain injury and nerve damage to his head. Waples continued to fight through his injuries before being taken out of combat and medically evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany. After several MRI and CT scans, Waples was told by doctors that his military career was over and he was honorably retired on February 28, 2008. For his service, Waples was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor.
Episode 7 – Marine Corps Lance Corporal Anson Roberts: Roberts was stationed in Iraq in 2007 on an EOD Security Team. One day, while clearing a section of road, they were set up in a complex ambush. They took fire from a house where some of his cohorts had dismounted and started to clear when they took fire. Roberts drove down to support them when a massive IED exploded and he was trapped inside of his truck unconscious. After coming to, Roberts crawled out the right side of his vehicle with his clothing on fire and he was tackled to the ground by the unit’s doctor, who patted the flames out. Their unit took more fire as they ran back up toward the rear of their trucks to suppress the threat. Due to the danger of the situation, there was no backup, no medical evacuation, and they had to drive 15-20 minutes to get to an evacuation helicopter. Roberts suffered first degree flash burns on his face, and second and third degree burns on his hands and legs. Roberts ended up losing all of his fingers and nearly complete use of his hands. Roberts retired in 2009 and returned stateside to start a family. He since also earned a degree in history from The Ohio State University.
Episode 8 – Marine Corps Private First-Class Sean Dillion: A Marine Corps veteran from the Vietnam War, Dillion was wounded while walking point for the 2nd Platoon, India 3/5 when he came upon a Marine’s flak and camo utility blouse. He’d noticed a lot of 782 gear lying around, nothing special, but he suspected something was dangerous. Dillion’s lieutenant wanted a closer look. It ended up that there were two 105’s wired up under the flak jacket and it exploded, killing the lieutenant and severely injuring Dillion. It occurred in the Anh Hoa Valley, in an area named the “Arizona Territory.” The physical and mental toll haunted Dillion for many years that followed, trauma that he discussed at length during his episode of Veterans Laughing Together.
*Main Image of Founder Donny OMalley take from Clever Talks
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