Television salutes veterans with movies, specials, series

The Warfighters is a documentary series featured on the History channel.
The Warfighters is a documentary series featured on the History channel.

Meet Sgt. James “Eddie” Wright, a retired Marine who served two tours in the Middle East during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He shares a harrowing story of survival (and an inspiring story of resiliency) in an episode of The Warfighters, a documentary series on History channel that’s an appropriate Veterans Day programming choice.

Wright, assistant team leader for Bravo Company 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, was riding in the lead Humvee of a five-vehicle convoy that was ambushed by insurgents south of Fallujah on April 7, 2004.

The vehicle and the men inside were hit by a barrage of machine-gun fire and a rocket-propelled grenade — after which members of the outnumbered convoy engaged in a ferocious battle to stay alive and ultimately regain control.

Wright — born in Chicago, raised in Seattle and who settled in Conroe, north of Houston, after retiring in 2006 — survived the attack, but he had both of his hands blown off by the RPG hit.

The powerful and poignant Warfighters episode, the first of four all-new episodes in a marathon airing 7-11 p.m. Friday, focuses primarily on the battle in the desert. But some of the most touching moments appear in the epilogue, in which we get a glimpse of everything Wright went through afterward.

The same gravely injured man who greeted the medic in the field with the wiseacre remark, “Hey, Bud, can you give me a hand?” later endured more than a year of surgeries, recovery and physical therapy. He ultimately became adept at daily living tasks again and found new direction for his post-military life.

“I’m only limited by my imagination,” he declares in the show.

No matter how one feels about American troops being deployed in Iraq, viewers will find it is impossible to not to cheer for this man. His story alone could be the focus of an entire episode.

Eddie Wright is the living, breathing definition of what Veterans Day is all about.

The Warfighters marathon is hosted by executive producer Peter Berg (director of 2013 military thriller Lone Survivor) and veteran Special Forces Green Beret Bert Kuntz.

Other episodes premiering Friday include stories of a Navy SEAL who suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after intense combat in Iraq (at 8 p.m.); a Special Forces team ambushed by Taliban fighters that fought its way to safety (9 p.m.); and a group of Army Rangers who went after a Jihadist network (10 p.m.).

More than 90 veterans participated in the making of The Warfighters, which will have additional episodes on History premiering in 2017.

“This series is special to me because we get to make it with veterans,” says Berg, who is also producing a second military series for the network called The Selection: Special Operations Experiment. “We can never do enough to pay tribute to our vets and military servicemen.”

Here’s a look at some similarly themed programs, new and old, that will air on Veterans Day.

Images of War

Underfire: The Untold Story of Pfc. Tony Vaccaro is an HBO documentary about a World War II GI who served as unofficial combat photographer for the 83rd Infantry Division in the European Theater.

Using his inexpensive and compact personal camera, an Argus C3, Vaccaro shot more than 8,000 combat images and portraits of fellow soldiers, bringing the war into focus in a way that most official military photographers, who were hampered by bulkier equipment, could not.

But on the day the conflict ended, Vaccaro vowed never to take another war photo again. He was too horrified by the things he had seen. He went on to become a world-renowned magazine and fashion photographer (capturing images of subjects such as Sophia Loren, Pablo Picasso and John F. Kennedy).

The documentary premieres on the network at 7 p.m. Monday. But it will be available early — on Veterans Day — via HBO Now, HBO Go and HBO on Demand.

Combat memories

The Battle I’ll Never Forget is a one-hour special premiering at 9 p.m. Friday on American Heroes Channel. It revisits critical military battles of American history — such as the Battle of the Surigao Strait in the Pacific during WWII, the Battle of la Drang in Vietnam and the Battle of Tal Afar in Iraq — in first-person accounts from soldiers who lived to tell the tales.

Et cetera

Reelz offers a mini-marathon of military documentaries: Unbroken: The Real Story (6 p.m. Friday), about Louis Zamperini, whose experiences as a WWII POW were chronicled in 2014’s Unbroken; American Sniper: The Real Story (7 p.m.), about Chris Kyle, subject of 2014’s American Sniper; and Real M.A.S.H.: The World of Combat Medicine (8 p.m.), about M.A.S.H. units through the decades.

American Heroes Channel precedes its Never Forget special with a five-hour marathon of World War II in Color, 4-10 p.m. Friday. Much of the war was shot on black-and-white film, which is why most WWII documentaries are in black-and-white. But this series recovered hours of rarely seen, high-definition-quality color film, much of it shot by soldiers in action.

And AMC presents a WWII-themed movie double feature: Midway, the 1976 combat film with an all-star cast headed up by Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda (2 p.m. Friday), is followed by Pearl Harbor, the 2001 epic starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett.