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Lidia Celebrates America with “Holiday for Heroes"
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Courtesy of Meredith Nierman/WGBH

For most, the holiday season is a time of celebration, spending time with family and friends, observing age-old traditions and enjoying favorite foods. For members of the military, the holidays can be particularly emotional, especially when they are stationed thousands of miles away from home or are overcoming injuries from their service.

In LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA “Holiday for Heroes, an uplifting new television special co-produced with public media powerhouse WGBH, internationally acclaimed chef and food ambassador Lidia Bastianich pays homage to the men and women of our military and the truly life-saving sacrifices they make daily for our freedom.

LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA “Holiday for Heroes” premieres on Friday, December 16, 2016 at 9 p.m. on OETA. Throughout the special, Lidia meets with five featured veterans who reflect on the challenges and sacrifices of their service, discuss their longing to be reunited with family during holidays and express the pride they take in having defended our country. Together, these veterans create a distinct image of the diversity of the United States military:

  • Bryan Anderson (Los Angeles, CA) served two tours of duty in Iraq before he lost both legs and his left hand to an IED.
  • Yonas Hagos (Yorkville, IL) is a retired army staff sergeant who came to the USA from a refugee camp in Sudan at 10 years old; he is also a Purple Heart recipient.
  • Marlene Rodriquez (San Antonio, TX) served three tours in Iraq before sustaining injuries that forced her to retire; she is one of only 500 women to be awarded the Purple Heart.
  • Willie Sherrer (Methuen, MA) struggled with alcoholism and homelessness before being accepted to Culinary Command, an elite program that trains vets in new careers as cooks; today he owns a barbeque enterprise in New England. 
  • August Dannehl (Los Angeles, CA) joined the Navy after September 11th; after being honorably discharged in 2010, he attended the Jon Stewart Veteran Immersion Program, which offers veterans job training in television and film.

As a life-long believer that food is the tie that binds us together, Lidia uses her unique gift to bridge cultures, uncovering what foods mean ‘home’ to these veterans, from Marlene’s mother’s lasagna to Willie’s father’s brisket. As Lidia prepares these dishes with the veterans, she taps into their love for home and country.

LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA “Holiday for Heroes” culminates with a celebratory holiday dinner at Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest naval base, where Lidia cooks for 250 active duty Navy troops aboard the USS George Washington. Joining Lidia on deck is her good friend Bob Woodruff – the acclaimed ABC news anchor injured by an IED in Iraq. Bob and Lidia sit down with the active service men and women, as well as the featured veterans, breaking bread and reflecting on good times, hard times and the pride and love in between.

“As I travel the country meeting veterans from all the military branches, I hear mind blowing stories, experience some tears, but also feel real hope and promise,” says Bastianich. “Our veterans and active duty soldiers deserve our utmost respect and appreciation all year long, but especially during the holidays when life can be more challenging for them. I was happy, and honored, to share a holiday meal with them, and we are happy to share LIDIA CELEBRATES AMERICA “Holiday for Heroes” with you this holiday season."