TV preview: Military show features local veterans

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PASADENA, Calif. -- Discovery-owned cable network Military Channel rebrands itself Monday as American Heroes Channel.

"This newly named network will sit at essentially the intersection of military and history programming and will look to substantially broaden its current appeal by honoring the great defenders of our freedom," said Henry Schleiff, group president for AHC and several Discovery networks, in January at the Television Critics Association winter press tour. "It can be firemen. It can be policemen. And frankly, those who don't even necessarily wear a uniform, but whose actions, in whatever field of endeavor it may be, inspire all of us as Americans."

The military theme isn't going away; it's front and center in one of the renamed network's first series, "Against the Odds" (10 p.m. Monday), which features at least three veterans with Pittsburgh ties. The series showcases stories of bravery on the battlefield as told by soldiers who lived through the experiences.

Former Pittsburgher featured in Heroes Channel show

Former Pittsburgher John Ligato is featured in ???Against the Odds,??? airing at 10 p.m. Monday on the American Heroes Channel. (Video by Rob Owen; 3/1/2014)

Pittsburgher Bob Cresswell fought at the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and is featured in the March 10 episode. Bob Harbula of West Mifflin fought in the Korean War and is featured in the April 14 episode, "Bloody George at the Chosin Reservoir."

Monday's series premiere, "The Marines at Hue," looks at one of Vietnam's fiercest battles and includes recollections from John Ligato, a former Marine rifleman who lived in Pittsburgh.

"Most of the Vietnam vets that I know, regardless of the service, had no problem coming home to what happened," Mr. Ligato said in January. "The problem was that society couldn't separate the war from the warrior. And they're able to do that now. ... Even people that don't like the [current] war recognize that the warrior, the American hero, is fighting a war and they're apolitical. We're apolitical. I don't think we ever sat in a foxhole or out on patrol and discussed politics."

'Against the Odds'

When: 10 p.m. Monday, American Heroes Channel.

Mr. Ligato, who moved from Philadelphia to Zelienople at age 16 and stayed in Western Pennsylvania for the next 25 years, said it's important for Americans to be aware of the U.S. military and its dedication, but he's not comfortable with the term "hero" as implied by appearing in a show on the newly christened American Heroes Channel.

"I don't view myself as a hero. I don't even like the H-word," he said, adding that he saves his awe for the men he served with.

Mr. Ligato, a graduate of then-Slippery Rock College who later returned to the school for his master's, joined the FBI in 1982 and worked in Downtown Pittsburgh for 10 years.

He later went undercover for the FBI in Memphis, managing a strip club, and spent time deep undercover with the mob in New York and Philadelphia. If his life sounds like it would be ideal for a movie, well, it's already been one: 2006's "10th & Wolf," which was shot in Pittsburgh and starred James Marsden ("30 Rock") as the character inspired by Mr. Ligato.

Still, Mr. Ligato said his time in the Marines was the highlight of his career.

"Undercover eight years with the mob, you'd think that would be the event when on your deathbed, but it's the Marines," he said. "That was the thing I'm most proud of: Graduating Parris Island as a private and being in the Marine Corps."

Locally AHC is carried by Comcast (Channel 112 or 106 in former Adelphia areas), Verizon FiOS TV (125), Armstrong (421), DirecTV (287) and Dish Network (195).

TV writer Rob Owen: or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

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