Cpl. Tim Donley was on patrol in Afghanistan Feb. 9 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. The blast caused the loss of both his legs and severe injury to his arm.
But when Donley stepped on stage at the 6th annual Stand Up for Heroes benefit this month, it wasn't his wounds the crowd noticed, but his remarkable voice and ability to rule the stage.
Donley, like many other veterans, is thankful for the gift of music, which can lift a veteran out of pain, depression and boredom. That is the goal of Musicorps, a program at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., started by the pianist Arthur Bloom.
Bloom teaches hundreds of wounded warriors to play instruments as a form of therapy.
"We try to figure out what people's backgrounds are, their musical interests and then whatever they want to do -- we try to move heaven and earth to make that happen," Bloom said.
"When they were injured, everything gets blown up," Bloom said. "Their life gets blown up in every sense of the word. And what we are trying to do, is not just come in and do 'Kumbaya,' but to re-inject a sense of excellence and working on musical material that is challenging and productive and rigorous, so that over time they see real progress."
Before his duty in Afghanistan, Todd Love was a lover of music and the violin. Love lost both his legs and his left arm in October 2010, when he stepped on a pressure plate. With Bloom's help, he is able to play the piano and his beloved violin, which he has played since the sixth grade.
"When I first started working with Musicorps, I didn't think I could ever play the piano again," Love said. "It just kind of slowly came together and I'm still pretty surprised that I can play as well as I can with just one hand. It makes me happy."
For Will Cook, it wasn't about learning to play again, but about coming out of his shell.
"Before Musicorps, I didn't really have anything to do, and I didn't really want to do anything," Cook said. "So I would just sit in my room and do nothing all day, and it was depressing."
Just over 18 years old, Cook was one of the youngest servicemen injured in the war. While walking through a field, Cook stepped on an explosive, losing his leg from the knee down.
"When we first met him, he really wasn't communicative, wasn't making eye contact," Bloom said during an interview with Cook. "And I remember one day, there was a guitar…and you picked up the guitar and started working with Greg, who is a wonderful guitar player from D.C., and he literally did not put it down."
Cook's hard work landed him in a room with Roger Waters, one of the founding members of the band Pink Floyd, rehearsing for Cook's stage debut. Cook practiced 10 hours a day, sometimes more depending on whether or not he needed to sleep, he said.
Cook, along with Waters, Donley and 12 other veterans, played on stage at the Stand Up for Heroes benefit. And Bloom, the man who has helped hundreds of veterans just like these, was right there with them.
"If the injured service member is able to get their life back, then everyone around them, then everyone around them, that has also been suffering through the injury -- they are able to improve as well," Bloom said.
- Arts & Entertainment