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Tony Orlando recalls life-changing encounter with wounded veteran: ‘Never prepared for this’

Tony Orlando has dedicated his decades-long career to our troops, but there was one encounter with a wounded veteran that has stayed with him over the years.

The singer, known for the ’70s hits “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree” and “Knock Three Times,” has retired from live performing and touring. He gave his final show at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino Arena on March 22.

The 80-year-old told Fox News Digital that one of his proudest achievements is meeting our servicemen and women — including wounded veteran Brendan Marrocco.

Tony Orlando with an inset of Brendan Marrocco

Singer Tony Orlando told Fox News Digital his life changed when he met wounded veteran Brendan Marrocco (inset). (Getty Images)

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“I went to perform for our troops in Iraq [in 2009],” the star recalled to Fox News Digital. “When I left Iraq, I went to Germany to a hospital in which the wounded go from war. I wanted to meet the wounded soldiers.”

“At one point, the German doctor comes to me and he says, ‘Tony, do you have a strong stomach?’” Orlando shared. “I said, ‘I think so.’ He said, ‘Well, I want you to meet a young man who just came in two days ago. His name is Brendan Marrocco. And what you’re about to see… you better pray.’ I didn’t know what I was about to see.”

“I walked in and there’s this 19-year-old, a torso,” said Orlando. “That’s all that’s there. No legs. No arms.”

Marrocco, a Staten Island, New York, native, enlisted in the military in December 2007. On April 12, 2009, Marrocco was returning from a night mission when his armored vehicle triggered a roadside bomb, the Gary Sinise Foundation shared. Marrocco lost both of his arms and legs. According to the foundation, Marrocco was left with shrapnel wounds in his left eye, as well as severe burns on his neck and face. His left carotid artery was severed. His nose, left eye socket and facial bones were all broken.

Brendan Marrocco in a wheelchair and arm casts

Marrocco lost both his arms and legs and suffered burns on his neck and face. He also broke his nose, eye socket and other facial bones. (Getty Images)

“I said to the doctor, ‘Are you telling me this young man’s going to live?’” said Orlando. “The doctor said, ‘We’re good here. We do good work. Yes, he’s going to live, but here’s why I called you in. You are from New York, aren’t you? Brendan’s family is also from New York. They’re coming here right now. I don’t speak good New York. You speak good New York. When they come in, would you let them know that their son’s going to survive?’”

“I said, ‘You want me to tell them that?’” Orlando shared. “‘Would you please?’”

According to Orlando, Marrocco’s parents soon walked into the hospital. They quickly recognized the singer. Orlando approached them.

“I said, ‘I’m here to visit the wounded,’” Orlando recalled. “I just saw your son.”

The matriarch’s eyes widened.

Tony Orlando and Brendan Marrocco split

Orlando met Marrocco when he was in the hospital and was able to comfort his parents. (Getty Images)

“Mrs. Marrocco, I just want you to know, the doctors have asked me to tell you this,’” Orlando shared. “‘What you are about to see is horrific. But here’s the good news. Your son’s going to survive this. He’s going to be OK.’”

Marrocco’s mother pushed Orlando aside, saying, “Move out of my way. I want to see my son.” The matriarch walked into the hospital room. There was dead silence.

“I was expecting a yelp, a scream, anything,” said Orlando. “Nothing. At one point, I thought she fainted. But I heard no noise falling. There were no chairs, so I knew she would have hit the floor if she did faint.”

Marrocco’s mother stepped out. Her face was “white as a sheet.”

“She said, ‘Tony, I was prepared for my son to die, but I was never prepared for this,’” said Orlando.

Tony Orlando in a black shirt

Orlando recalled Marrocco’s mother looking white as a ghost after seeing her son in the hospital. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

“I said, ‘Mrs. Marrocco… I recently did a concert. I met a guy named Dean Kamen. He’s an inventor… He invented a prosthetic [arm]. It can pick up a grape without dropping it. It can pick up a raisin without a program… Let me call him.’ So I did. And Dean says to me, ‘Tell Mrs. Marrocco I’ll meet her in Washington at the hospital, Walter Reed. I’ll let her know if Brendan is valid for it.’”

Months went by, and Orlando heard no word. The singer assumed that Marrocco didn’t make it. Then he received a phone call from American Airlines. They were putting on a show for veterans. Kamen was expected to attend and wanted Orlando to join him.

“I’m sitting in the audience — 4,000 military are there,” said Orlando. “Dean comes out. He said, ‘Brendan Marrocco’s going to get his prosthetics.’ I just went, ‘Oh my God, God in heaven, thank you.’ Six months go by. I didn’t hear anything. Again, I said the same thought — it didn’t happen. He passed. Finally, I called Brendan’s father. He tells me, ‘He’s fine. He turned down the prosthetic.’”

Orlando was stunned. The patriarch told the star that Marrocco wanted to try cadaver arms instead.

A black and white photo of Brendan Marrocco laughing.

Orlando was surprised to learn Marrocco had opted to receive cadaver arms. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“He wanted to be a guinea pig for that operation,” Orlando explained. “He wanted to be that guy who had real flesh on his arms to pick up things, a real arm.”

Marrocco was determined. And he received the arms he yearned for.

“His arms were donated by a girl who died in a car accident — she was 15 years old,” said Orlando. “Now, Brendan Marrocco can do chin-ups from his wheelchair and use both hands on a bar. He just sent me a video driving his motorboat with both of his arms. He has a big smile on his face. Now that’s a tough guy.”

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“It’s guys like him that have kept me going to do everything I can for our military, especially during the last 50 years,” he shared. “That story still blows my mind and fills my heart. And it’s a story about the power of music. During his healing, he was listening to all kinds of music… He’s an inspiration.”

Brendan Marrocco doing chin-ups

Marrocco continues to strength train following his surgeries and can now do chin-ups. (Michel du Cille/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Marrocco is the first U.S. soldier to survive a quadruple amputation. He currently lives in a specially adapted smart home in Staten Island.

“The first time I ever sang ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon,’ we were welcoming our POWs from Vietnam, Cambodia,” said Orlando. “These were 500 of the bravest men I’ve ever met in my life, tortured to the bone. They were coming home to yellow ribbons on their doorsteps from their families… That ribbon became a symbol of homecoming… That little song continues to welcome people home, or give families hope that they will come home.”

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“A song has no borders,” Orlando reflected. “A song has no boundaries. We’re all the same. All we want is to be happy, to be free. We all want to be welcomed home. We all want to feel hope… And that has kept me going to entertain our troops, to welcome them home. To give them hope.”

Tony Orlando in 1981, standing in front of a purple background

Orlando has a long history with the armed forces, having performed for veterans and returning POWS from Vietnam and Cambodia in the past. (Harry Langdon/Getty Images)

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