This Saturday, April 1st there’s a wedding taking place at the Paradise Falls event venue in Oceanside.
Despite the date, this wedding is no April Fool’s joke. Instead, it’s a wedding story that involves tragedy, love and generosity.
The groom to be is Veteran United States Marine Cpl. Chris Van Etten. On June 13th, 2012 Van Etten was on patrol in Afghanistan, when he lost both his legs after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED).
Van Etten says, “I remember thinking OK, I just stepped on a bomb, I should probably check myself to see if I’m OK. I prepped myself to look down to see what had happened, at the time it felt like my legs were still there, you don’t realize when you get hurt, then the pain starts happening.”
Shortly after that, military doctors told Van Etten that he had lost his legs, but that “he was stable now and was going to be OK.”
Like many veterans, Van Etten’s injuries and war experience took him to a dark place.
He remembers thinking he was not sure where his “new life” was going to take him.
“It’s not only a physical blow to your body, but a mental blow to your self-esteem because you are now changed and you’re not sure how the rest of the world is going to accept you.”
To help get out of his mental funk, Van Etten started working out and getting in great shape. The result was an underwear modeling job. Four years after losing his legs, he was part of Jockey’s Show ’Em What’s Underneath campaign, which focuses on sharing inspirational stories.
When Van Etten was working out, he also found the love of his life, or should we say she found him.
Van Etten says Samantha Yovandich saw him at a gym doing pull-ups with his prosthetics on, then she told a friend “that’s going to be my boyfriend someday.”
Soon Samantha and Chris were dating, about a year later they were engaged and Saturday April 1st they will be married.
The great thing for Samantha and Chris is they won’t have to pay for their wedding, neither will any of their family members. The entire cost of the wedding… flowers, music, food, cake, chairs, everything has been covered by Al and Cathie Ransom.
Al is a retired Marine Colonel, together with Cathie they own Paradise Falls and Los Willows wedding and event venues, each year the Ransom’s gift one couple with military ties an all-expense paid wedding at one of their venues. Their program is called “Vows for Vets” and this year’s recipients are Chris and Samantha.
Al Ransom says “There’s nothing that makes us more proud than being able to do such a thing because we receive more than we give.”
Various vendors also donate to the wedding, the estimated cost of this wedding will be $50,000.
When asked why he gifts weddings to veterans, Ransom says “For my 30 years in the Marines my war was Vietnam and we weren’t received well when we came home, so I didn’t want that to happen to those I see now. My wife and I are in a position to do something about it, so for the past 6 years now we’ve done one or more weddings for a wounded warrior.”
Van Etten was originally planning a small wedding in a friend’s backyard, this Saturday he’ll have a dream wedding for free.
“I don’t think that just because you get injured that someone should take care of your wedding for you, but it’s humbling to think that there are people out there that do think that.”
At their facilities, Al and Cathie Ransom put on about 100 weddings a year, but these wounded warrior gifted weddings are the only ones the Ransoms personally attend, that makes Al emotional.
“It’s not just Chris and Samantha, every one we’ve had in the past, I love them all,” said Ransom holding back tears.