Wounded Warrior Comic Mines Hilarity from Horror
This is another synopsis from Bob Dotson’s “American Story”. Bob Dotson is an award winning producer of the Today Show. American Story is a collection of some of the strories Bob has covered that he felt deserved more time.
Former Army Staff Sgt. Bobby Henline often tells people that his last tour to Iraq “was a blast.” It is meant to be a joke. Bobby chooses laughter over tears following a near-death experience on the battlefield.
Henline was serving with the 82nd Airborne on his third tour, after the attacks of Sept. 11. He was in a convoy, in an armored car, and remembers drinking coffee and mumbling a prayer.
An Iraqi, who was watching the convoy pass, detonated three or four artillery shells buried under the road. The explosion blasted a hole five feet wide and two feet deep. Everyone in Henline’s vehicle was killed, and he barely escaped with his life.
His entire body was on fire. Another soldier used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames, but the damage was done. More than a third of his body was burned. His skull was burned to the bone. Doctors put in him a medically induced coma for two weeks to give his body time to heal. It took 45 surgeries to rebuild his face.
Henline’s wife and three children thought he was dead. He was not, but the children could not come near him for six weeks- the doctors feared a simple cold could infect his exposed skull, and kill him. He was in fear of what his family would think of him when they finally did see him, disfigured and maimed. His daughter Brittany, 15, only saw her father. “You can look in his eyes and tell – that’s your dad,” she said. “He might look a little different, but he jokes about it, so we’re ok with it. It means so much to me that my dad can still laugh.”
As Henline healed, he turned his tragedy into comedy. In many ways, he’s an inspiration for other veterans who spend their days enduring whispers and stares because of their disfiguring war injuries.
Henline first began performing at small comedy clubs near Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The crowd howls and hoots at his jokes. “You know about skin grafts? I’m a patchwork quilt. Doctors took good skin from my stomach to replace the burnt skin on my head. Now I have to pick lint out of my ear.” The crowd laughs. “They put my stomach on top of my head!” Booby shouts. “I eat too much, I get a headache!”
Now Henline performs at larger venues, such as Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club, where he receives a standing ovation. The audience lines up afterward to meet him. It has been four years since he was blown up in Iraq. Henline is serious for just a moment. He made it. He is where he believes he is supposed to be.
“This is who I am, I earned these scars,” he said. “They’re like tattoos with better stories.”
Debbie Gregory, CEO of Military Connection had the pleasure of meeting Bobby Henline and spending a little time with him. Debbie works with many group including Tempered Steel and Rebuilding America’s Warriors. Debbie arranged for Bobby to speak at the Reagan Presidential Library on Veteran Day when they showcased a photo exhibit of the Tempered Steel Wounded Warriors by renowned photographer, Micaela Bensko.