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Video: Wounded warrior now laughs off pain

Courtesy of Ian Wenger
Bobby Henline serves as an inspiration for many, including the journalists who've reported on his story. From left to right, Randy Foster, Ian Wenger, Bobby Henline, Bob Dotson and Jerry Hattan.
By NBC producer
TODAY
updated 5/30/2011 8:17:09 AM ET 2011-05-30T12:17:09
Producer's notebook

After 16 years of being a producer for NBC, sometimes you think you’ve seen it all.

But every once in a while we run into stories that remind us — if we do our job right — just how much we can learn and grow from each person we meet and each story we do.

That’s what happened when I met Bobby Henline.

Bobby Henline was a soldier. It was what he did. It was who he was. Ten years after serving in Desert Storm, the tragedy of 9/11 motivated him to re-up. He felt compelled to serve, to help the men fighting for this country and to honor who we are as a people.

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But his patriotism nearly cost him his life.

Three weeks into his fourth tour in Iraq, his Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb. He was the only one out of five to survive and the doctors called him “a miracle.” But it was bad —Bobby had the type of injuries that would make some men wish they hadn’t survived.

Story: Wounded warrior comic mines hilarity from horror

He was burned over 38 percent of his body — in some places, including his skull — down to the bone. He had no ears, no eyelids and was missing teeth. He was mangled.

His family heard about the tragic incident the day before Easter 2007. Bobby’s wife Connie was whisked off to see Bobby. Their three kids, Brittany, 15, Skylar, 9, and McKenzie, 8, were left with relatives. All of them were in shock.

Bobby was in an induced coma for nearly three weeks and his children weren’t allowed to see him for 49 days. It was finally determined that he would survive, but then there was the battle of recovery.

Connie had to tend to Bobby nearly six hours every day before they headed off to the doctor. He had to stay clean, as any infection could kill him. He went through two years of therapy on a hand that wouldn’t work. Finally, it was amputated.

Their 15-year-old, Brittany, had to handle the house and Skylar and McKenzie had to grow up on their own.

As for Bobby, it was his body that was broken, not his spirit. So with the support of his family and the bind of a pinky swear, he decided to try his luck at comedy.

That’s where I come in. I met Bobby four years to the day after he was blown up. He was making his Las Vegas comedy debut at Brad Garrett’s comedy club. I was there to interview him on his “liveday.”

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I’d seen some of his performances on DVD and YouTube, so I knew what he looked like. But I was still unprepared for what I saw.

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Bobby was ugly. He was hard to look at, and I was uncomfortable. And therein lies his beauty.

Bobby knows what he looks like and is willing to endure what some might think or feel initially because he knows he’s part of something bigger.

“If I can do this, I can break that barrier down for burn survivors,” he said. “A lot of them don’t like to go out and show their scars. I’m proud. This is who I am. I earned these scars. They’re like tattoos with better stories.”

Video: Wounded soldier's 'dream coming true'

And that was my first lesson. Five minutes into the interview, I no longer saw Bobby’s scars — I began to see him. And his spirit was inspiring. It reminded me how each person offers something special, something unique, something worth taking the time to learn about. That interview was when the story about Bobby Henline became less about a tragedy and more about a rebirth.

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Lesson number two was about love. Everyone knows the phrase “for better or for worse.” If you are married, you know the phrase better than most. Well, Bobby’s situation was “for worse.”

We asked Bobby’s wife Connie what she thought when she first saw Bobby after the accident. She responded, “… fortunately you could see his eyes. So to me, he looked exactly the same.”

In that instant I learned a little about love — true love, the kind of love that sees through to the spirit, the soul and the being. It was beautiful to see the embodiment of it play out right in front of me.

It’s little moments like those that make this job special and memorable.

It’s now been four years and change since Bobby’s accident, and instead of dwelling on what happened, Bobby has turned it into an opportunity — a gift. He now goes around doing his comedy, cheering up injured troops and doing motivational speaking for organizations like Tempered Steel and Iraq Star.

His philosophy? “If I can inspire others ... it is a great way to get back at the guys who did this to me. It's a great way to get revenge because if I can inspire others, I can help more people than those guys can ever hurt, than they can ever kill. I can continue this the rest of my life, helping others.”

Amen, Bobby.

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