Behind the Scars: Robert Henline
Someone once said that comedy is about telling the bitter truth with a sense
of good timing. "I was blessed with a good sense of humor," Robert Henline tells me.
"And I think that has helped me more than anything else."
Robert Henline is one of those rare people you meet in life that at once
makes you laugh hysterically and simultaneously reminds you to be a better
person. His use of laughter speaks volumes to the strength of one man's
survival against events that could have easily provoked bitterness. Robert
knows the physical scars left by the IED- improvised explosive device, are
visible on his body- what people don't see he tells me are the invisible
scars. "The comedy is not only healing for me, but at the same time it's
getting awareness out there."
He recounts the events of April 7, 2007 factually, detached from any
awareness as his mind cannot yet recall specifics, the details have been
given to him through military reports, second hand witnesses and medical
assessments. He does recall volunteering to take the lead vehicle to keep a
newly injured soldier from harm his first day back, he also remembers having
a cup of coffee waiting for the Captain that died later in the Humvee they
were driving when hit, but otherwise cannot recall any other sensations,
details or memories. He has been told that he suffered full thickness burns
over 38% of his body. His head was burned so deeply that his skull was
visible. He lost his eyelid, the use of his left hand which was later
amputated, and remarkably suffered no burns on his chest.
On the first and
second deployments Robert had used his down time to workout, bringing his
body into excellent physical shape. He jokes that at one point he had earned
the nickname "The Gun Show" and had serial numbers tattooed on his biceps.
"I was told that I was awake and complaining about my eyes," he chuckles
recalling the explosion that ripped through his body. "I guess I was
frustrated and confused that I couldn't see anything. I asked a lot of
questions later about what I did or said- make sure I didn't cry like a girl -
that I took it like a man. I had to live up to my nickname - The Gun Show!"
When we talk more about dreams and the future, Robert tells me about his
stand-up comedy. He admits that when one of his therapists first suggested
he use his humor as a way to help his recovery he had doubts. No one else
would get it, he thought, he could see himself being the funny guy at a
party, but having people laugh at him and the way he looks now... he just
didn't see the benefits. But not having a personality that shies from a
challenge, he tried it and loved it.
"The great thing about it is that it
brings awareness. If they see another burn survivor they'll think- hey,
there's a person in there, they have a sense of humor. They're human, they
eat food, they're not zombies... even if they look like one!"
Robert believes that there are barriers to understanding, compassion and
even inspiration that can be broken through with the telling of his story.
He knows that he's just being himself, going out and telling his story,
joking around - but if one person takes something from his story and finds
the inspiration to overcome their own obstacles, then what happened to him
was for a good reason.
He has found that through laughter we can all unite
in a common understanding that survival is in all of us. "Doors have been
opened for me because of what's happened to me," he admits. "I see it as a
blessing. I use the strength of the guys who were in that Humvee with me who
didn't make it to be stronger, to make a difference. If one person uses my
story to change their life for the better, then it's been worth it."
More of Bobby's story and many other wounded veterans' stories will appear in a traveling gallery to raise funds for a book detailing the stories behind the scars. The stories will also be send to the Library of Congress for preservation.