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Humor and War: How Laughter Helps Troops Survive

Humor and laughter may be the last things that come to mind when you think of war. But some veterans say joking around, even during the most intense, dangerous situations, helped them survive.

Taking the stage in a YouTube video shared on his website is Bobby Henline. The Army veteran is not like most stand-up comedians.

Henline was the sole survivor of roadside bomb explosion that killed four men in Iraq in 2007. Nearly 40 percent of his body was burned and his left hand was amputated.

"I gotta tell you, man," Henline jokes in the video, "That last tour was a real blast."

Henline's condition forced him to endure years of surgery and therapy. It also became the foundation of his often brutally self-deprecating stand-up act.

Nathaniel Johnson, an Army veteran in Pace, also served in Iraq. He saw combat as an infantryman in Baghdad and says humor helped him survive.

"It's your escape," Johnson said, "You know, even if it's for that little bit of time that you're sitting around, joking around."

Johnson remembers feeling like the next corner he walked around could be his last. But he can just as easily recall funny stories.

"They're too vulgar for me to tell, most of 'em," Johnson admitted.

He says sometimes they took place in potentially dangerous situations.

"We were getting ready for a raid and our first sergeant had told us what equipment we needed to have with us," Johnson said, "But nowhere in there did he mention we had to have pants...So this guy comes down from Fort Mason to get ready to go out, you know to load up on the trucks and everything with just the equipment on and the first sergeant sees him and flips out and says, 'What are you doin'!?' and he says, 'Well, first sergeant, you didn't say we had to wear pants.'"

Humor in the military is nothing new, as Air Force veteran Henry Griffitts told us while playing cards at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Milton.

Think your job is tough? During the Vietnam War, Griffitts was part of a team responsible for finding and diffusing bombs. As intense as it was, Griffitts says he and his fellow troops would laugh often.

"You would have a bomb scare on the base where your adrenaline's running like mad," Griffitts said, "And by joking around and stuff like that, you'd go do your job and come back and you're still joking at the end of it. You know like, 'Hey, we got that dude done' or, 'That guy goofed up and didn't do this right or something, you know."