Easing the Hidden Wounds of War: 'Stand Up for Heroes' Hosts Comedy Night for Veterans

PHOTO: courtesy Andrew Kinard
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It's funny where life leads you, how one moment can change the rest that follow.

Almost five years ago, Marine 2nd Lt. Andrew Kinard, the smart, strapping son of a surgeon, and a Naval Academy graduate, was six weeks into his deployment in Iraq when he took one fateful step and woke up a month later in a Maryland hospital.

His first thoughts: "Where's my rifle? Why is my dad in Iraq?"

It was then that he realized half of his body was gone.

"When the bomb exploded, it threw me through the air," he said. "I've been told 30 feet or so up to the sky, and I just fell into a crumple and my men thought I was dead."

But cutting-edge battlefield medicine used in Iraq and Afghanistan today has saved troops who would have died in any previous war.

Now soldiers actually put on tourniquets before entering battle, the kind of grim self-awareness that makes them harder to kill than any warriors in history. So instead of families learning to live without a son, there are unprecedented numbers of men learning to live without legs or arms.

Kinard underwent 75 surgeries, which changed his body but didn't remove his pride or determination. He has hand-pedaled two Boston marathons and is working on two post-graduate degrees at Harvard.

"I'm sitting in front of an elevator having pushed the button. We're waiting to go up and someone comes up to me and explained how elevator works," he said. "I get helped all the time, but I don't need the help. I'm a Marine officer. I help other people. I don't need help."

Kinard flew to New York City to attend last night's Stand Up for Heroes red carpet event, hosted by the Bob Woodruff Foundation, for some comedic therapy -- something he believes in since that moment in the hospital when a fellow amputee made him laugh for the first time since the blast.

"He came into my room and spoke with me and told a joke and laughed at himself, and I laughed with him and knew that I was going to be fine," Kinard said. "There was healing going on right there through laughter and through encouragement sort of healing through comedy for a lot of guys who will be here tonight."

Since enduring devastating head trauma caused by a roadside bomb in Iraq, my colleague, ABC's Bob Woodruff, has a special understanding of the obvious and hidden wounds of war. His foundation hosted the star-studded event, which included "Daily Show's" Jon Stewart and Bruce Springsteen, to kick off the New York Comedy Festival and bring a night of laughter to veterans.

Backstage at the event, some of Kinard's fellow heroes received the kind of pampering they never imagined back at boot camp, including hair and make-up sessions. One of the veterans was Air Force Capt. Teresse Frentz, who won the Purple Heart after a suicide bomb burned 30 percent of her upper body and ripped off one of her ears.

"I still can't hear well at all," she said.

Makeovers were also given to the veterans' caregivers, a vital need realized by Lee Woodruff in the grueling days of nursing her husband, Bob, back to health.

"It was a woman pushing a wheelchair with a Vietnam veteran husband who said to me, at an event, 'the guys get to go on vacation here, but we don't. We're still pushing the wheelchairs and we're still getting them around,'" Lee Woodruff said. "I realized, do you know what we have an opportunity to do, is make part of this weekend, just make them feel like queens for a day."

It was one of those nights that hits the extreme emotional poles – joy in the comedy and that they all made it home.

"I'm happy to be here tonight for a number of reasons. One is that I'm alive," Kinard told the crowd onstage.

But then lumps formed in throats as he remembered a Marine in his unit who had taken his own life last month.

"For some of us, the deployment never ends," he said. "We come back home. We suffer not just from injuries in our bones and muscle. We suffer injuries of the mind, and that's a powerful thing."

Kinard's message is not a call for pity but a reminder that "support the troops" is not a slogan, it's an action. In the first four years, these events have raised $11 million to help wounded warriors get their lives back.

And for the grand finale, the Boss played four songs. A regular participant at this event, it is customary for Bruce Springsteen to auction off his guitar, and the money goes to the Woodruff Foundation. Last night, the guitar sold for $160,000, and the bidder gave the guitar to Kinard.

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