On a recent night, Bobby Henline and two other wounded vets dined at the famed San Antonio pizza joint Big Lou's, home of the 42-inch pizza. To exit the restaurant, Henline had to walk out a narrow hallway where dozens of people stood waiting to get in.
From experience, he knew what was coming next: furtive glances. Outright stares. Whispers.
What's wrong with that guy? What's wrong with his face?
So Henline, who lived through a roadside bomb that burned more than a third of his body and now is thriving after nearly four dozen surgeries, employed his normal survival technique.
“Whoa!” he yelled to the crowd staring at him. “Watch out in there. That pizza is really, really hot!”
Henline is bringing his one-of-a-kind act — part stand-up comedy and part message about overcoming incredible odds — to Papillion later this month.
He will be the first featured lecturer in the Americana 2012 Speaker Series, a new, quarterly speaker's series premiering at Papillion-La Vista High School on Thursday. The event, which starts at 7 p.m. at 402 E. Centennial Road, is free and open to the public.
Don't expect Henline to skirt the issue of his burned, disfigured face. He'll joke about his appearance. He'll talk about how his favorite holiday is now Halloween, because he can scare the neighborhood kids. He'll crack wise about zombies, and maybe Freddy Krueger.
“I think it's important to get the burn out there,” he said. “Gotta point out the elephant in the room.”
Henline received burns on more than 38 percent of his body after his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2007. Henline will tell his inspirational story of survival, laced with humor.
Bill Williams, who along with his wife Evonne are organizing the speaker series, said he first saw Henline in Reader's Digest as he was waiting for his car to be repaired.
He said the ideas in the series will continue to convey the same ideas behind Patriotic Production's recent Remembering Our Fallen exhibition. The speakers series is paid for by a sponsorship from U.S. Assets LLC.
With Papillion welcoming previous exhibits, Williams said it is a great place to start, describing the community as a “very patriotic town.”
— Cody Broder and World-Herald News Service