Army Veteran’s passion for comedy became his remedy


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Michael Le Buhn has learned to laugh at his injury. It’s not because he finds it funny, but so he can continue to embrace it.

Le Buhn was on a deployment to Iraq in 2007. His base was attacked nightly and the troops there ran into trouble on nearly every patrol. “Being there means you are always in danger,” he said.

He’s the only one of his friends that joined the military. Ask them, and they’ll say he did amazing things. To Le Buhn, it was ordinary. His job was finance. He was hardly the tip of the spear, but he was there doing his part of the mission.

One day, a local national working on base had drawn a map of the compound and passed it on to the enemy. That night, the base took heavier, more directed fire – hitting the chapel, the gym, the transportation office, and then the living quarters.

He was alone in his room enjoying a new couch he acquired when the rounds began raining down. The blast knocked him back and damaged his inner ear. He couldn’t get it to stop bleeding.

“It happens all at once,” Le Buhn said. “It stretches, as if every second is a life time, but in an instant, it’s over.”

When he saw medical the next day, they talked to him about the damage that had been done and how to care for it.Ultimately, suffered a concussion and a ruptured inner ear.

“I didn’t even think to myself that I had been wounded in war. I didn’t feel that way. There were guys that took shrapnel that night. There were guys who were severely wounded. One of my friends lost his life that night. I did not feel at all that I was even in their category.”

He didn’t believe he deserved to be in the same group as other Purple Heart recipients. The military disagreed and a few months later he received the orders for a Purple Heart. “I thought it was erroneous,” he said. “I didn’t even tell my family at first, I thought for sure someone had made a mistake.”

When he first received the award, he argued it. “I thought that it was wrong that I was receiving this. There was some mistake about me earning the same award as someone who lost both of their legs. That’s how I felt in my heart at the time.” He doesn’t like to be considered a hero. “I served with heroes. I can name them. Not me. That wasn’t me.”

He even went to his command trying to reverse the orders. That’s when a colleague explained the significance his awards truly held: regardless of how they felt about their awards, they wore them for those that could no longer. The uniform they wore, the awards they displayed, and the pride they expressed was not theirs to question, but it was their responsibility to their fallen friends. “This is bigger than me. This isn’t just about me and my particular experiences, but it is about something bigger.”

So, Le Buhn embraced his fellow soldier’s advice and embraced the symbolism his medal held. When he left the military, he still had to address the affects that the damaging night in Iraq had on him.

“I’ve been diagnosed with severe PTSD; I’m rated through the VA,” he said. “It’s a hard life. I’m not trying to get any sympathy; it makes things a lot harder than they should be.”

Le Buhn now uses VA for primary health care and mental health care and has been since getting out of the military in 2013. The most significant services he’s received are marriage counseling and treatment for PTSD. It’s at Kankakee CBOC that he’s worked on getting a handle on all of his PTSD symptoms. Therapy started once a week, then every other week, and then once a month.

VA has helped Le Buhn handle his PTSD, but it’s his passion for comedy that has helped him cope with it.

“Comedy has given me this way of looking at my life through a particular lens where I’m looking for the punch line. Instead of feeling down in the dumps and low on myself, how do I tell this to a crowd of people and make them laugh? Without that in my life I don’t know where I’d be now.”

Le Buhn just funded, performed and recorded his first hour-long performance.

The end of his performance is his telling of the story that led to his Purple Heart. While his retelling of the story is skewed and is not historically accurate for entertainment purposes, the stage is still the same, a blast goes off, and he’s wounded. However, Le Buhn uses the fictional retelling to express the truth of how he felt about receiving the award.

It gives him a certain sense of satisfaction as well as a sense of peace doing something productive with his experiences by bring joy to people. He’s now able to balance how he feels in the heart: that he is in the company of heroes, but doesn’t feel like one.

“As a comedian, this is what I really want my life to be about. I want to say something meaningful in an unforgettable way. That is my goal every time I take the stage.”

Author

Timothy Lawson

Timothy Lawson has been a member of VA’s Digital Media Engagement team since April 2016 and is the host of VA’s official podcast, Borne the Battle. He graduated from American University’s School of Communications in 2016 with a degree in Broadcast Journalism. Tim is a Marine Corps Veteran having served as a Marine Security Guard posted at embassies in Algeria, Russia, and Peru.

Comments

  1. Rosemary Morales-Vargas, USMC    

    “…a colleague explained the significance his awards truly held: regardless of how they felt about their awards, they wore them for those that could no longer. The uniform they wore, the awards they displayed, and the pride they expressed was not theirs to question, but it was their responsibility to their fallen friends.” That’s the part that gets me.

    I get bad headaches from the incoming missiles in Saudi in 1990. I have a hard time coping with many people and situations because I am always so angry from the pain. I agree that you, [my fellow warriors] people like you wear it for those who cannot.

    Thank you.

  2. aj seaman    

    I really need help, & don’t know where to turn. After 70 years, Mom needs Pop’s discharge papers (Army, 1945). His name was: CARL OLIVER ANDERSON, born Ludlow, Pa. 6/3/19. Sure would appreciate hearing from someone. My email is:
    seamanalan@ice.co.cr

    1. Gary Hicks    

      I sent you an email to the address provided.

      There are detailed directions to request these records online, by U.S. Mail or by fax at http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/.

      If there is an urgent need for memorial benefits, I would contact your nearest National Cemetery. They may be able to assist in expediting the records request. If you need further assistance, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  3. Edward Ferris    

    I retired from the Air Force in Jan. 1990. I used the local Navy base hospital for me and my family until the idiots in DC closed it. After that I picked up my work heath insurance for many rears until I finally started using Tri-care. My brother used to tell me to go to the VA but I always felt I especially taking space another vet needed ore than I did. He always said I served and we injured (non combat) so I wS entitled. It turns out that i was exposed to Argentina Orange on my two tours in Thailand and suffer from the effects of that poison. I was never told. I found out by word of mouth from vets groups. If you were a K-9 handler in Thailand you were exposed. Go to the VA and get checked. It affects vets who have diabetes and heart problems. I am now being treated for these problems but it should’ve started many years ago. I know the VA is overwhelmed but that is no excuse to not tell a vet he may have been exposed to something like Agent Orange. I am now receiving compensation for my injuries but would prefer to have never needed to.

  4. David Rowland    

    God gave us two relief mechanisms. Crying and laughter. Crying to release the pain in your heart and laughter to make you feel better. I never bought into the fact that boys/men do not cry. And anybody that tells their sons that is doing them great harm. I am a man and I have used both my whole life. Even when I am grieving a loss of someone dear to me, I first cry to relieve the pain in my heart and then I find something in their life to laugh about. It is amazing how you feel afterwards. You see, I believe if you can laugh at the situation you are in, that means you have accepted it. And that allows you to go forward. When I was diagnosed with cancer and it didn’t look good. I found ways to make light of it and made the people around me laugh. Instead of sitting there and drowning in sorrow. It shocked a few people, but what they didn’t understand is, laughter was my crutch to help me go forward and not give up. So far I have beaten the cancer and I believe that my mindset had a lot to do with it. Writing this I can only hope it will help someone else.

  5. John Bolthouse    

    You’re not living in the problem, you’re living in the solution. Right on.

  6. Dewitt Dennis Glenn, Jr.    

    My job in the Airforce was AFSC-60350 Crash recovery the duty was not in combat of Viet Nam but on the dessert of Arizona every fighter that crashed between 1966 -1968 I had to pickup the wreck and body parts I accompanied the flight surgeon in the morgue to help Id the pilots I shuttled to their F4-C I knew both men 1967 ICBM went off line crash equipment to within five miles of the silo the number of war heads on the bird would have left another crater in Arizona was nothing I could do. My brother Lcpl recon was contaminated with agnt orange and the others in 1970-1971 went to the VA hospital they removed brain matter he suffered ten years until his death. I seek compensation for his sufferings also.

  7. Bill    

    “It’s a hard life. I’m not trying to get any sympathy; it makes things a lot harder than they should be.”

  8. Bill    

    Thank you so much for this great story. Inspiring. Like he says. I keep quiet about my service. Especially in the office. It makes it all the more difficult to adapt to being a civilian. People don’t even know. It’s how I like it. Great story. Thanks for your service.

  9. Wayne A. Carlson    

    We loved Bob Hope! Enough said!

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