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America Supports You: Star-Struck Marines Meet, Greet Celebrities

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

NEW YORK, Nov. 8, 2007 – Bristling with childlike excitement, 6-foot-4-inch Marine Sgt. James Bane escorted his comedy hero Lewis Black down the red carpet leading to the Town Hall Theater here last night.

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Marine Sgt. James Bane, Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Hurst, comedian Robin Williams and Marine Lance Cpl. James Scott MacKenzie pose for photos Nov. 7, 2007, before "Stand Up for Heroes," a comedy and music event in New York City arranged by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for servicemembers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by John J. Kruzel

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Bane and Black were in town for "Stand Up for Heroes," a comedy and music benefit organized by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for injured servicemembers.

When Black was corralled by television cameras and reporters requesting interviews, Bane could no longer contain his giddiness.

“Lewis Black is one of my favorite comedians, and the fact that he introduced me to Robin Williams, who’s one of my other favorite comedians, is amazing,” he told American Forces Press Service.

“Seriously, in Iraq the DVDs I had were one of Lewis Black’s and one of Robin Williams on Broadway,” he said.

“We listened to that … constantly in Iraq,” interjected Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Hurst. Hurst was turret gunner in the unit Bane led in Anbar province.

In a slight Tennessee drawl, Bane continued, “Comedy really lightens the mood. It keeps our mind off what we’re doing when we have down time.

“They didn’t even know it,” he said, motioning to his comedy idols Black and Williams standing just feet away, “but we had their support when we were in Iraq listening to their comedy.

“And now we’re all here, and while we were there they didn’t know us from Adam,” he said. “It’s amazing how humanity works sometimes. It’s a give and take.”

Bane avoided injury during his two deployments to Iraq’s Anbar province, but has since developed a degenerative muscle condition that doctors say might have been caused by exposure to stressful conditions in theater.

As Bane explained how comedy made an often-trying situation in Iraq bearable, Black, finished with interviews with the gaggle of television reporters, rejoined the giant Marine.

Feeling emboldened, Bane addressed the comedians directly.

“You don’t know this,” he told Black and Williams, “but you guys supported us in Iraq a lot of times with your comedy. I had yours and Robin’s DVDs that my mom sent me.”

“That you would support us in Iraq and then again here is really amazing,” he added.

“It’s my pleasure,” Black said. “What’s funny is that I sent 12,000 of my own books to the (United Service Organizations) to distribute. … So, yes, I bought my own books to send them to the guys in Iraq.

“Then they told me somebody has to read the book first to see if it’s OK before they send it to the guys who are fighting!” Black said with a tone of indignant apoplexy, channeling his comedic persona to Bane’s and Hurst’s delight.

“What could my book possibly do to you guys?” he said as Bane and Hurst burst into laughter. “You’re in a war zone!”

Bane seemed wistfully regretful at not receiving a copy of Black’s book while deployed.

“The (Marine Corps) commandant is a great guy, but the reading list we’ve developed through a bunch of different commandants is all about war,” he told Black. “I think we could use a couple comic-relief books. I’m reading War and Peace right now.”

“Oh that’s upbeat!” Black intoned as the Marines laughed.

Black, who grew up outside Washington, D.C., said he visited Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the nation’s capital three months ago. When speaking about visiting wounded servicemembers, the spirited comic’s tone turned sobering, and he referred to the recent experience as devastating.

“All of a sudden, you see what’s happening to them, and it tears you up,” he said.

Minor inconveniences of civilian life become petty when compared to troops enduring life-shattering injuries, the comedian said.

“You know how you’re driving around Washington, D.C., during rush hour screaming, ‘My life sucks!’” Black said to American Force Press Service. “That’s what we do, while these guys have so much courage and guts.”

Before Black parted ways with the Marines to prepare for his performance, Bane told him, “Listening to your comedy during our down time kept us in a mindset that there is a world outside of Iraq.”

As the Marine, who towers over Black, shook the comedian’s hand, Hurst’s eyes became fixed on a figure moving across the red carpet in his direction.

“Hiya, boys,” said James Gandolfini, slapping Hurst on the arm. Hurst clearly was mesmerized as Gandolfini, who played the mafia-don protagonist in the HBO series “The Sopranos,” sauntered past.

“Oh wow!” Hurst said, apparently having contracted Bane’s giddiness. “That’s Tony Soprano! I was just watching him on DVD this morning!”

America Supports You is a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMarine Staff Sgts. Charles Owens (left) and Victor Ney pose in front of Town Hall Theater in New York City with comedian Lewis Black after "Stand Up for Heroes," a Nov. 7, 2007, comedy and music event arranged by the Bob Woodruff Family Fund to raise money for servicemembers injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Photo by John J. Kruzel  
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