Gary Susman
December 27, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

For the third time in the last four years, David Letterman quietly made his holiday travel plans for an exotic location; this year, it was Camp Taqaddum in Iraq. It was the third Christmas in which Letterman brought over a version of The Late Show for a surprise visit to entertain U.S. troops near the front lines. Among the Letterman regulars who came along were bandleader Paul Shaffer, stage manager Biff Henderson, and frequent guest and old-school comedian Tom Dreesen, as well as Ilana, the Late Show Grinder Girl, and Anna, the Hula Hoop Girl, and California rockers Off the Wall.

According to a report posted on the Marines’ website, Letterman first asked for volunteers to help him with his monologue, then asked, ”Isn’t that how you got here?” Besides tossing off a few Bob Hope-style one-liners (”If I wanted to face insurgents, I would have spent Christmas with my relatives.”) and inviting some of the Marines on stage for Stupid Human Tricks, Letterman offered a heartfelt tribute to the troops. ”Paul and I were in Afghanistan three years ago, and last year we were in Baghdad. We wouldn’t want it any other way,” he said. ”We’re sorry we keep having to come back. If you ever come to New York City, come see us and we’ll treat you like big shots.”

Robin Williams, who’s also made a tradition of performances for the troops during the holidays, entertained soldiers stationed across the globe during the holiday, the New York Times reports. In a U.S.O. sponsored trek that spanned six days and nearly 20,000 miles, he played in Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa, and Northern Europe.

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