Letterman's Holiday with U.S. Troops

01/03/2003 at 11:46 AM EST

Details are emerging about David Letterman's top-secret Christmas visits with American troops in Afghanistan, PEOPLE reports.

While in Kandahar on Christmas Eve, the "Late Show" host, 55, handed out 2,500 blue shirts bearing the slogan "Late Show Afghanistan -- 12/24/02-12/25/02" (in yellow stitching) to an appreciative audience in uniform.

Another 2,500 shirts were sent to the Bagram Air Base, where Letterman, who was traveling with his show regulars Biff Henderson and Paul Shaffer, was scheduled to appear on Christmas Day but didn't because the air strip was closed. Instead, Dave spent more time in Kandahar and visited troops in Oman.

As for how the funnyman spent his time, "It wasn't a big comedy monologue," says Mitch Marovitz, entertainment director for the USO. "He wasn't there to do comedy routines. It was much more serious."

On Christmas Eve, Letterman, Henderson and Shaffer stood on a makeshift wooden stage erected in the corner of a bombed-out hangar. Shaffer lead the crowd in an impromptu rendition of "Silent Night" and Letterman praised the troops for being America's best -- and told them how much he appreciated what they were doing.

Letterman then signed autographs and posed for pictures.

During the day, Letterman, dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweatshirt, toured military facilities and informally chatted with soldiers.

"We'd be driving down a street and everyone would be waving to him. I was amazed at how close the attachment was between the servicemembers and Dave," says Marovitz

"When I'd see them interact, I wonder who was getting more out of it. These hardened troops were like kids in a candy store -- they couldn't believe that Dave would give up his Christmas for them. They'd thank him, but Dave would just look at them in astonishment and say, 'Thank YOU.'"

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