From 1964 to 1972, Hope included South Vietnam on his annual trips to visit troops during the holiday season, a tradition that started for him during World War II. “Back in 1941, at March Field, California…I still remember fondly that first soldier audience,” Hope once said. “I looked at them, they laughed at me, and it was love at first sight.”
When the United States entered World War II, the United Service Organization (USO) started sending Hollywood and radio entertainers to perform for military audiences at bases in North Africa, Europe and the South Pacific. Bob Hope traveled more than a million miles during World War II, visiting the troops six times. In 1948, Hope and his entertainers followed US troops who were helping with the Berlin airlift. In the early 1950s, Hope traveled to Korea after North Korean troops invaded South Korea, and throughout that decade, he appeared at military bases in Japan.
The televised holiday specials from these USO trips began during the Vietnam War. The Vietnam tours were highly dangerous and security was tight. In Saigon, after a hotel near where Hope and the entertainers were staying was blown up, Hope joked, “I want to thank General Westmoreland for that wonderful welcome yesterday. We opened with a bang!”
Actresses and singers including Connie Stevens, Ann-Margret, Jill St. John, and Raquel Welch, and comedians like Phyllis Diller and Redd Foxx braved the dangers to entertain the troops. Hope usually appeared swinging a golf club, displaying a relaxed attitude with a prop that worked well with jokes like, “Great golfing country…even the runway has 18 holes.”
An article on the USO’s website calls Hope “the one-man morale machine.” The author spoke with veterans as well as some of the stars who appeared with Hope, including Brooke Shields, who did 27 shows with Hope starting in the early 1980s. Shields commented of Hope and the servicemen and women he entertained, “He gave them respect and provided them with joy.”
From his first show at March Field in Riverside, California, in 1941, to his final USO tour in 1990 to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield, when the comedian was in his late 80s, Bob Hope was dedicated to the troops. According to the USO, humanity, caring, commitment, and support of the troops was the mission of the USO, and it was the mission of the Bob Hope USO shows too.
Visiting the troops during the holiday season was crucial to him, even though it took him away from his own family. Linda Hope explained, “I remember saying, ‘Why does Dad always have to be away? All these other families have their dads home for Christmas.’” But then her mother, Bob Hope’s wife Dolores Hope, always put it in perspective for her. “She said, ‘No, not all have them are home for Christmas. Think of boys and girls who don’t have their dads for years and years because they are serving overseas. Remember the boys and girls whose fathers may never come back.’”
During this year’s Holiday on the Cape, the Cape Symphony will remember the troops serving overseas and their families here at home, and give a warm and festive tribute to Bob Hope’s Christmas shows that entertained the troops far away and gave comfort to those waiting for them. Above you’ll see a picture of Bill Johnson, who will appear as Bob Hope, along with singer John Stevens as Bing Crosby and Cape vocalists Jessica Curran, Jenn Dashnaw and Anna McEntee as the Andrews Sisters. We’re also holding a Holiday Toy Drive in partnership with the Cape Cod Military Support Foundation – we hope you will help us to make the holidays brighter for our local military families.