With his self-deprecating humor and ski slope profile, legendary entertainer, actor, comedian and philanthropist Bob Hope bought joy and laughter to troops stationed around the world. Hope performed his first USO Show at California’s March Field, on May 6, 1941 and for the next 63 years, with his caravan of stars, Hope entertained millions of troops and their families.
Throughout his long and extensive career Bob Hope came to represent home for many if not all of the troops, and for an hour or so, American service personnel were visited by an old friend and comrade. His signature shows included comedians, singers, actors and actresses, and led the way for celebrities of every kind to commit to giving their time and talent to lift the spirit of American military personnel.
In October 1997, in honor of Bob Hope and his extensive humanitarian work, the members of both houses unanimously passed Resolution 75 making Bob Hope an Honorary Veteran. Hope was the first and to date the only individual so honored in the history of the United States.
“Today I signed into law H.J. Res. 75, which confers upon Bob Hope the status of honorary veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces and extends to him the gratitude of the American people for his lifetime of accomplishments and service on behalf of our men and women in uniform.
Bob Hope is a great American whose life has defined patriotism and service. In times of war and peace, good times and bad, he entertained our troops and brought to them a familiar and comforting sense of home while they defended our nation’s interests around the world. Bob Hope richly deserves this unique honor and I am proud to be able to sign this measure into law.” 1
Hope continued to travel and entertain troops for the remainder of World War II, and later during the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War. While overseas he almost always performed in Army fatigues as a show of support for his audience. Hope’s USO career lasted a half-century, during which he headlined approximately 60 tours. For his service to his country through the USO, he was awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1968.
At the height of the Vietnam War Hope traveled to that war-torn country in 1970 and 1971 respectively to film Christmas specials for NBC in front of military audiences. These Christmas specials are on the list of the Top 30 U.S. Network Primetime Telecasts of All Time. Both were seen by more than 60 percent of the U.S. households watching television.
On his wartime USO tours Hope had only one ironclad rule that he insisted his fellow performers follow: under no circumstances were they allowed to cry when visiting wounded Soldiers in military hospitals. This was often difficult given the amount of suffering they saw, but he told his performers that it was their duty to always smile and provide laughs and good cheer for the troops. According to Hope, he broke his own rule only once. While visiting an Army hospital in Italy in 1943, he stopped at the bedside of a wounded Soldier who had been in a coma for two months. The Soldier suddenly opened his eyes and said, “Hey, Bob Hope! When did you get here?” Hope had to leave the hospital room to keep the troops from seeing his tears, but he returned a few hours later to present the Soldier with his Purple Heart medal.2
Before penning his famous novels “The Grapes of Wrath” and “East of Eden,” John Steinbeck was working as a war correspondent. In 1943, he wrote the following in regards to the work that Bob Hope was doing on behalf of the USO and the troops overseas:
“When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard, and can be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people.”3
Bob Hope USO Facts
- Bob Hope appeared in or hosted 199 documented USO shows.
- In 2009, Stephen Colbert carried a golf club on stage each night during his own week-long USO performance and taping of The Colbert Report and explained in his last episode that it was homage to Hope. During WWII, Hope recalls his plane being shot at when he was on his way to perform for the troops, and his response to this threat was, “I have critics everywhere.”
- His first Christmas USO tour was in 1948 performing for the troops who participated in the Berlin Airlift. He continued making Christmas tours overseas from the late 40s thru the early 70s and trips to Military and Veterans hospitals stateside in the 70s and 80s.
- Bob made his first USO Tour in 1942 to Alaska and the Aleutians, and his first combat tour was in 1943, while visiting U.S. forces in North Africa, Italy and Sicily.
- William J. Clinton: “Statement on Signing Legislation Conferring Honorary Veteran Status on Bob Hope,” October 30, 1997. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=53476
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