"Believe me when I say that laughter up at the front lines is a very precious thing — precious to those grand guys who are giving and taking the awful business that goes on there. There's a lump the size of Grant's Tomb in your throat when they come up to you and shake your hand and mumble 'Thanks.' Imagine those guys thanking me! Look what they're doin' for me. And for you." - Bob Hope Share on
Actor. Singer. Dancer. Comedian. USO icon. Bob Hope was many things, but to the USO and to the service members of the United States, he was the “one-man-morale machine.”
Bob Hope dedicated much of his nearly 80-year career to entertaining American troops, both at home and abroad. Undeterred by enemy fire or rough seas, Hope went straight to the front lines, delivering laughter, music and – above all else – a reminder of home to our men and women in uniform, just when they needed it most.
Hope’s work with the USO in support of the U.S. military paved the way for the many other entertainers who have followed in his footsteps and continue to lift the spirits of our military community today. Hope’s legacy lives on at the USO not only in the entertainment of the troops, but also in his unshakeable belief in – and dedication to – expressing gratitude to America’s service members for the sacrifices they make every day on behalf of this country.
Bob Hope’s Career Was Dedicated to Supporting the Troops
Already an established comedian and actor by the onset of World War II, Bob Hope performed and broadcast his first USO show on the radio for service members on May 6, 1941, at an Army Air Corps (now known as the U.S. Air Force) Base at March Field in Riverside, California. From that first show, Hope would go on to entertain the troops for nearly 50 years, through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Lebanon Civil War, the Iran-Iraq War and the Persian Gulf War.
Hope was one of the first major stars to join the USO in entertaining the troops during World War II, but he soon became the organization’s most iconic USO tour veteran. Just nine months after the United States entered World War II, Bob Hope embarked on the first-ever USO tour by traveling to Alaska to entertain members of the Armed Forces. Soon after, he began traveling overseas to visit troops in the European and Pacific Theatres.
Regardless of where he was going or how high the risks were, Hope was committed to supporting our nation’s military. He often insisted on traveling straight to the front lines, even occasionally placing himself in harm’s way, in order to put on a variety show of comedy, singing and dancing.
His shows grew from a small comedy act to an ensemble of celebrity-studded, televised programs. Special guests on his shows included the likes of Ann-Margret, Redd Foxx, Brooke Shields, Lola Falana and more.
One of Bob Hope’s most significant Christmas performances took place in Berlin in December 1948, in which Hope and his USO troupe performed for troops supporting the Berlin Airlift. It was this USO trip that inspired Hope to begin his tradition of entertaining the military community during the holiday season. However, it was Hope and the USO’s “Bob Hope Christmas Shows” during the Vietnam War that truly solidified this tradition of holiday entertainment.
During these iconic USO Christmas shows in which Hope would leave his own loved ones behind to be with the troops, service members deployed to far-off and unfamiliar places were able to enjoy a few hours of fun away from the battlefield. Meanwhile, their loved ones back home watched every second on the television screen, hoping for the chance to see their deployed service member’s face cross in front of the camera.
Hope’s last USO tour was in 1990, when he visited service members deployed to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield. Although comedy and the U.S. military had changed a great deal since that first show in 1941, Hope was still delighted to do what he did best: bring laughter to service members just when they needed it most.
The Importance of Bob Hope’s USO Shows
Whether he was balancing on a plank propped up between two trucks or dancing across a massive stage built just for him, and whether he was talking to a crowd of thousands or just a few men working a late shift, Hope brought the same level of energy to each and every performance.
His commitment to the troops was evident not only in how many years he performed USO shows, but also in how determined he was to bring a smile to a soldier’s face and how enthusiastic he was about performing for military audiences.
U.S. troops came to rely on Bob Hope USO shows. They were a reminder of home and a reminder that even as they served miles away, the folks back home in the U.S. still remembered them. It was, essentially, a reminder of what they were fighting for.
For service members on the front lines who were dealing with the daily stresses and dangers of being in a war zone, Hope’s USO shows provided a brief moment of levity in otherwise dark and challenging times.
What is Bob Hope’s Lasting Impact on the USO?
Hope set a precedent for all entertainers who followed in his path. Aside from Hope’s impact as a performer, the true testament to Hope’s influence can be seen in the number of actors, comedians, musicians and athletes today who eagerly volunteer to join a USO show or tour. When these celebrities sacrifice their time to travel to places such as Iraq, Afghanistan or South Korea and meet one-on-one with our nation’s military, they are joining the ranks of countless others who saw the selflessness and impact of Hope and his career that was almost entirely dedicated to those who serve.
Hope’s legacy as a USO tour veteran lives on in the USO Hope Coin, which is now presented to USO entertainers who emulate Hope in supporting the troops through in-person entertainment and activism.
Furthermore, the USO’s Southern California service area is aptly called the Bob Hope USO, in honor of the legendary entertainer who resided there for decades. Service members and their families in the Southern California area can stop by one of several Bob Hope USO locations, including Bob Hope USO at LAX where the iconic Theme Building is home to Bob Hope USO at LAX. With extensive support from the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation, the City of Los Angeles and other generous donors, in 2018 this location replaced smaller space and is recognized around the world as a flagship USO.
Additionally, through a partnership with the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, today the USO provides service members with the Bob Hope Legacy Reading Program. This incredibly popular program allows service members to read a bedtime story to their children from halfway around the globe. Service members can walk into participating USO locations, record themselves reading their child’s favorite story and have that recording shipped home. Even today, our nation’s military is still able to connect to home thanks to Hope.
Bob Hope’s name has become synonymous with the USO, and there can be no greater honor. He displayed our organization’s most closely-held values and was committed to the USO’s mission of connecting troops to home, bringing a moment of joy during challenging times and of always going where our service members go.
Thanks to his radio broadcasts, Bob Hope was already immensely popular with the troops when World War II broke out. In this 1942 photo, Hope dons the uniform of a ticket taker in the Presidio of San Francisco Post Theatre to take tickets for his own broadcast show.
In late 1942, Bob Hope headed on his first USO tour outside of the continental U.S. to Alaska, which was then a U.S. territory. Traveling with Hope were fellow entertainers Frances Langford, Jerry Colonna and Tony Romano. Here, Hope performs for service members and their families in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Bob Hope continued entertaining service members around the globe during World War II. In the spring of 1943, he traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana, along with entertainers Frances Langford and Jerry Colonna, to perform for the troops. Here, Hope introduces Langford to an audience of enlisted men.
Bob Hope’s overseas USO shows began in earnest in the summer of 1943 with a whirlwind tour through Europe and North Africa. Here, Hope laughs with troops in England on June 28, 1943, on a tour stop.
Bob Hope traveled with several other entertainers during his 1943 USO tour of Europe and North Africa. Here, while on a tour stop, Hope speaks with Hal Block, Barney Dean, Gen. George Patton, Frances Langford and Tony Romano in August 1943.
In the summer of 1944, Bob Hope and his troupe took their USO show to the Pacific arena, hopping from island to island. Hope logged over 30,000 miles and gave more than 150 performances during this trip. Here, during one of these 1944 shows, Hope performs for troops somewhere in the Pacific.
In 1991, the USO celebrated its 50th anniversary year. Here, Bob Hope performs on stage in 1991 at a celebratory event.
Although World War II came to an end in the later months of 1945, Bob Hope continued his mission of entertaining service members for several months and years to come. Here, in July 1945, Bob Hope and other USO Camp Show entertainers smile in London.
A few years later, during the Korean War, Bob Hope hit the road again to entertain troops serving in both Japan and Korea. In this October 1950 photo, Hope wears a pilot’s gear and climbs out of the cockpit of a jet fighter while on a visit to Kimpo Air Base in Korea.
During that same USO trip to Japan and Korea, Bob Hope sits with men of the X Corps as members of his troupe entertain the crowd in Wonsan, Korea, on October 26, 1950.
A few years later, in 1957, Bob Hope headed overseas to Guam and Japan for a holiday tour. Here, Hope is wearing a flight suit and helmet as he shakes hands with Col. Netcher on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, on December 27, 1957. Hope would continue this tradition of entertaining troops during the holiday season for decades to come.
In 1961, Hope headed on a USO Holiday tour to Iceland, Greenland and northeast Canada. Joining Hope on the tour were Jerry Colonna, Jayne Mansfield, Dorothy Provine, Anita Bryant, Rosemarie Frankland, Onnie Morrow and Les Brown and his band.
Throughout the 1960s, Bob Hope hosted several other USO Holiday Tours. Here, he and his troupe - including actress Ann-Margret, NFL great Rosey Grier, Gen. Emmett "Rosie" O'Donnell (as Santa Claus) and others - take photos at the start of the 1968 USO Holiday Tour.
Throughout the 1960s, Bob Hope traveled overseas many times to visit the troops. Here, Hope shakes hands with a service member in Southeast Asia in 1969.
Bob Hope entertained thousands of service members during his trips overseas on the 1960s. Here, in 1969, Hope performs on stage for troops in Southeast Asia.
Throughout the 1970s, Bob Hope continued entertaining troops all around the world. Here, Hope is pictured on stage with his iconic golf club in Southeast Asia in 1970.
A few years later, in May 1979, Bob Hope hosted a special USO show in honor of his 76th birthday aboard the USS Iwo Jima, which was moored in the Hudson River at the time. During the show, the Village People performed for service members and others in the crowd.
During that same May 1979 show, Diahann Carroll danced on stage with Bob Hope. Carroll, like Hope, would go on several USO tours over the years to entertain troops.
Not long after the tragic Beirut Bombings in 1983, Bob Hope hosted a USO Holiday Tour to the area with fellow stars Brooke Shields, Ann Jillian, Cathy Lee Crosby, Miss USA 1983, Vic Damone and George Kirby. The troupe performed for service members working on six U.S. ships off the coast of Lebanon. Here, they stand on stage on the USS Bennington in December 1983.
Here, during that same trip, Bob Hope and Ann Gillian perform for service members on the USS Guam during the 1983 USO Holiday Tour. Hope was 80 years old at the time of this USO tour.
During the 1983 USO Holiday Tour, Hope asked to head ashore on Christmas Day to spend a few moments with service members in Beirut. Here, he exits a garland-lined bunker while ashore. According to the Los Angeles Times, Hope gave a special, one-man show to 1,200 Marines during this Christmas morning visit.
During December 1987, Bob Hope headed back overseas on yet another USO Holiday Tour. Here, on December 26, 1987, Hope performs at a USO show aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Okinawa.
In the spring of 1990, at 86 years old, Bob Hope headed on a spring USO tour to Moscow, Germany and the U.K. Joining him on this trip were entertainers Rosemary Clooney, Brooke Shields, Les Brown and his band, LaToya Jackson and Miss Universe 1990.
Almost 50 years after his first performances for the troops, Bob Hope headed, once again, to the Middle East. Here, he holds his legendary golf club while performing for troops using a megaphone in 1990.
Bob Hope’s 1990s performances in the Middle East would be the final overseas shows of his legendary career of entertaining the military. Here, Hope performs for troops in the Persian Gulf in 1990.
On his last overseas USO tour to the Middle East in 1990, Bob Hope was joined by baseball legend Johnny Bench. Here, the pair entertain service members during the holiday season. Although Hope hosted his last USO tour in 1990, the tradition he began of entertaining service members during the holidays still continues at the USO today.
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