Bob Hope: A Long & Storied Career With the USO
Entertainer Bob Hope spent half a century amusing U.S. troops as he toured with the USO. He started performing at military bases in 1941 after the Pearl Harbor attack, and by the end of World War II, he had traveled throughout the Pacific and Europe. He continued to bring his vaudeville-style humor to the wars that followed, from Korea to Vietnam to the Persian Gulf, and performed his final tour in the Middle East in 1990.
Bob Hope shakes hands with General Dwight D. Eisenhower after receiving a Medal of Merit for his work as a USO entertainer overseas, Washington, DC, October 24, 1946
From left: Neile Adams McQueen, Jerry Colonna, Frances Langford, Bob Hope, Patti Thomas, Tony Romano, Steve McQueen, Peter Leeds, on their way to Asia to film the TV special that aired in January of 1960
Hope visited battle zones and remote camps, all with the express purpose of making people laugh. And he did. Nothing was off limits, from sex — “Last Christmas in Alaska, I met a GI who was so lonely, he was going steady with his tattoo. And his buddies kept asking him if she’s got a sister!” — to himself: “Working in a war zone is great for a comedian. You can always blame the bombs on the enemy!” Before shows, he learned about the officers in charge so that he could poke fun at them during the monologues, something that always cracked up the audience.
Bob Hope with Jill St John and Ann Sidney in 1964, stars of his Christmas show for US troops stationed in the Far East.
Former Navy construction worker Ron Ronning said of Hope and the USO group, “They increased the morale immensely. It was miserable there. But that visit really made the difference in our deployment — that got us through the next four, five months. He brought such enthusiasm, brought your life back to you.”
Christmas show in Vietnam, it aired in January 1966
He celebrated 40 years of the USO in May 1981 and taped The Bob Hope USO 40th Anniversary Show special in West Point, N.Y., Along with Marie Osmond, Mickey Rooney, Sugar Ray Leonard he enjoyed some laughs during a staged fight (with obnoxiously oversized boxing gloves) between Leonard and Hope, where Osmond served as nurse/athletic trainer and Rooney as referee.
Sugar Ray Leonard, Mickey Rooney, and Bob Hope during Taping of Bob Hope USO 40th Anniversary Show at West Point in West Point, New York, United States.
In 1997 Congress passed legislation naming Hope an honorary veteran. His response was: “To be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever received.” Though known as simply a comedian, Bob Hope is so much more to the men and women who served. Says former service member Rob Struck, “In my eyes, Bob Hope is a true American hero.”