Bob Hope

In 1997, the United States Congress honored Bob Hope by declaring him the “first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces.” According to Hope biographer William Faith, Hope’s reputation has become ingrained in the “American consciousness” because he had flown millions of miles to entertain G.I.s during peace and wartime. Hope’s contributions to the USO began in 1941 and ended with Operation Desert Shield in 1991, spending 48 Christmases overseas with American troops. He was always treated as “an asset to the U.S. Government with his willingness to entertain whenever they needed him.” After World War II was declared over, the USO sent out a bulletin asking entertainers not to abandon the troops now that the war was over and Hope was one of the first to say yes. The Military Order of the Purple Heart notes “his contributions to the USO are well known: they are legend.”

As a result of his non-stop entertainment to both the military and civilian populations, Hope received numerous other honors over the years. War correspondent Quentin Reynolds wrote in 1943, “He and his troupe would do 300 miles in a jeep, and give four shows… One of the generals said Hope was a first-rate military target since he was worth a division; that that’s about 15,000 men. Presumably the Nazis appreciated Hope’s value, since they thrice bombed towns while the comic was there.”

During the Vietnam War years, Hope gave a number of high-rating television specials and sensed that the media had given him a broad endorsement for continuing on his G.I. mercy missions. Soon after his Christmas show in Saigon in 1967, he learned the Viet Cong had planned a terrorist attack against him and his entire troupe at his hotel, missing him by only ten minutes. In the spring of 1973, Hope began writing his fifth book, The Last Christmas Show, dedicated to “the men and women of the armed forces and to those who also served by worrying and waiting,” and signed over his royalties to the USO.

His final Christmas show was during Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia 1990 and the show was not easy due to the many restrictions as to not offend the Saudis. In 2009, while performing his last episode of a weeklong taping in Iraq for his show The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert carried a golf club on stage and dedicated it to Bob Hope’s service for the USO.