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Wednesday, June 21, 2006 | It would be hard to find a fellow I disagreed with more than Bob Hope. Although I grew up listening to his radio programs and watching his early movies, I didn’t like his comedy very much. His best movie was “Beau James,” a straight biography about New York’s flamboyant mayor, Jimmy Walker. Hope was well established by the time Red Skelton came along but Skelton, then the “exciting new comedian,” was more to the liking of this pre-teen kid than old ski nose.
Much later I disagreed with Bob Hope on politics too. When the body counts in Vietnam mounted, or the bombing of Cambodia commenced, I’d write a letter to the editor of a paper protesting. Hope made public appearances supporting the war.
It would have been easy for him to take a pass on it. The country had turned against the war, but Bob Hope took the unpopular stand and paid the price. You had to like his guts. I rank him right at the top of American heroes for everything he did, and mom would have approved. My two elder brothers served in the Pacific, and so did Bob Hope. Mom worried about all three.
My eldest brother was with the 111th Infantry. One of the brightest memories he had of those years was when Bob called him up on stage to dance with Frances Langford. He never forgot that even after so many things slipped from his memory. Bob was a master at making GI’s feel how important they were.
Nothing stopped Bob Hope. Not bullets. Not bombs. In both World War II and in Korea he put on shows so close to the lines a sniper could have got him. By the time we were fighting in Vietnam he had become such an icon our government tried to keep him far from the action. It didn’t work. He barely escaped death when a bomb blasted his hotel in Saigon minutes before he arrived. Age barely slowed him down. He was 88 when he entertained the troops in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. Although he often portrayed himself as a spineless coward, he voluntarily placed himself in harm’s way. He was under fire more than most who wore the uniform. That would include me, a Navy veteran of 23 years.
In October 1997, Congress passed a unanimous resolution making Bob Hope an honorary veteran – the only time the award has been made. When informed of the honor, he said, “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime, but to be numbered among the men and women I admire the most is the greatest honor I have ever received.”
The list of honors is endless. According to “The Guinness Book of World Records,” he’s the most honored entertainer in the world. Boeing named an airplane for him. A compartment in the old carrier, USS Yorktown, now a museum, is named after him. I was proud as punch of my friend when on Nov, 18 1998, USNS Bob Hope was delivered for service to the Military Sealift Command.
Now, San Diego is going to have its own memorial for my hero. According to the bimonthly California Legionnaire, some 15 statues will be erected alongside USS Midway. Current plans are for the memorial to be completed by October 4 and will be dedicated on the 25th. They plan on inviting General Colin Powell for the dedication. Connie Stevens, who accompanied the Hope group often, will be the mistress of ceremonies.
Fourteen of the statues will represent men and women who have fought our wars. The 15th will represent the fellow who stood beside, not safely behind, them in every conflict for 47 years. The Legion says the statues will be life-size.
Bob Hope’s should be 30 feet high.