From World War II to the first Gulf War, you could find Bob Hope wherever U.S. troops were fighting. But was the entertainer so omnipresent that Marines landing at the east coast of North Korea in 1950 waded ashore, ready for battle, only to find that Hope and a USO show were already there?
The episode happened at Wonsan, North Korea, in October 1950, where the landings had been delayed until mine sweepers could clear all of the magnetic mines from the approaching waters, according to the Marine Corps’ official history of the Korean War.
These mines were hard to detect because they could be set to allow up to 12 ships to pass over them before exploding, meaning the mine sweepers had to make at least 13 passes over a given area before it could be considered clear, according to the history, written by Lynn Montross and Marine Capt. Nicholas A, Canzona.
While all this was happening, the ships carrying the Marines steamed back and forth off the coast, prompting the Marines to dub the enterprise “Operation Yo-Yo.”
“Never did time die a harder death, and never did the grumblers have so much to grouse about,” according to the history.
By the time the Marines went ashore beginning on Oct. 25, South Korean troops and Marine air maintenance crews had already reached Wonsan.
And so had Bob Hope.
“Even more humiliating to the landing force troops, Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell were flown to the objective area,” according to the history. “On the evening of the 24th they put on a USO show spiced with quips at the expense of the disgruntled Leathernecks in the transports.”
When the Marines came ashore the next day, Hope had already left.
The Marines, of course, didn’t know whether they would be landing under fire, said Joe Owen, then a second lieutenant with Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
“We didn’t have very good intelligence,” Owen told The Rumor Doctor. “We had the word that the beach had been secured, but we came in fully loaded and ready to fight if necessary. Then we saw the flyboys standing on the beach waving us in.”
Also on the beach were South Korean troops who greeted the Marines by giving them the middle finger.
“It was no animosity,” Owen explained. “It might have been their way of saying hi.”
THE RUMOR DOCTOR’S DIAGNOSIS: Bob Hope had been there and gone when the Marines landed at Wonsan, but if the Marines felt chagrined by the whole affair, they more than showed their valor and fighting spirit the following month when attacked by hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops at the Chosin Reservoir.