BOB HOPE, the ski-nosed Santa Claus who saves all of his goodies for American troops serving in the war zones, "tooled up" his sleigh and began winging across the sky yesterday on his way to Southeast Asia.

For the fourth consecutive Christmas, hope will be in Vietnam. Thailand and Guam also are on the itinerary of the 17th annual Yule tour lasting through Dec. 30.

The comedian is accompanied by an all-star troupe of entertainers for this "Santa Tour."

Cover-girl Raquel Welch, singers Barbara McNair and Phil Crosby and Les Brown and His Band of Renown are among those in the troupe. Also "Miss World" Madeleine Hartog-Bel (former Miss Peru) is with the group of entertainers.

Miss Welch, the statuesque brownette currently running the gamut of all stateside magazine covers, recently completed the motion picture "Bandolero" before takeoff. She is already a world-wide symbol of American beauty although her career began only two years ago. "Bandolero" marks her eighth motion picture.

Barbara McNair is widely known for her recordings and her appearances on such stateside television shows as "The Dean Martin Show," "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Carol Burnett Show," and "Hollywood Palace." She has also played a number of dramatic roles on television and has made the circuit as a top-flight nightclub entertainer.

Phil Crosby, second of Bing Crosby's sons (or third, depending, on whether Phil or his twin brother Dennis was born first) is a familiar face to servicemen in Southeast Asia where he has appeared in USO and nightclub shows for the past two years.

He has also performed throughout the U.S. He was a member of the troupe which toured Greece, Turkey and the Middle East with Hope in 1963.

Les Brown will be making his 16th trip with Hope this Christmas (he missed one during the 17 years Hope has played the G.I. Santa).

Brown, who organized his band back in 1940, can claim more air miles of travel than any other organized band in the history of show business. One of his featured musicians, Butch Stone, has been with the group since 1941.

Hope's entertainment history goes back even further than he would like to remember, but he started entertaining the troops in 1941, at California's March Field. During World War II and the Korean conflict, he made many trips to overseas bases.

He went to Berlin in 1948 at the request of the Air Force to put on several shows for American servicemen involved in the airlift.

In 1949, Bob packed a parka and left for Alaska at the instigation of Brig. Gen. Frank Armstrong.

By then, he was "hooked'' on the Christmas performing habit, so in 1950, he went to the Pacific, in 1954 to Greenland, 1955 to England and Iceland, 1956 to Alaska, 1957 to the Orient, 1958 to the Azores, North Africa, Iceland and Europe, 1959 to Alaska for the third time, 1960 to the Caribbean, 1961 to Newfoundland and Greenland. 1962 again to the Orient, 1963 to Africa, Turkey, Italy and the Greek Isles and 1964 to South Vietnam, Thailand. Guam, the Philippines and Korea (where he performed during the Korean conflict).

He actually remained on California soil from 1951 to 1953, but during those years he was entertaining troops stateside.

Hope shrugs off compliments about his holiday treks for the servicemen, saying that being away over the holidays is his way of not having "to send Christmas cards." But when he's pinned down, he admits that "the GIs have done a lot more for me than I've ever done for them."

His feelings about the conflict in Vietnam have been stated, however in perfectly serious terms: "We are fighting a common enemy over there, more than the Viet Cong. It's the Commies. That's our enemy. If we don't win there, we'll be fighting in Pomona."

The total number of miles traveled by Hope during the past 26 years now exceeds 7 million. He has acquired two nicknames: "Roving Robert" and "Rapid Robert."

Also touring Vietnam on a separate junket is "Johnny Grant and Friends," a special USO show in association with the Hollywood Overseas Committee.

The validity of the Department of Defence precautionary measures in behalf of the troupe became sharply apparent two years ago. Delayed when a crew member failed to complete loading of equipment until 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time, the Hope troupe arrived at its destination in Saigon somewhat after they were expected.

Twenty minutes prior to their arrival, the officers' barracks across the street from their hotel was bombed.

This past spring, a captured cache of Viet Cong documents, when translated, revealed the Viet Cong member assigned to set-off the explosion was severely reprimanded for having missed his target — Bob Hope.

Two years ago, as the plane carrying the Hope troupe flew over hotly disputed Vietnamese territory, loaded down with souvenirs the cast had picked tip during their stops at the various bases, one of the actresses remarked to Hope: "What would happen if this plane had to ditch over enemy territory?"

Hope glanced around the plane nonchalantly, observing the trinkets stacked in the aisles and quipped: "Relax, honey, with all the souvenirs we've got, we could hold 'em off for a month with ash trays alone."

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