Bob Hope exhibit at National Veterans Memorial explores his 50 years of entertaining US troops
By KEN GORDON | The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio | Published: January 31, 2020
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — In May 1941, Bob Hope was reluctant to perform for U.S. servicemen at March Air Base in Riverside County, California.
Hope, a comedian and radio star, wasn't sure why he was invited. America wasn't at war (the bombing of Pearl Harbor was seven months in the future), and Hope was nervous how his show would go outside of the comfort of his usual NBC studios.
"I'm thrilled being here," he began. "And what a wonderful welcome they gave me! As soon as I got into camp, I received a 10-gun salute. ... They told me on the operating table."
The crowd loved it, and so did Hope. That performance sparked a 50-year tradition of performing for American troops all over the world, through at least five wars or conflicts.
The World War II period of that legacy is highlighted in an exhibit that opens Friday and will be on display through April 17 at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
The exhibit, titled, "So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope," was created in 2018 and displayed at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Columbus is the first of a planned six-city tour, according to Kim Guise, assistant director for curatorial services at the WWII museum.
"Hope was inspired by those in the service, and he had a real connection with them," Guise said. "He discovered a new mission, to comfort and entertain American troops."
Veterans museum president and CEO Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter (U.S. Army retired) has firsthand experience with that. In 1968, he was living in Berlin (his father, Richard, was an Army colonel) when Hope came there to visit the troops.
"When you're overseas and someone brings home to you, it's amazing," said Ferriter, who still has an index card bearing Hope's autograph from that day.
Hope conducted two major overseas tours during World War II — through Europe and North Africa in 1943 and through the Pacific theater in 1944.
Combined, Hope's troupe (he called them "The Gypsies") logged more than 21,000 miles.
Guise said the group (which included various singers and dancers) sometimes performed four or five shows a day. She said she thinks he was motivated by the fact that he had grown up in Cleveland in a poor family that had emigrated from England in 1908 when he was 4.
"He was giving back to the country that provided him a home and a livelihood," Guise said. "He was tremendously grateful to be able to give in any way that he could."
And the troops he visited gave back. In 1944, Hope received an average of 38,000 pieces of mail a week, most of them thank-yous from those he visited.
The exhibit includes photos and an 11-minute documentary on Hope's World War II tours.
Some of the more memorable artifacts are items he received, such as a coconut (mailed with 17 cents postage), and a wooden airplane propeller.
Perhaps the most touching item is a letter he received from a mother.
Dated Nov. 27, 1944, she explains that in August, she got a letter from her son, Andy, describing Hope's visit to the Pacific island of Pavuvu and how much Andy enjoyed the show.
"Soon after this letter was written, this boy was killed in his first battle, at Peleliu. He was only nineteen, had never been away from home before and was lonely and homesick as most of the boys are, and I can never thank you enough for having brought him those two hours of fun.
"Gratefully yours, Mrs. A.A. Stumpf."
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