One day co median Bob Hop e got a suggestion from a sponsor: broadcast his popular radio program from March Field, an Army air base at Riverside, California. “Why should we drag the whole show down there?” Hope asked. But he consented, and on May 6, 1941, he performed for hundreds of cheering troops.
That one show changed his life. He couldn’t get out of his mind the appreciative response of the young recruits. Seven months later, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Throughout the rest of World War II, with only two exceptions, Hope aired his shows from U.S. military installations. He went wherever the soldiers were fighting – Europe, North Africa, the Pacific.
“When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list,” John Steinbeck wrote in a newspaper column. “He gets laughter wherever he goes from men who need laughter.”
After the war Hope became one of America’s most popular entertainers. (And one of its most successful immigrants. His family had emigrated from England when he was a boy, coming through Ellis Island.) He never forgot the troops. For more than half a century, through the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, and times of peace, he led tours around the globe to perform for soldiers. “I wouldn’t trade it for my entire career,” he said. “Until you’ve actually seen them in action, you have no conception of their courage.” Millions watched his televised Christmas shows for the troops.
Hope received all kinds of awards for service to country, including the Congressional Gold Medal and Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1997, six years before his death, Congress made him an “Honorary Veteran,” the first time it had ever bestowed such a tribute. Hope said it was the greatest honor he had ever received.