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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Rare, Candid Photos of Bob Hope’s USO Shows

Bob Hope was known for his dedication to American troops, and these rare photos attest to his lasting impact.

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Ladies and Gentlemen, Bob Hope

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Born to Entertain

An identification card from the U.S.O. Camp Shows, Inc. reveals Hope’s full name: Lester Townes Hope. “I get a lot more than I give,” Hope wrote modestly in a 1971 article in Reader’s Digest.

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Bob and the Bombshells

Hope and Frances Langford help load an artillery shell as part of a USO show, 1944. Langford replaced Judy Garland on Hope’s radio show in 1941 and went on tour with the comedian soon after. “Frances Langford came out and began singing, ‘I’m in the Mood for Love,'” Hope recalled. “Some sailor yelled, ‘You’ve come to the right place, honey,’ getting the biggest laugh I ever heard in a jungle.”

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One of Bob’s Gals

One thing Bob Hope never forgot to bring along on his trips abroad were Hollywood starlets to boost GI morale. Here, Jayne Mansfield performed with Hope, backed by Les Brown and His Band of Renown. “If there’s anything that gives our GIs a lift, it’s the sight of a pretty girl, so I always take plenty along,” Hope recalled.

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“Their morale is unbelievable”

An identification card issued to Hope in 1945 from Washington. “People ask if I don’t mind leaving my family at Christmas to fly halfway around the world to be with the troops,” Hope wrote, “[but] the satisfaction that comes from bringing a few hours of laughter and home to these men living such hard, dangerous lives is difficult to express. I don’t care how often you’ve seen the war on TV or read about it, you have no idea what it’s really like until you’ve felt the heat, tasted the dust, sloshed through the mud, and talked to the men, especially the wounded. Yet their morale is unbelievable; it gives you a lift just to be with them.”

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Back on Tour

A scant five years after Hope’s last WWII performance, he was back in Asia entertaining American GIs. Here Hope sits with men of the U.S. Army’s X Corps as members of his troupe entertain at Wonsan, Korea, October 26, 1950. “They say there’s a healing power in laughter, so I always go well supplied with jokes. And I’ve discovered that our men are pretty quick with the jokes themselves,” Hope reminisced.

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Christmas with the Troops

Bob Hope visiting troops on Christmas Day, 1964, in South Vietnam. “They are great faces and great men,” wrote Hope. “The best we have.”

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Bob and Jill St. John

Hope realized early on that the perfect formula involved plenty of laughs, a song and dance, and a pretty girl, meaning each era of Hope’s career was defined by the day’s most popular sex symbols. Here, Jill St. John came with him on his annual Christmas show in 1964. “The most poignant moment of our trips is always Christmas Eve, when our cast joins with the GIs in singing ‘Silent Night,'” reflected Hope.

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A Mountain of Thanks

Hope reads an 80-foot-long letter (equal in length to the average 18-wheeler) of birthday wishes from GIs in Vietnam at his North Hollywood home, June 15, 1966. “Leaving Vietnam is always a wrench,” recalled Hope, “for though we’re going back to comfort and safety, the thousands of men we have entertained are trudging back to the danger, dirt, and heat of a bloody war.”

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Thanks for the Memories

A telegram from then-governor Ronald Reagan expressing his gratitude to Hope for the performer’s unwavering dedication to the troops. In May 1987, Hope convinced Reagan to make a surprise visit to a show at Pope Air Force Base.

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Still Going Strong

Bob Hope performs aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Okinawa (LPH-3)—anchored off the coast of Bahrain—during a USO Christmas show for sailors patrolling the Gulf. By the time the first Gulf War broke out in 1991, Hope had been entertaining troops for half a century.

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More Memories and Laughs

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest