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Bob Hope: Entertaining the troops

Bob Hope with a World War II audience
On 9 December 1941, when President Roosevelt needed peak radio airtime to tell the American people that they were at war, he used Bob Hope's slot.

This would herald the entertainer's 50-year relationship with America's fighting forces, providing him with "the most emotional and gratifying moments of my life".

During the first few months of World War II, Hope helped "bring a little laughter into American homes each Tuesday night".

He climbed on the Victory Caravan, a train carrying celebrities across the country to be met by Eleanor Roosevelt at the White House, and helped raise more than $1bn for War Relief.

Personal risk

Hope was soon spreading his morale-boosting mission overseas. In 1945 alone, he travelled 30,000 miles to entertain more than a million servicemen.

Hope brought with him a bevy of beauties to amuse the GIs
As recently as 1990, he was still performing on makeshift sand-box stages during the Gulf War.

Hope brought along the same ingredients which had made his radio show at home a success.

And if the gags and buffoonery failed, the sight of a scantily-clad beauty singing a mournful ballad would often succeed.

Doris Day, Anita Ekberg and Racquel Welch were among Hope's popular companions.

Sometimes he risked his own safety. During the Korean War in 1950, he and his troupe arrived in Communist-occupied Wonsan two days before the Marines liberated the area.

Later in Saigon, Hope's hotel was bombed 10 minutes before he arrived. He had been apparently targeted for "keeping up GI morale".

Morale messenger

In the makeshift wards of army hospitals, Hope's deadpan humour did much to soothe often horribly maimed GIs.

Hope sparked controversy in Vietnam
Walking into a room with every patient in traction, he would quip, "Please, don't get up."

A Marine once asked him if he had donated blood to the Red Cross. When Hope said he had, the Marine retorted, quick as a flash: "Well, looks like I got yours, then."

Sick soldiers were the only ones he allowed to steal the punchline.

If he brought a taste of home to the boys abroad, his radio shows, books and later television specials helped ensure that American citizens saw the unglamorous conditions endured by their servicemen.

"It's the least we can do," he said, before jetting off to spend another season with the troops.

He made his first Christmas trip to Greenland in 1954, and for the next 15 years spent every festive period on the military road.

Comedy, not politics

In fact, the boys became "part of his family", and he would always return to relay messages personally to loved ones.

Hope at the Gulf: Almost 90 years old and still performing
Despite his hallowed status, American liberals berated him for his perceived "hawk-like stance" over the Vietnam War.

He responded: "There's no-one more anti-war than me." But he retained the belief in the military cause.

Although he was often asked to enter politics, Hope joked "the money's not right" and maintained his job wasn't "making the decisions, but making people laugh".

One soldier explained that victory abroad depended on "man's ability to reconstruct in his mind those things which are pleasant and dear to him".

Hope's humour parcels from home earned him "the first place in the heart of every US serviceman".