Posted on: Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Hope's USO shows took troops back home for a day
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Staff Writer
|As he watched a tribute yesterday, James Ward of Makiki recalled seeing Bob Hope as a 21-year-old Marine in Korea.
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"We had nothing out there. It was cold and yet you wound up with a warm spot in your heart just thinking of home," said Taylor, now 70, of that outdoor concert given by Hope to 4,000 American troops. "It was a big stress reliever and it took your mind off everything. It almost made you feel like you were home for a day."
That's the memory of Hope shared most often by Hawai'i veterans from World War II through the Gulf War.
Yesterday, upon Hope's death, Hawai'i's veterans talked about what it meant to them to have this honored entertainer bring a little piece of home and a much-needed laugh to war zones from Italy to Korea, Vietnam to the Persian Gulf.
"The guys were all over the hillside," recalled Taylor, who is now on the national executive committee for the American Legion.
The base wasn't even completely built, but a makeshift stage was thrown together. There were pretty girls, too, Taylor said, but he thinks even they had long underwear.
A week later Taylor was wounded and airlifted out. But Hope's presence stayed with him, and when he was lucky enough to see two more USO concerts while serving in Vietnam in the mid-1960s, it was like seeing an old friend.
"They brought him into Bien Hoa and landed with a C-130 from Saigon. They (the servicemen) had tears in their eyes, oh yeah. Even the thought of it still brings back memories.
"The last time, in Chu Chi, he was only there for a little over an hour when we started taking incoming mortar rounds and they closed the show up. They put him on a C-130 and took him out of there in a hurry."
Years later, some who served in the Gulf War told Taylor that during a show Hope "was starting to mix his lines up a little bit, but that didn't matter to anybody."
|Stanley Akita was with the 100th Infantry Battalion in Italy when he saw Bob Hope. He recalls 40 trucks side by side, 20 guys in each.
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As a PFC in Hawai'i's 100th Infantry Battalion in Italy in World War II, Stanley Akita was a 20-year-old rifleman who had been in combat for about six months before Hope performed for the troops near Rome.
"We were in a so-called rest area." Akita said. "We'd go into combat for a week or two and then go back for R-and-R for a week or two. They announced the USO troupe and we all jumped on the truck and watched the show from there."
There were 40 trucks lined up side by side facing the stage in a big ballpark, he remembered, 20 guys to a truck.
"You have that feeling like you're back home, you know. Everything is so nonchalant. The way he acts like nothing's going on, it makes you relax. I think that was the purpose," said Akita, now 80, and president of the 100th Infantry Battalion Veterans group.
Retired Army Gen. Fred Weyand got to introduce Hope at four Christmas shows in Vietnam.
The former 25th Infantry Division commander remembers Hope bringing his wife, Dolores, on stage to sing "Silent Night" at the end of the show in 1966.
"I tell you, the troops just went ape they just loved her and Bob made the wry comment that he didn't think he was going to ask her to entertain anymore."
Weyand, who retired to Hawai'i after serving as Army chief of staff, recalls that Hope usually put on a 2 p.m. show on Christmas Day in Vietnam. As many as 20,000 military personnel would wait for him.
"They were so hot, they took off their jackets waiting for him," Weyand said. "Washington authorities saw that on television and they instructed us to have them fully dressed during the show. Bob talked to me about that and said, 'Oh, the hell with that, I don't want that,' so I went out and told the troops they could take their jackets off whether Washington liked it or not."
Retired Family Court Judge Katsugo Miho remembers the way Hope made the troops feel they were back at home no matter what was happening. It was the summer of 1944 and he was in Italy, too, chasing the German army up the boot as a member of the 522nd Artillery Battalion with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
"I remember the show was a big gathering, a whole bunch of troops seated on a wide open hillside," said Miho. "We had a feeling of contentment that someone like Bob Hope would take time out to entertain the troops on the front lines. That memory is still there the warm feeling you have."
In the summer of 1951, James Ward was a Marine corporal serving in Korea, watching Hope "lift our spirits up ... We weren't seeing anything except the same old movie over and over 'Joan of Arc.'
"The only thing I disliked is all the officers got the front row and us hard-working combat Marines had to get in the back. And it didn't do no good to complain. But Hope had the courtesy to get off the stage and come to the back of the audience and shake hands with some of the enlisted personnel."
More than 40 years later, Ward finally did shake Hope's hand during the 1995 Hawai'i ceremonies commemorating the end of World War II. "I said, 'It's about time I shook your hand. Forty-five years ago I saw you in Korea and you wouldn't even say hello,' and he laughed and laughed."
Walter Ogasawara, 72, of Pukalani, Maui, saw Bob Hope three times. The first time was during the Korean War at a show for the troops in Okinawa. Another time was at an air base in Vietnam, when Ann-Margret tagged along.
"He brought plenty pretty girls with him," Ogasawara said.
During the Korean conflict, when Ogasawara was recovering from a shoulder wound at Tripler Army Hospital, Hope stopped by all the rooms to chat with the wounded.
He joked about the "monkey bar" that hung above Ogasawara's hospital bed, and the patient got "a big smack" from a beautiful brunette whose name he can't quite recall.
But he never forgot Hope.
"You feel kind of honored. He goes out of his way just to see the GIs," Ogasawara said.
Reflecting on Hope's death, he said: "He had a good 100 years."
Staff writers William Cole and Christie Wilson contributed to this report.