Bob Hope brought stars, jokes and smiles to troops in Vietnam with his USO Christmas show

Leslie Townes Hope was born in London on May 27, 1903. His parents moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1908, and there at age 12 he took up busking—singing, dancing and doing comedy routines for whatever passersby chose to pay him. After gaining experience in vaudeville, Hope was determined to make show business his career.

He created a mildly irreverent (including toward himself) persona and adopted the name “Bob” in 1929. Bob Hope became a star on stage, radio, film and television. During World War II he began entertaining at stateside training bases, then took his show overseas. His winning formula combined comedy monologues, specialty acts, celebrity guests, dancers, singers, skits…and women—to remind the troops, as he often put it, “of what they were fighting for.” By war’s end he and his troupe had appeared everywhere from Alaska to Berlin.

Hope did his first Christmas special in Germany during the 1948 Berlin Crisis and performed in Korea from 1950 to 1953, Vietnam from 1964 through 1972 and at numerous other military installations until 1990.

In 1997 Hope became the only civilian formally declared an honorary veteran for his half century of service in the cause of U.S. armed forces morale. He died on July 27, 2003, at age 100. V

  • Newly arrived at Pleiku Air Base for his USO Christmas show on Dec. 19, 1966, Bob Hope brandishes his ever-present wood golf club, flanked by Col. William Bonneaux and Maj. Gen. Arthur S. Collins Jr., commander of the 4th Infantry Division. / Alamy
  • Gen. William Westmoreland, the commander of U.S. forces in South Vietnam, thanks Hope on Christmas Eve 1965, during his USO Christmas tour. / Alamy
  • Hope introduces Madeleine Hartog-Bel, Miss World from Peru, at Da Nang in December 1967. / AP
  • Ann-Margret revs up the crowd during a performance at the 9th Infantry Division headquarters on Dec. 27, 1968. / Getty Images
  • Hope jokes with more than 2,500 crewmen aboard aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga in Cam Ranh Bay on Dec. 27, 1965. / Getty Images
  • Dancers strut their stuff for the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) base at Cu Chi during the 1969 “Bob Hope Christmas Special.” / Getty Images
  • Actress Raquel Welch, with Bob Hope, gives the troops some encouraging words in December 1967. / Alamy
  • American troops surround the film crew at a Bob Hope show on Dec. 29, 1967. The words on the cue card are from the Cole Porter song “It’s All Right with Me,” written for the 1953 Broadway musical Can-Can. / Getty Images

This article appeared in the December 2020 issue of Vietnam magazine. For more stories from Vietnam magazine, subscribe here and visit us on Facebook: