Thanks for the memories: Museum salutes Bob Hope’s military aid

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DAYTON, Ohio – It’s not a coincidence that the title of the U.S. Air Force Museum’s new exhibit is 50 years of Hope, because that’s exactly what Bob Hope has given service members throughout trying times spanning nearly six decades – hope.

Around the world. From Hope’s first appearance before GIs during World War II on May 6, 1941, to welcoming home the service men and women of “Desert Storm,” he has entertained 10 million military members in the United States, North Atlantic, Caribbean, Europe, North Africa, Middle East, Pacific and Southeast Asia.

Although Hope’s hats change in every show he presents, there is one thing that remains consistent and that’s the crowd of men and women in uniform gathered to watch the show, no matter the time of day or night.

Bob Hope has logged more than 10 million air miles traveling to perform for troops, actually going around the world in eight days in 1987 to entertain military members deployed to the Far East and Persian Gulf.

Unique items. The exhibit is the Air Force’s way of giving back to Bob Hope. Encompassing more than 90 items, some people may find the most interesting elements to be those created by the military members themselves, put together with much time, thought and creativity.

One such example is a USO military vest comically decorated with condiments, accessories and novelty equipment by members of the 13th Air Force during Vietnam.

Labeled “A Caddy with Hope,” the vest includes a pencil sharpener, food pack survival kit, first aid kit, golf ball dispenser, toilet paper, silverware, Off mosquito repellent, Dial soap, Right Guard deodorant, shark repellent, Pepsodent toothpaste and a red telephone, incorporating those items Hope would actually need in a time of war with those comedic elements for which Bob Hope was known.

Special awards. If the visitor is looking for more formal recognition of Hope’s military contribution, an Emmy Award presented to Bob Hope for his 1966 Bob Hope Christmas Special is featured, as well as a Medal of Merit presented by General Eisenhower in October 1946, an Air Force Exceptional Service Medal presented in February 1950 by then Secretary of the Air Force Stuart Symington, and an official copy indicating Hope as the first Honorary Veteran of The United States Armed Forces, approved in October 1997 by then President Bill Clinton.

A compilation of video clips is showcased on two monitors, one of which takes portions of Bob Hope shows from worldwide locations during the Vietnam Era.

In one such 1968 broadcast at U-Tapao Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, Hope makes a remark about having never performed in a housing project before and the camera pans to his close background, where the viewer can see GIs from the ground up to the tallest stories of the surrounding buildings, to include crowded on roof tops and hanging outside of windows. Reverberations of laughter are heard throughout every nook and cranny.

POW bracelets. Some items of more somber significance include 11 POW/MIA bracelets presented to and worn by Bob Hope during the Vietnam Era, one of which is the bracelet recognizing then Lt. Cmdr. John McCain as a prisoner of war.

Whether traveling on Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter, Bob Hope made his presence known during more than 700 trips to entertain service men and women across the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.

Make plans to go. Bob Hope: 50 Years of Hope, is currently on display in the Kettering Hall of the U.S. Air Force Museum.

The U.S. Air Force Museum is located on Springfield Pike, 6 miles northeast of downtown Dayton. It is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day). Admission and parking are free.

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