By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 28, 2003 The King (of Comedy) is dead. Long live the King.
Such might be the public reaction to news that American comedy giant Bob Hope had died of pneumonia July 27 at his Toluca Lake, Calif., home at age 100.
Yet, perhaps no other organization mourns Hope's passing more than the Pentagon, for whom the British-born comedian undertook numerous - and often dangerous - overseas tours to entertain U.S. troops between 1943 during World War II to his last in 1990, just before Operation Desert Storm.
In a July 28 statement, the Defense Department cited Hope's death as "the loss of a true American patriot."
The comedian, the statement continued, "Holds a special place in the national security pantheon."
Hope, according to DoD, "called the troops 'his best friends,' and he made it his mission to be with them wherever they served, regardless of distance or danger."
Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in Eltham, England, on May 29, 1903. His family immigrated to America in 1907. He became a star on vaudeville, Broadway, radio, and in movies and television and a hero to U.S. servicemen and women.
The comedian became famous for flourishing a golf club during his comedy act. But Hope also became well-known as a patriot who'd over the last six decades risked his life to visit with and entertain more than 12 million U.S. servicemen and women during 700 trips stateside and overseas in peace and war.
Give Thanks America , a national initiative co-sponsored by DoD, Hewlett- Packard and Sorenson Media, has saluted Hope, showing historical video clips from his trips on its Web site.
After the allies' victory over the Axis powers in 1945, Hope continuing entertaining service members throughout the Cold War. He made numerous visits to overseas U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.
Hope made his last troop visit at Christmas in 1990, when he cheered American service members in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield, right before the launch of Desert Storm to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi military occupation.
The comedian was honored five times by the U.S. Congress. The USNS Bob Hope, a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship, was christened in May 1997. Hope also had an Air Force C-17 transport plane named after him.
In October 1997, Bob Hope was made an honorary veteran by both houses of Congress the first time an individual has been so honored in U.S. history.
The DoD statement also cited the Pentagon's "profound gratitude" for Hope's decades of service to the country, recognizing the positive impact he had made on military morale over the years. DoD also extended its "deepest sympathy" to the deceased comedian's family and friends.
As U.S. service members around the world recall Hope's life, they're also likely to utter a sentimental phrase the comedian sang in his act: "Thanks for the memories."
To many of our forces from across the generations, Bob Hope s visits were a taste of home in a far-off land; a moment of mirth in the middle of war, and a loud and clear message to our military that America honored their service and prayed for their safe return.
Although he is no longer with us in life, he will always remain, just as he was, in our hearts -- cracking jokes, boosting morale, and reminding all the world of what it means to be an American.