Sunday, July 27, 2003
Golf, America, and the World lost a great human being today. 100 years young!
Memory of Bob Hope...
I first saw him live on Christmas morning in 1968 at the U.S. Army, Americal Division Base in Chu Lai, Vietnam. He was doing what he selflessly did for so many years -- a Christmas USO Show. I'd flown a 12 hour mission up north all that Christmas Eve night before, but I was wide-eyed awake with excited anticipation of seeing the USO show. On our way back from the coast near Haiphong we had received a secret coded message while in flight headed south to the air base. It indicated that none other than Mr. Bob Hope would be doing his USO show later that morning in Chu Lai. Once on the ground I rushed to the site with my flight crew and brought along a camera with a telephoto lense. Some secret! We ran into a traffic jam in an endless sea of GIs uniformly attired in fashionable, olive drab (OD) as we all flowed in a mass to the staging area. Except for the wounded who were given well earned 'box seats' in front of the stage, most GIs just sat on the ground. An Army tank crew was kind enough to share a spot on their tank with us Navy flyboys that gave us a great view -- it was like a balcony private box at the Met! Then onto the stage strode Bob Hope, with his signature golf club in hand. The spontaneous roar of cheers must have stunned half of Ho Chi Minh's army. At some point during his great comedy routine, in which he constantly teased us kids about beautiful Ann Margaret and the Golddiggers who were to follow him onstage, I caught him with my camera in his immortal golf swing. That photo was then buried away for years with many other memories of war.
Years later, having long before traded in my olive drab uniform for my black-tie tuxedo, I found myself handling heady arrangements for none other than Bob Hope. I was directing a huge golf banquet of 2,500 people who were honoring him in Las Vegas with the presentation of The Old Tom Morris Award -- he was 82 years old at the time. Bob and his bride Delores had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary -- a milestone of love that he was most proud of and he made sure that I was well aware of it too. Sitting quietly in his suite I watched him and wondered, as he was as nervous as a church mouse getting ready to take the banquet dais later that evening. While I sipped a neat dram of whisky that he had poured for me to calm my own nerves, he stood in front of a mirror practicing his delivery of jokes, adjusting his bowtie, and humming his theme song, "Thanks For The Memories," to help calm himself down. At the same time he was asking me tons of questions. He asked me if I had spoken to Arnold Palmer yet -- who had flown in for this gala tribute to Bob Hope. I assured him that I had spoken to Arnie earlier and that he was in the hotel looking very much forward to making the presentation of The Old Tom Morris Award to him.
Later that evening, after the thunderous applause of big awards banquet had drifted away, I rode in the limo with Mr. Hope and his publicist Ward Grant back to the airport in Las Vegas. We were headed back to the Lear jet that I'd chartered to bring him from Burbank. He was like a little boy as he peered out the window asking about Arnold Palmer's Gulfstream II (with the umbrella logo on the tail) parked near our plane on the tarmac. The smell of aviation jet fuel rushed me back to the first time I saw Mr. Hope in Chu Lai those many years earlier. On the ride back I reached into my jacket pocket and pulled out an old snapshot I had taken of him back in Vietnam 15 years before -- my staff had kindly surprised me by having an enlargement photo made for me from an old 35mm Kodachrome slide that I had shared with them.
Handing the photo to Bob Hope I had the rare chance to personally thank him from my heart on behalf of all my comrades (and especially those kids that did not make it back home) -- for on that long past Christmas Day in Vietnam he had lifted our spirits high to remind us all of the best of America and to remind me personally about the game of golf that I loved. Seeing him with that golf club in Vietnam I secretly promised myself that I would follow my dad and chart out a career in golf if I survived the war. I remember, as I was telling this story to him that I had to quickly turn away to wipe the tears that had swelled up in my eyes at the emotion of recalling that experience. Bob reached up and flipped on the overhead reading light to take a closer look at the photo. After an instant he said to Ward and I, "That was Chu Lai, Christmas 1968." I about fell out of my seatbelt and cracked a smile at his perfect recall. His memory was as sharp as his humor. Then he said, "Can I write on this?" I told him that the photo was his to keep and do with as he wished. A few moments later he handed the picture over to me saying, "No, this is yours Jim." There, across the face of our mutual Vietnam memory, he had scribed:
"To Jim, Thanks for the Memory, Bob Hope"
That's the kind of down to earth guy he was. Golf bonded us better than war. Thanks to Bob Hope for that memory and the many others that all of us share.
May God bless you and keep you Mr. Hope!
Bob Hope's USO Christmas Show. Chu Lai, Republic of Vietnam, December 25th 1968.
Click here for the Official Bob Hope website
Bob Hope Exhibit: National Museum of Naval Aviation
1750 Radford Blvd.
Open 9:00 to 5:00 every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day - admission is free.