"Hey, the USO has given me things that will stay with me the rest of my life ... so my doctor tells me," Hope once joked. "But I'm not complaining. How else would I get to travel with Carroll Baker, Jill St. John, Lana Turner, Ann-Margret, and Raquel Welch and have my wife wish me 'bon voyage'?"
Hope spent his holidays entertaining U.S. troops and was, for many soldiers, a wise-cracking Santa Claus who made laughter his greatest gift.
When told he was being sent to Vietnam for the first time, Hope said it was the Pentagon's idea. "They thought they'd try a new bomb," he said.
While Hope didn't bomb, in 1964 he was almost bombed when downtown Saigon took the brunt of a surprise attack. In a captured secret Viet Cong document, it was revealed that some Viet Cong leadership rebuked its Saigon terrorists for failing to kill Hope during that first visit to Vietnam. The bombs, according to the document, exploded 10 minutes before Hope and his troupe arrived.
In 1969, Hope and his entourage arrived off the coast of Vietnam on Vice Admiral Joseph Moorer's aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ranger. The memory remains vivid for Moorer, now 86 and living in Jacksonville.
Not only did Hope entertain 5,000 troops on Moorer's ship with a two-hour show, he took helicopters to a hospital ship 20 miles away for another show. He attended midnight mass on the ship, then watched NFL films into the wee hours. After three hours of sleep, he left the next morning for more shows in Vietnam.
"What a man," Moorer says. "His visits to the troops over all of those years meant so much to so many. Everyone admired Bob Hope."
His USO work won him a series of honors, including the Medal of Merit he received from Eisenhower in 1946, the Gold Medal of Freedom from former president John Kennedy in 1963, and the congressional designation signed by Clinton that named Hope an Honorary Veteran, the first such award granted in American history.
"Bob honored those who bravely served our country through three wars and six decades, bringing comedy to audiences who had very little to laugh about, and reminding them, and all the rest of us that even through war and despair, if there is laughter, there is hope," Clinton says.
And Hope brought home more than awards.Golf caps, golf balls, golf clubs, golf bags, sweaters and shoes all were accumulated during his time.
"He got souvenirs on all his USO visits. It's just a staggering amount of stuff from a staggering amount of places he visited from all the people he knew and all the people he touched.
"The hall of fame will provide a window to my Dad's life."