EDITOR’S NOTE - This report is by Frank Morring Jr. of Scripps Howar
EDITOR’S NOTE - This report is by Frank Morring Jr. of Scripps Howard News Service, a member of the Pentagon media pool in the Persian Gulf.
ABOARD THE USS OKINAWA IN THE PERSIAN GULF (AP) _ Troops aboard the USS Okinawa cheered Bob Hope Friday as wildly as their fathers and, in some cases, their grandfathers did.
The 84-year-old comedian gave his 31st Christmas show before about 2,000 sailors and Marines on holiday break from escort and mine-clearing duties.
The troops hooted at his rapid-fire delivery of witty one-liners and wolf- whistled as he bantered with attractive women.
The sound the crew made when the Super Bowl Dancers went into their routine rivaled the noise the big mine-sweeping helicopters make when they lift off.
″We’ve been doing it for so long, we know pretty well what they want,″ said Hope, who brought along a gag writer to help him tailor his humor to each ship he has visited.
″I’ve never been to one of these shows before, and I wanted to see what it was like,″ said Doug Miller, 24, a machinist from Swords Creek, Va. ″I love it.″
Hope was joined beneath the television lights by actress Connie Stevens, who performed with him in Vietnam, and country singer Lee Greenwood, who said he wrote his ballad ″Proud to Be an American″ with the troops in the gulf in mind.
Ms. Stevens brought her two daughters, who at 19 and 20 are the same age as the lower-ranking enlisted men. Hope’s granddaughter Miranda, 16, held his cue cards.
″So we’ve got a little family,″ Hope told a small group of reporters before the performance.
Hope said he started performing for troops in 1941 and continued because ″the audience was so sensational.″
″Of course, in December, the war started and then it became dramatic,″ Hope said.
Hope’s performance, organized by the non-profit United Services Organization, will be broadcast on television in January.
Excitement built on the Okinawa through the day as preparations for the Hope show advanced.
Hand-painted signs went up on the carrier’s control tower, and a RH-53D mine-sweeping helicopter was wheeled behind the makeshift stage of planks and packing crates to serve as a backdrop.
″This is probably going to be the cleanest it’s ever been, or ever will be,″ said Mark Freseman, 20, of Palm Beach, Fla., as he and his crewmates prepared the chopper.
Normally, young enlisted airmen handle the 1,000-foot cables and mine- sweeping gear the RH-53s trail as they clear a path for U.S. warships and commercial vessels.
Units with other specialties made their bid for celebrity with banners: ″Medical Department - We’ve Got Hope″ and ″USS Okinawa Air Traffic Controllers Welcome the Bob Hope Desert Classic,″ for example.
″We’re getting it probably better than a lot of these ships,″ said Gary Gilliam of Sanford, N.C., as he watched sailors and Marines set up folding chairs on the flight deck.
″We’ve got it pretty good, I guess, but given my druthers, I’d rather be at home watching this on TV.″
Hope wasn’t the only Christmas attraction aboard.
Far below the flight deck, enlisted men jammed the narrow passageways leading to the mess halls. About 50 cooks had worked long days preparing the Christmas meal of roast turkey, prime rib and mounds of trimmings decorated with delicately carved vegetable garnishes.
″They really look forward to the meals,″ said Marine Staff Sgt. Jim Ottens, a mess watch captain, as men elbowed by to get to the food. ″It’s worth working a little harder because they really appreciate it.″