Thanks For the Memories
Air crews recall their service as roadies for Bob Hope's USO show.
- By Rebecca Maksel
- Air & Space magazine, January 2010
Department of Defense
(Page 8 of 10)
We wanted Bob Hope to come to Diego Garcia. And we needed 2,000 extra feet on the runway—a total of 6,000 feet was needed for a C-141 jet. We worked 24 hours a day for two or three weeks. A thousand Seabees were on that island and they hadn't seen a girl for six months. So that was our incentive. Bob Hope's jet was the first to land on Diego Garcia.
We had regular runway lights, portable, which had rubber cables running all along the side of the runway. We'd plug them in, and the runway strip would be red at one end and blue on the other. There were nights when we couldn't get the lights on. You'd throw the switch and nothing would come on.
It was like a sea of red crabs on the runway all the time, like a swarm. They would pull apart the lights on the runway and the planes couldn't see to land, and we weren't within 1,000 miles of anything—you couldn't land anywhere else. The planes would be ready to run out of fuel in the air.
Many nights they would tell us the lights were out. I don't know if you've ever watched the movie Hatari! with John Wayne, where he [hunts rhinos] from a little chair mounted on the hood of a truck. We had a chair on our truck, and I would sit in it, and we used to tear down that runway at 50 miles an hour, trying to find the break in the cable lines so the planes could land.
The Bob Hope show was probably the highlight of my tour. I got to sit in the front-row seat because the runway crews worked all night keeping the crabs off the runway.
The 57th Military Airlift Squadron at Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma transported Hope and his troupe in 1987, and Major Philip "Hawkeye" Pierce was the third pilot on the crew. Today, Lieutenant Colonel Pierce is director of operations of the 89th Airlift Squadron, 445th Airlift Wing, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.
We generally supported all the USO tours with [Military Airlift Command] airplanes, so it was appropriate for us to step up and fly Mr. Hope around the world for that particular mission.
We had two [C-141] aircraft. Both airplanes functioned perfectly.