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 9 of 10)
The big hiccup was trying to get into the Azores, into Lages. We couldn't land there. There were 50-knot winds, but they weren't just 50-knot winds, they were actually crosswinds. At the time, we could only go up to a 25-knot crosswind [in the C-141]. So we were really getting buffeted. We were able to loiter overhead long enough for Mr. Hope to talk to the folks down there via the radio.
Due to the incredibly bad weather, we had to divert to Rota Naval Air Station in Spain, where we put on an impromptu show. We showed up unexpectedly, but boy, did they ever pack the theater at midnight. When the word spread that Bob Hope was showing up, people came out of the woodwork. And that was the last show.
Bob McDaniel, a 39-year-old lieutenant colonel and a C-141 flight examiner pilot at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina, learned in 1990 that Charleston would crew a USO tour to Germany. McDaniel is now the director of St. Louis Downtown Airport.
I was in the right place at the right time. When the USO tour came up, it fell to Charleston to man the mission, and since this was a special USO tour that would be going to Berlin, they had to have a crew that had the Berlin corridor qualification and a Russian visa. It turned out there were only two of us that had those qualifications. So that's how I got on the crew.
We had a double crew, with four pilots, four flight engineers, two loadmasters, and two navigators on board, and we switched off on the various legs.
We were told that this would be [Bob Hope's] last USO tour. We celebrated his 87th birthday on board the aircraft on the flight. Of course [Operation] Desert Shield rolled around and Mr. Hope made one additional trip in December 1990, but it was very low key. It wasn't the multi-location tour that he had done in the past.
At the Berlin Wall, the East German guards were still standing at some of the old guard posts, and Mr. Hope started a conversation back and forth through a couple of holes in the wall. They exchanged hats, and took photos of Mr. Hope wearing an East Berlin guard's hat. It was very impromptu, and you could tell Mr. Hope was really enjoying it. I remember it was probably in the low 80s that day, the sun was shining brightly, and it was warm enough that just walking around you'd work up a sweat. Mr. Hope had his jacket on, collar turned up—you could tell he was on the chilly side, just like any other old geezer.
Mrs. Hope looked out for him quite a bit; she could tell when he was tiring, and she would take him away and get him the rest he needed. But when it was showtime, he was always 100 percent.