Thanks For the Memories

Air crews recall their service as roadies for Bob Hope's USO show.

Actress Ann Jillian joins Hope in a duet on the Forrestal in 1984. (Department of Defense)
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We started from Van Nuys [airport] and went to Japan, and started flying all through the Air Force bases in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines.

We were flying a C-97 [Boeing Stratocruiser]. That airplane is built on the same chassis, you might say, as a B-50 or a B-29, but with bigger engines, so it has a huge cargo bay. The plane was a little bit VIP, but the main thing is that we had the cargo bays stacked with mattresses so Bob could crawl in there for the long, long flights. He'd come out and he'd smile and say, "Well, I'll just slap my wrinkle cream on and we'll be ready to go."

It was an unbelievably complicated airplane. They had the biggest engine we had ever built at that time; it was the same engine [a Pratt & Whitney R-4360] that was on the [Convair] B-36. The Air Force told us: "You'll never finish the trip." The C-97 has 28 cylinders, four rows of seven cylinders, and 56 spark plugs per engine, every one wanting to go wrong.

Well, we made up our mind we had to do it, so we took engines that were neither new engines nor old engines, they were right in between—they were kind of proven a little bit. We kept them running, and the trip worked out.

At Subic Bay [in the Philippines] Bob did a show on the flight deck of the Kitty Hawk. Well, when we got to Cubi Point, that's a small base with small airplanes. They didn't have a tug big enough to move that big C-97, so we had to reverse it. You could reverse for 30 seconds, and then you had to stop so you didn't bake the ignition harnesses. Then you had to stop yourself with your forward thrust, and you were very, very careful that you didn't tip it over on its tail. It was a little tricky, but we backed it in to where if you've got the right camera angle, it looks like the airplane was sitting on top of the carrier deck.

I loved to watch Bob. I couldn't get enough of his shows. The magic came in the effect it had on the audience.

Bob gave his very last live show here at our theater, the Caravelle. His daughter, Linda, says, "Jim, you've got to stick with Pops because he can't see, and he'll walk right off [the stage] and break his neck." I was trying to stay right with him, but he was kind of fidgety, you know, and he said, "Now Jim, don't worry about me. Just tell me: Is that Anita [Bryant] out there?" And I said, "Yes, Bob, that's Anita." And he said, "You just stand back and watch my smoke." He walked right to her, and that's when they did their wonderful last show.

South Vietnam, 1964
Thomas Anderson was a 34-year-old major commanding the 62nd Aviation Company "Outlaws" at the time of Hope's 1964 Christmas show in Vinh Long, South Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, he worked at the Pentagon, retiring from the Army Materiel Command in 1976. Today he helps manage the Vinh Long Outlaws Association.

On December 17, 1964, the 13th Battalion headquarters notified me that Bob Hope was coming to Vinh Long Army airfield on Christmas Day. The show was initially scheduled to be held in Can Tho, headquarters of the 13th Aviation Battalion, but the battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel J.Y. Hammack, recommended that the show be held in Vinh Long, partially because it was rather isolated in the rice paddies of the Delta and could be better secured.

We were thrilled. I had to keep it fairly quiet because of the sensitivity of the visit, but I did bring into the security arrangements my executive officer, Captain Al Iller, and of course Major George Derrick—both of us commanded UH-1 "Huey" helicopter companies there at Vinh Long.

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