Have Jokes, Will Travel

Backstage stories from Bob Hope’s USO tours.

Bob Hope and actress Ann Jillian entertain sailors and shipyard workers on the USS Forrestal in 1984. (Department of Defense)

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Gary Arney was a star-struck 19-year-old Private First Class when he served as security escort to comedienne Phyllis Diller on board the USS Bennington in 1966.

I heard about Bob Hope's visit the day before from a sergeant. He wanted to assign people [as security escorts] who weren't going to be on duty at the time. I happened to get Phyllis Diller, which was an honor. She was one heck of a nice woman.

She was really funny all the time, always cutting up. She treated everybody with a lot of respect. She was just great to be around. And that laugh of hers…I can't get over that.

I took her from the wardroom to the stage and then back to the room she was staying in, down in Officers' Country. I stood by in case she needed anything and to make sure no one bothered her.

When Bob Hope came out on the stage he saw the first two rows or so were officers. He looked down at them, and he told them to get up and get to the back, and for the enlisted men in the back to get in the front, and then he'd start the show.

Another time, the officers had a wardroom set up for him to have dinner with them and, well, he refused and went down to the mess hall with the enlisted men and had dinner and signed autographs. He said, “This show was for the enlisted, with all due respect.”

He was a great man. I don't think he's gotten enough recognition for what he's accomplished and done in his life.

In 1966, A.E. “Al” Rowley was the supply officer on board the USS Bennington when Bob Hope and his troupe paid a holiday visit.

The USS Bennington was an anti-submarine carrier. There were probably 3,500 to 3,600 men on board. Of course there was not a submarine threat in the Vietnam War, at least not one we were concerned about, but we were constantly training for that mission.

Our planes were anti-submarine patrol aircraft, which were used to survail the shipping that was going in and out of Haiphong Harbor. Our station was about 35 miles away, and our planes were just minutes away; they could get there in just six or seven minutes, so we had aircraft over Haiphong Harbor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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