Thanks for the wisdom and honesty, Bob

AS a former US Marine living in Ireland I was saddened to learn of Bob Hope’s passing.

Just before Christmas 1967, he flew to southeast Asia with his USO entourage of musicians, comedians and comely young women.

As a member of the largest overseas deployment of US marines since Iwo Jima, it was Racquel Welch, Joey Heatherton and Miss World who we most appreciated coming up to entertain us in I Corps, south Vietnam's northern and most dangerous war zone.

Many of us at the Chu Lai combat base were taken aback as we took up seats in the large amphitheatre built by the Naval Construction Battalion (SeaBees), for just in front of the stage was huge scaffolding crawling with NBC cameramen recording the event.

Line company 'leathernecks,' already disgruntled that one out of every two marines in Vietnam was being killed or wounded at this time, began to grumble openly about just who this performance was being put on for us or the big TV audience back in the States.

Our cynicism increased when we saw combat engineers with mine detectors sweeping the road before the convoy bearing Hope's troupe arrived from the airstrip. That General William Westmoreland feared a crazed Marine grunt might sabotage the whole affair was an indication of the widening credibility chasm between the Saigon-based overall commander and enlisted 'jarheads' trying to stay alive in the killing fields adjacent to the demilitarised zone.

But all was forgiven the minute Bob Hope bounced onstage in his Hawaiian shirt, baseball cap and wielding his trademark golf club. His first joke proved his travelling coterie of gag-writers had done their homework.

With the waves of the South China Sea rolling in on the bone-white beach behind the stage, Hope intoned:

"You know I'm so very happy to be among all you marines here at Chu Lai... the Malibu for losers!"

Marines, ever hip to self-deprecating humour about our very limited chances of survival, went crazy.

"Yes, you Marines have done quite a commendable job here at Chu Lai, he continued, "creating the world's biggest ashtray!"

We opened the collective heart of our legendary fraternity of blood that day to the ski-nosed, English-born comic who willingly gave up his personal Christmas celebrations, enduring the monsoon rain and mud to huddle with us.

He eased our homesickness and the sheer hopelessness of our situation without resorting to any phoney rah-rah bunkum, the type of cloying 'my country, right or wrong' patriotism so in vogue in the USA today.

He looked into the secret of our souls when he summed up our own restless mood, and that within the US itself, about that most damnable war.

"You Marines probably know that there are a lot of people back home wondering exactly what you are doing in Vietnam. But you all know what you're doing here. Right?" he said pausing perfectly. "You're all just simply waiting to get out of here!"

Thanks for the memories, Bob, your honesty that day will never be forgotten by this marine.

Bryan Kennedy,

Rushbrook,

Cobh,

Co Cork.

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