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July 30, 2003

Who Can Walk in Bob Hope's Shoes?

Ronald W. Wolf

Entertainer Bob Hope has died at age 100. There is something about time, place, and events that shape individuals lives, making each unique. Mr. Hope's unique life was to be a "legendary entertainer."

But legendary entertainer falls short, as Mr. Hope was bigger than a legend, if there is a thing bigger than a legend. But there must be. The greatest mystery, outside of the Great Mystery, is how a few individuals can make so much of their lives and, in doing so, touch so many others.

During Mr. Hope's life, entertainment mediums changed. There were the live stages of vaudeville and the theatre, radio, movies, and television. Mr. Hope was a superstar in every medium.

As a star on stage, radio, and television and in the movies, his accomplishments include the following:

That's what he did as an entertainer. But his greatest achievement was his efforts to build morale for American troops around the world, bringing a bit of home to service men and women who were far from it.

He entertained troops over 50 years, starting in 1941 and lasting until 1990. His annual Christmas tours began in 1948 and continued into the 1970's, helping to ease the pain of loneliness and distance for young Americans. His tours also reminded America that we had people far from home, often in harm's way, who needed support here.

Bob Hope connected the civilian world to the uniformed world, ensuring we would not be indifferent. Sometimes America was passionate and concerned - during the 1940's and 1950's - and sometimes indifferent or angry - during Vietnam when soldiers and sailors took the blame for the mistakes of generals and presidents.

America hasn't failed to recognize Mr. Hope's achievements. Congress awarded him a gold medal in 1963, which was presented by President John F. Kennedy. The United Service Organization building in Washington, D.C., is the Bob Hope USO Building. President Lyndon B. Johnson gave him the Medal of Freedom. The U.S. Navy christened a 900-foot supply ship the USS Bob Hope. The U.S. Air Force dedicated a C-17 as "The Spirit of Bob Hope," although you'd think the Air Force could do better than just one plane.

In 1998, The Library of Congress created the Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment. Despite all the accolades, Mr. Hope may have been happiest by being honored by the opportunity to play golf with Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. It was Mr. Nixon and Mr. Eisenhower, though, who wanted to play golf with him, not the other way around.

But even with all the awards and recognition, we have not done enough.

The thing is that over time people will forget. A new generation will come along and say, "Who's Bob Hope?" So we have to tell them, "Well, Bob Hope was this unique man ." After all, that's why we name things after heroes, so people won't forget.

There are already streets and buildings named after Mr. Hope, although some city ought to consider The Road to Bob Hope. Here are some other suggestions.

If they ever build another space shuttle, it should be The Bob Hope. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to reconsider the name for their top award. The Oscar is distinctive, but winning a Bob could be too. How about Bob Hope's famous nose on a coin? How about the University of Bob Hope of Southern California? How about Fort Bob Hope? Maybe a new cabinet position for comedy - The Department of Bob Hope? Is the last one that far-fetched?

The saddest part of Mr. Hope's death is the answer to who can walk in his shoes? Nobody can.

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