At Bob Hope’s funeral, I first heard the term “the ministry of Bob Hope,” and in so many ways, it was fitting.
According to estimates, over Bob’s 50-year history of entertaining the troops, he had seen more people just before their deaths than many clergy members. In one audience alone, some 60 percent lost their lives in the next battle. Bob Hope was a bringer of hope, whether he saw the G.I.s at his shows or was visiting them in field hospitals. He represented home to men and women in uniform, many of whom were still teens, stationed away from their families for the first time in their lives. As one soldier put it, Bob’s presence and entertainment “lifted the chins off the belt buckles.” He did that and more.
If any soldier could get close enough to give Bob his mother’s phone number, Bob would spend days calling those moms as soon as he returned home.
How do we know Bob Hope did all this? Because it’s written in the thousands of G.I. letters that he received during WWII. During the height of the war, Bob’s mailbox saw some 38,000 letters a week. The G.I.s wrote to him from their bunks, hospital beds, and even foxholes.
It wasn’t “Dear Sir” or “Dear Mr. Hope,” either. It was “Dear Buddy,” “Dear Pal,” and “Dear Brother.” They joked with him about the rations and the weather, sent him photos and souvenirs, and told him things they hadn’t even shared with their families. And they offered their prayers.
The letters sat in boxes for years at the Hope house, where his daughter Linda grew up, and where we all first began discussing the book. The letters now reside at the Library of Congress, where I, along with Linda, completed the manuscript for Dear Bob.
One sample letter was from a wife left behind.
Cranston 10, R.I. June 6th, 1944
I’m writing to you because my husband was one of the soldiers you brought a little of home to in Sicily. It was the only entertainment he had during his nine months of active service overseas, and now he will never see any other. Yes, I mean that he was killed in action. He didn’t die a hero. He never did anything spectacular. He just did his duty as best he could. His name will never go down in history as being great, and yet he was to me and I am very proud of him.
… My husband was like millions of others — he didn’t want to leave home and go to war, but there was a job to do and he was never one to shirk, so he went cheerfully.
… I wrote to you because my husband wrote me of the show he saw with you and Miss Langford. You seem like a friend and you saw him since I did —I guess that’s why I’ve told you all about it.…
Mrs. Harriet M. Petersen
Many of the letters thanked Bob for his sacrifice, private actions often done out of the limelight.
Somewhere in the PacificOctober 15th, 1944Dear Bob,
I am writing you this letter for myself and my gang. My Gang is the Whole U.S. Army. We really think you are a great guy and you sure have done more for the boys than all the rest of them put together …
We just read an article about the time you were giving a show and some boys marched 10 miles to see it, and when they got there, there were already so many G.I.s that they couldn’t see, so they started to walk back. And when you heard about it, you hopped in a jeep and overtook them and performed for 40 minutes in the rain. That is just what a real soldier would do, and we Aviation Engineers are proud of you, Bob…
Pvt. Dick Grainey, U.S.A.A.F.E.
Dear Bob … Bob Hope’s Wartime Correspondence with the G.I.s of WWII was originally scheduled to release in 2020 in honor of the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. But the pandemic changed that.
The release happened this year instead, which proved even more timely. America needs a good dose of hope right now, and one sure way to get it is by remembering all those WWII heroes who gave so much for our freedom.
As Christians it’s our job to carry that same title as ministers of Hope, because Bob’s message is a reflection of God’s Message
Emmy-nominated AWSA (awsa.com) member Martha Bolton served as the first female staff writer for Bob Hope (1980s and 1990s). She is the author of 88 books and a popular playwright. Dear Bob… won the 2021 Christian Market Book of the Year and Golden Scrolls Memoir of the Year. Martha was also named AWSA Member of the Year (2021).