While aboard the RMS Queen Mary when World War II began in September 1939, Hope volunteered to perform a special show for the passengers, during which he sang "Thanks for the Memory" with rewritten lyrics. He performed his first USO show on May 6, 1941, at March Field, California, and continued to travel and entertain troops for the rest of World War II, later during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the third phase of the Lebanon Civil War, the latter years of the Iran–Iraq War, and the 1990–91 Persian Gulf War. His USO career lasted half a century, during which he headlined 57 tours. He had a deep respect for the men and women who served in the military, and this was reflected in his willingness to go anywhere in order to entertain them. During the Vietnam War, Hope had trouble convincing some performers to join him on tour. Anti-war sentiment was high, and Hope's pro-troop stance made him a target of criticism. Some shows were drowned out by boos and others were listened to in silence. The tours were funded by the United States Department of Defense, his television sponsors, and by NBC, the network which broadcast the television specials that were created after each tour. Many people considered him as an enabler of the war and a member of the system that made it possible.
Hope recruited his own family members for USO travel. His wife, Dolores, sang from atop an armored vehicle during the Desert Storm tour, and his granddaughter, Miranda, appeared alongside Hope on an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean. Of Hope's USO shows in World War II, writer John Steinbeck, who was then working as a war correspondent, wrote in 1943:
When the time for recognition of service to the nation in wartime comes to be considered, Bob Hope should be high on the list. This man drives himself and is driven. It is impossible to see how he can do so much, can cover so much ground, can work so hard, and can be so effective. He works month after month at a pace that would kill most people.
For his service to his country through the USO, he was awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1968. A 1997 act of Congress signed by President Bill Clinton named Hope an "Honorary Veteran." He remarked, "I've been given many awards in my lifetime — but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most — is the greatest honor I have ever received."
Hope was awarded over two thousand honors and awards, including 54 honorary doctorates. In 1963 President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal for service to his country. President Lyndon Johnson bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on Hope in 1969 for his service to the men and women of the armed forces through the USO. In 1982, he received the S. Roger Horchow Award for Greatest Public Service by a Private Citizen, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards. He was presented with the National Medal of Arts in 1995 and received the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award in 1997. Hope became the 64th and only civilian recipient of the United States Air Force Order of the Sword on June 10, 1980. The Order of the Sword recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the enlisted corps.
Several buildings and facilities were renamed after Hope, including the historic Fox Theater in downtown Stockton, California, and the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. There is a Bob Hope Gallery at the Library of Congress. In memory of his mother, Avis Townes Hope, Bob and Dolores Hope gave the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC a chapel, the Chapel of Our Lady of Hope. USNS Bob Hope (T-AKR-300) of the U.S. Military Sealift Command was named after the performer in 1997. It is one of very few U.S. naval ships that were named after living people. The United States Air Force named a C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft the Spirit of Bob Hope
Fascinating too, and good reads, are Hope's own words to describe his many USO tours. "I never left home", "I Owe Russia $1200", and "Five Women I Love: Bob Hope's Vietnam Story".
Mr. Hope: we salute you and thank you for your service to the servicemen and women of our country. Rest in peace.