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50 Years Ago This Week: Bob Hope Goes to Vietnam

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Milestone moments do not a year make. Often, it’s the smaller news stories that add up, gradually, to big history. With that in mind, in 2017 TIME History will revisit the entire year of 1967, week by week, as it was reported in the pages of TIME. Catch up on last week’s installment here.

Week 51: Dec. 22, 1967

With the U.S. at war in Vietnam and another holiday season approaching, yet another group of servicemen were being exposed to an American military tradition: Bob Hope.

As this week’s cover story explained, Hope had spent Christmas with the troops for 12 years in a row, and joked with those serving in the ’60s that he knew their fathers had seen him in World War II and he hoped their grandfathers had caught his set at Appomattox. In fact, Hope had begun his relationship with the troops even before Pearl Harbor, as early as the institution of the draft in 1940. The ubiquity was good for his own career, but he was already a celebrity by that point and was able to dedicate his time and money to the war effort. And the arc of his career made Hope’s acts part of the historical record far beyond the realm of comedy:

The body of Hope’s work is nothing less than an index to history, told in one-and two-liners. Back in the ’40s, he reported that in their strategy talks, F.D.R. and Churchill wondered: “When and where will we attack the enemy and how will we keep Eleanor out of the crossfire?” F.D.R.’s Fala was “the only dog to be housebroken on the Chicago Tribune.” In 1954, Hope had it “on good authority that Senator Joe McCarthy is going to disclose the names of 2,000,000 Communists. He just got his hands on a Moscow telephone book.”

In those years, too, he noted that “the workers love Khrushchev very much. He hasn’t got an enemy in the entire country. Quite a few under it.” And Dwight Eisenhower was always “the pro from the White House. I knew him when he was a general—he had authority then.” In the ’60s, Hope declared that he had “played the South Pacific while Lieut. John Kennedy was there, and he was a very gay, carefree young man. Of course, all he had to worry about then was the enemy.”

As a social commentator, Hope dares more than anyone else in show business to throw a pie in the industry’s face. As emcee at the Oscar award ceremonies one year, he observed that “this is the night when war and politics are forgotten, and we find out who we really hate.” For years he has kidded General David Sarnoff, who takes both his brigadier’s star and position as RCA board chairman with great seriousness. But even Sarnoff chuckles when Hope whips out with: “When I started with the NBC network, he was using the enlisted-men’s washroom.” And he has certainly had the last say on the progress of television. After Newton Minow’s 1961 complaint that TV was a “vast wasteland,” Hope measured television’s subsequent progress and concluded: “Mr. Newton Minow is a man of high ideals, whose needling, prodding and constructive suggestions have led our great industry up the path to The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Not that Hope’s love of the U.S. military meant he held back. Vietnam was case in point, as he demonstrated that his longevity was the product of dedication as well as insight. “The country,” he was quoted telling a group stationed in Vietnam, “is behind you—50%.”

Adolescent insight: After last week’s essay on the American parent, one young reader sent in a letter to praise the piece for its insight into the generation gap — and offered a poignant and timeless lesson for parents: “I love my parents and I know they love me, but they’ve ruined my life… I could never tell my parents anything, it was always ‘I’m too busy . . . too tired . . . that’s not important . . . that’s stupid . . . can’t you think of better things . . . oh, your friends are wrong . . . they’re stupid.’ As a result, I stopped telling my parents anything. All communication ceased. We never had that very important thing—fun.”

Presidential predictions: In looking ahead to 1968, the national news section still focused on LBJ’s re-election campaign, and how the President would use his Great Society programs to bolster his chances and push the nation to look forward to further reforms. “We are rich enough,” he was quoted saying. “Now the big question is: with your stomachs full, has it pushed your heart out of position where you no longer care?”

Global phenomenon: The protests sweeping U.S. college campuses were part of a worldwide trend, the education section reported. In France, for example, 250,000 students had just boycotted classes. Their grievances ran the gamut from the universities’ in loco parentis positions (in the U.K.) to student unionization (in Holland).

Taking a break: The ongoing war in Vietnam meant not only more fighting for U.S. troops, but also more military vacation — Rest and Recuperation, or R&R. The way the system worked at the time was impressive, and had a global impact. The government flew servicemen to any one of ten Vietnam-accessible destinations for five days of freedom, “making a total yearly tourist bonanza for the area of some $72 million,” TIME reported. Which destinations did they choose? Honolulu was popular for those who sought to rendezvous with a sweetheart back home, but there were less warm-and-fuzzy motivations in play too. One serviceman admitted to TIME that a reason he picked Sydney was that he wanted a chance to see white girls again.

Off by a few years: The business section quoted American Motors Corp.’s chairman as predicting that his company’s electric car would be on the road in five years. Though the electric car has had a long history by now, 50 years later the effort to get them on the road continues.

Toyland: With European Lego sales up 20% over the previous holiday season and American production expanding, the business section also took a look at the story of Lego inventor Godtfred Kirk Christiansen. Christiansen couldn’t even read fluently, it turned out, but his company accounted for “almost a penny of every dollar of Danish exports,” or $30 million at the time.

Great vintage ad: Milwaukee tries to attract businesses with a reminder than an “executive” is necessarily a man.

Coming up next week: The year in business

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com