Last night, at his country's embassy here, West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, fresh off the jet, gave the USO a check for 900,000 deutsche marks.
In return, Bob Hope, the USO's unofficial ambassador, oversaw the presentation of an "official USO Bob Hope entertainment hat." Schmidt turned the small white gift in his hand. "I think I've just been given a six-star general's cap," he said.
"I have long admired Bob Hope," Schmidt continued, "especially his ability to keep his public in a good mood. I just can't hold a candle to that.
"Of course," he said, "in Bonn I don't have the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders."
For the crowd standing in the embassy lobby, the combination of Bob Hope and a chancellor with a sense of humor was just too much. The USO conventioneers, in town to celebrate their 40th anniversary, cheered. The Bavarian dancers, who greeted the chancellor with song, yipped and yodeled lustily. Protocol chief Leonore Annenberg and former defense secretary Melvin Laird ("my old friend Melvin Laird," was how Schmidt referred to him) clapped and smiled. The only unhappy people in the room were a small and testy army of photographers who pushed and shoved each other trying to get pictures of it all.
Schmidt said the gift, the equivalent of about $400,00, is intended to aid the USO's family support services for the 235,000 U.S. servicemen stationed in West Germany. He had only kind words for the NATO troops, saying, "American servicemen are welcome in our country, not only as forces of an ally, but as friends." Schmidt said he hoped the money would be used to ease contact between U.S. troops and the local German population.
"I see servicemen are to be offered courses in German cooking," said the chancellor with a smile. "That is good. Our cooking isn't much, but it's better than yours."
"The timing is perfect," said Hope of Schmidt's arrival yesterday. "We're just in the process of celebrating." That was a reference to a USO luncheon earlier in the afternoon.
The chancellor noted that they hadn't waited for him.
"I didn't think you'd like the food," Hope countered.
Then the music started, and Schmidt, Hope and Laird whirled three women in Bavarian costumes around a dance space the size of an elevator.
"He's a marvelous, wonderful dancer," said Schmidt's partner, a starry-eyed Mollie Poelsterl, after it was all over.