As usual, there were soldiers waiting for Bob Hope.
"Bob Hope," said airman Steve Principe. "He's been with the armed forces ever since time began. He's just somebody that lifts your spirits. When you see him over there with people like Marilyn Monroe . . . "
He paused, filled with the memory -- which was strange, considering he was born years after she died.
But Bob Hope has that effect on people. He makes young soldiers remember the good old days and old ones remember how young and scared they once were. Today they gathered, young and old, at the new national headquarters of the USO to dedicate the building to the International Ambassador of Shtick.
He is 82 now. A lot of things have been named for him: a couple of high schools, a theater, a hospital for crippled children, a golf tournament, a street in Miami and a deli sandwich.
"All ham and tongue," Hope said.
It was that kind of day. Corny jokes and men in uniform are still an irresistible combination. They stood in the sunshine outside the Bob Hope USO Building on Indiana Avenue NW and listened to the Army Band. They played his song (again and again) and sang his praises.
"Bob Hope, you are a symbol of all that is good about America," said Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. And later, "The good news is that under our administration there are no wars we can send Bob to. The only one we had got over so quickly, he didn't have a chance to go to Grenada."
The colors were presented and a snare drum rolled, and when a bust with the familiar profile was unveiled, Hope did a perfectly executed double take. Then they gave him the mike and he did a perfectly executed 10 minutes.
"Having a building named after you in this town is more than an honor," he said. "It's also a guaranteed parking space.
"I always knew there would be a building named after me in Washington. I thought it would be the IRS building."
He glanced at his likeness. "It'll scare some of the dogs off the sidewalk."
Everyone laughed, including Attorney General Edwin Meese, Kris Kristofferson, Mayor Marion Barry and Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Hope made his first appearance for the USO in 1941 at March Field in California and his last Christmas tour abroad in Beirut in 1983. In between, he went wherever there were soldiers. And wherever he went, he took pretty girls: Frances Langford, Anita Ekberg, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret, Brooke Shields. "I never complained," he said. "I just made the best of it."
Everyone thanks him for the memories, but they don't always ask about his. "I have lots of memories," he said. "Box lunches, yellow-fever shots, and I learned to say Kaopectate in seven languages."
He remembers his first trip abroad in 1943 to England, Sicily, Iceland and Africa. "I was just talking to General Vessey about the time when we were in Algiers and we met Eisenhower that afternoon. He said, 'I hear they've been throwing some bombs at you.' And I said, 'Yeah, I don't like it. I must be part-girl or something. I dive under the bed.' He said, 'Don't worry, that won't happen here.'
"Well, that night at 4 a.m., they came over, and we all ended up in the wine cellar for two hours. So I left him a note. 'Thanks for the rest.' "
In November 1950 he went to Hungnam, North Korea. Enemy territory. Jerry O'Donnell was 17 then, a private in the Marine Corps. "He got to Hungnam before we did -- and got out a lot easier than we did, too," said O'Donnell, now a federal worker. "We made a landing there and then went to Chosen. We were embarrasssed that he was there before we were."
O'Donnell remembers "being too dumb to be terrified."
Hope remembers, too. "That's where we beat the Marines to the beach," he said. "But we didn't know it at the time. Or we would never have stopped."
Later he toured Vietnam. On one of his trips, he said, "the Viet Cong blew up our hotel five minutes before we got there. It went off five minutes early because of a faulty timing device. They wanted me killed."
Army Sgt. Howard Robinson saw Hope at Tansonnhut airport in Saigon. "He was about that big," Robinson recalled, holding his fingers an inch apart. "I was behind 180,000 other GIs. I couldn't hear a thing except for GIs screaming and yelling. It was just noise. I said, 'Yeah, it's Bob Hope.' I got to see him in person, but that person was about three miles away."
"My memories?" Hope said. "I would introduce girls like the Gold Diggers and step back and watch the eyeballs roll in the first row."