Bob Hope, who only seems to have been visiting the troops at Christmas since the Civil War, returned to Andrews Air Force Base last night and pronounced morale of American forces in Saudi Arabia "just sensational."

The 87-year-old entertainer told reporters on his return from Saudi Arabia: "My opening line in the last week has been, 'Are you ready?'

"And man, they all stood up with a fist and said, 'We're ready.' "

Hope was asked how morale of today's forces compared with those he entertained in the Vietnam War. "They know more what they're doing," he replied.

Hope's Christmas appearances were drastically toned down this year for fear of offending the strict Saudi hosts.

Except for his wife, Dolores, women on the tour were based in Bahrain and appeared only on U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf. Reporters were not permitted to attend the shows.

Appearances from camps in Saudi Arabia and from the ships will be spliced together into a single television special next month.

Hope's first overseas tour was in World War II, almost 50 years ago, and he recalled servicemen in 1983 telling him their grandfathers had seen him.

Hope has said recent trips, such as his 1989 Christmas appearances in Europe, were his last. He repeated that again last night: "Honest, this is my last trip."