Mention USO, and it brings back personal memories of performances on military bases by baseball manager Leo Durocher, performer Danny Kaye and band leader Kay Kyser and his "Kollege of Musical Knowledge," a top-rated radio musical program of the pre-TV 1940s.
Yesterday, outside 601 Indiana Ave. NW, the U.S. Army Band played "Thanks for the Memories," and this ex-GI, for one, finally was able to attend his first USO show starring Bob Hope, in person. Hope didn't disappoint those expecting great one-liners.
The occasion was the dedication of the Bob Hope USO Building, world headquarters and local center of the United Service Organization, a privately funded group chartered by Congress in 1941 to provide hospitality, entertainment and service (such as help in finding hotel rooms, housing and transportation) for military personnel.
The building, not-so-fondly remembered by many Washingtonians as the former home of the D.C. Bureau of Traffic Adjudication, is partly occupied by the USO under a sale-and-leaseback arrangement with the New York-based Gueli Organization. The D.C. hospitality facility, which includes a coffee bar, a family lounge and a display of photos of USO activities over 44 years, is on the first floor and in the basement.
Hope began entertaining service personnel in 1941. As Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger told the audience of about 1,000 yesterday: "There are no wars we can now send Bob to . . . The only one we had the Grenada invasion was over so quickly we never had a chance to send him."
Hope said his trips to military theaters have been culturally enriching. "I learned to say Kaopectate in seven languages," he told the appreciative audience.
In World War II, he joked, his first journey was aboard an ancient plane that "belonged to a four-star general -- Pershing," a reference to the commander of American forces in France during World War I.
After witnessing the unveiling of a bust sculpted by Electra Biggs that will be displayed in the lobby, Hope said he was honored by having a building bearing his name in the nation's capital. "If I expected a building named for me in Washington," he said, "I thought it'd be the IRS building."
Washington's greetings to Hope were voiced by Mayor Marion Barry, who read his proclamation in honor of the dedication. It was presented to retired Army Gen. Michael S. Davison, chairman of the ceremony and former commander of U.S. troops in Europe. A graduate of Washington's old Western High School, Davison recalled joining the D.C. National Guard in 1938 before going to West Point.