By Jack King
Like millions of other members of the Armed Forces, several Clovis residents remember seeing Bob Hope at different times in his almost 60-year career of entertaining troops.
Longtime Clovis resident Len Santi said the comedian, who died on Sunday at age 100, came through the Clovis/Cannon Air Force Base area in the 1940s.
“I came out here in September or October of 1942 with about 150 men from Geiger Field in Washington,” Santi said in a telephone interview Monday. “We came out to open up the Clovis Army Air Base. When we came out here, there wasn’t anything out there. There were no buildings. It had been used as a glider school but was closed down.”
Santi served as a chief warrant officer in charge of billeting, specifically assigned to the billeting of officers’ quarters on the new Army air base.
“It was in either 1943 or 1944. I remember driving (Hope) to the billeting quarters. He collapsed on the bed and said, ‘I need to rest for a while.’ He had been traveling to a lot of places at the time.”
Santi said Hope was traveling with two companions — comedian Jerry Colona and singer Frances Langford.
J. A. “Mac” McDaniel was an Air Force captain at the time, in charge of Cannon’s transportation. He said he remembers seats being set up in the base’s big hangar.
“Everybody was impressed. Bog Hope was recognized as a great actor and comedian,” he said.
Thirty years later, in 1970 or 1971, Donald Bird was a driver and gunner on an M42A1 “Duster,” a piece of self-propelled artillery, near Chu Chi, Vietnam, when he saw Hope.
“I don’t really remember who was with him. Those were the days of go-go girls,” he said. “I remember he had the hospitalized guys up front. I remember one joke. He said, ‘I’d like to play golf here, but the holes are too big,’” Bird said.
“Chu Chi had one of the biggest tunnel complexes in Vietnam and the 25th Infantry Division build a base camp right on top of it. That night we came under a mortar attack and he couldn’t be helicoptered out. He spent his time in general quarters. I think one of the best things they ever did was to name him an honorary veteran,” Bird said.
Richard Dindinger was a 22-year-old radar specialist with the Air Force in Korat, Thailand, in 1968, when he saw Hope, who appeared with sexy dancer Juliet Prowse.
“We worked all night, then went to sleep on the ground near the stage so we could get a good spot,” he said. “If you haven’t seen a beautiful American girl in a long time, she looks pretty good, even from 100 yards away. There were about 1,000 GIs at the show.”
Stan Simpson, who also was in Korat, Thailand, as an airman first class doing maintenance on EC121 aircraft, said Hope was something of an institution by the time he saw him in 1969.
“People started coming in 24 hours in advance. He was doing his Christmas show. One of the great things about the show was being part of his tradition. I was proud to be a part of it,” he said.
Freedom Newspapers senior staff writer Gary Mitchell contributed to this article.