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While aboard the RMS Queen Mary when World War II began in September 1939, Hope volunteered to perform a special show for the passengers, during which he sang “Thanks for the Memory” with rewritten lyrics. He performed his first USO show on May 6, 1941, at March Field, California, and continued to travel and entertain troops for the rest of World War II, later during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the third phase of the Lebanon Civil War, the latter years of the Iran–Iraq War, and the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War. His USO career lasted half a century, during which he headlined 57 tours.
He had a deep respect for the men and women who served in the military, and this was reflected in his willingness to go anywhere in order to entertain them. During the Vietnam War, Hope had trouble convincing some performers to join him on tour. Anti-war sentiment was high, and Hope’s pro-war stance made him a target of criticism. Some shows were drowned out by boos and others were listened to in silence. The tours were funded by the United States Department of Defense, his television sponsors, and by NBC, the network which broadcast the television specials that were created after each tour. Many people considered him as an enabler of the war and a member of the system that made it possible.