Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 2001 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- Al Jolson. Jack Benny. Bing Crosby. Clark Gable. Betty Davis. Jimmy Stewart. Bob Hope. Just about any star you can name who was alive and kicking in the forties did their bit for America during World War II. Sure, they made lots of patriotic movies and sang lots of patriotic songs, but most ventured further than the sound stages and recording studios of Hollywood -- many gave their time, energy, and talent to entertaining the troops on USO tours overseas, others traveled throughout the states on cross-country US Bond tours, and some went even further still -- they enlisted.
Bob Hope's annual trips to entertain troops overseas are legendary and spanned several major wars, from World War II all the way to Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. Through the years and wars, dozens of other stars, like comedienne Martha Raye, joined with Hope on these tours. But during World War II just about anyone who was anyone in the entertainment business, made it their business to entertain the servicemen at camps both at home and abroad.
Bette Davis and John Garfield were instrumental in starting the famous Hollywood Canteen, a club for all servicemen located in the heart of Hollywood. Here soldiers, sailors and marines could stop in while on leave in L.A. for a cup of coffee, a sandwich and maybe have a dance with Joan Leslie or Ann Sheridan to the Benny Goodman orchestra. Plenty of stars pitched in to help at the canteen in any way they could.
Glenn Miller and his orchestra performed at army camps when the war broke, but then, feeling that he should do more for his country, he entered the army to form what became the nation's most popular service band. Miller joined as a captain and was later promoted to major. He built a military band and went to England in the summer of 1944 with plans to move into the European war front zones to entertain the troops. Miller took a plane from England on December 15 bound for France. Sadly, the plane and its occ
upants disappeared into the low-hanging clouds and was never seen again. James Stewart and Clark Gable flew bombing missions. Stewart flew 20 missions over Germany as a bomber pilot, rising from a private to a full colonel. He became the highest ranking entertainer in the US military when he was made brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, a rank he maintained until his retirement from the service in 1968.
Clark Gable joined the Air Force after his wife, actress Carole Lombard, was killed when her plane crashed into a mountain while returning from a War Bond drive. Gable rose in rank from lieutenant to major and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for piloting several bombing missions over Germany.
Actor Robert Montgomery was commissioned a lieutenant in the US Naval Reserve in 1941, and after a stint as assistant naval attaché at the embassy in London, he was assigned to set up a naval operations room at the White House. He later commanded a PT boat in the Pacific and was an operations officer aboard a destroyer during the D-Day invasion of France. He was awarded the Bronze Star and later decorated as a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor.
Lesile Howard returned home to England at the outbreak of World War II to produce films in support of the British war effort. He was killed while on a secret mission, when his plane was shot down by Nazi raiders.
Wayne Morris, hero in a number of Hollywood action pictures, served with valor as a Navy aviator. He shot down seven Japanese aircraft in aerial dogfights and sunk an enemy gunboat and two destroyers. He was awarded four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals and was discharged a lieutenant commander.
Will today's movie stars and recording artists serve their country as well as the entertainers of sixty years ago? Are they as patriotic? Aside from a few high-profile, well-publicized concert/TV events held to raise money for the victims of the September attacks, I'm afraid we haven't heard or seen too much of our "stars" lately in regards to defending our country. Never mind enlisting in the armed forces, try to name one big star who has even come forward with encouraging words for our troops in service.
What do you think? Will Tom Hanks and Matt Damon fly bombing missions over Afghanistan? Will Steven Speilberg produce flag-waving movies that actually take place later than 1944? Will Bette Midler, who once loved to dress in an army WAC uniform when performing
"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in emulation of the Andrews Sisters, put on that uniform now and entertain our troops overseas? I'll take all bets.
Funny how today's entertainers can be so brave and patriotic when dealing with World War II but so cowardly when it comes to defending America against people who want to destroy us now. W.W.II is "pretend time" for these people. It's history. It's safe to be in favor of it now -- there's no risk. It's the "in" war.
But Islamic fanatics who are driving airplanes into our cities and poisoning us with chemicals is not "pretend time." Six thousand innocent people in New York, Washington DC and Pennsylvania murdered by terrorists a month and a half ago is not history. It's all a little too real and a little too recent. Not so easy to act brave for this new war, is it guys?
Who will entertain our troops this Christmas? Someone put in a call to Bob Hope. Even
now, at the age of 98, you can bet that if he could he'd be over there in a New York
JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.