Eradicating rat infestation on FSB Maude may have been Charlie Battery’s primary focus in December 1971, but the artillery battery’s parent organization, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, narrowly avoided everlasting infamy during the Christmas Tour 1971 visit to Da Nang by legendary comedian Bob Hope and his USO troupe.
On Tuesday, December 21, 1971, Bob Hope led his entertainment entourage to “Freedom Hill” in Da Nang in another of the famed entertainer’s morale-boosting visits to entertain “the troops” that first began in May 1941, even before the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War II and ended a half-century later at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. G.I.s loved Bob Hope and he clearly loved them.
During the Christmas period of 1971, Hope once again brought his troupe to Vietnam to bring joy and cheer – and, thankfully, some much-needed laughs and humor – to U.S. Armed Forces troops serving throughout the Vietnam Theater of operations. On December 21, a typically cloudy, rain-soaked day during the seasonal monsoon weather that encompassed northern South Vietnam’s I Corps area, Hope arrived at Da Nang’s “Freedom Hill” outdoor amphitheater via Huey helicopter, to be greeted by thousands of cheering 196th Light Infantry Brigade soldiers as well as many more hundreds of USAF personnel from the major U.S. air base at Da Nang.
The Huey helicopter bearing Hope hovered over the landing pad at Freedom Hill, spewing the drenched, rain-soaked air over those gathered to meet the legendary performer, then settled gently to the ground. Bob Hope, cloaked in a G.I. rubber poncho, leaped out of the aircraft, and began to stride toward his beloved troops, his signature golf club driver clutched in his right hand. As the applause and roar of the crowd rose, Hope automatically responded, and began to raise his golf club to acknowledge the acclamation of the audience. But he was still directly underneath the rapidly-spinning rotor blades of the Huey helicopter!
Instinctively, the 196th Light Infantry Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Joseph P. McDonough, who was there on the landing pad to meet and greet the famous entertainer, leaped forward, grabbed Hope’s right arm holding the golf club driver, and pulled it safely down to Hope’s side before the club could be raised high enough to reach the dangerously spinning helicopter rotor blades! Hope was momentarily taken aback, but almost immediately recovered, realizing that McDonough’s prompt action had clearly saved his life.
Unfazed, Bob Hope – a genuine “trouper” in show business parlance — proceeded to give “the troops” gathered on Freedom Hill in Da Nang one of his typically superb performances, shrugging off a “near death” incident that came perilously close to costing him his life – and in the process preventing the 196th Light Infantry Brigade from going down in U.S. history as “the unit that killed Bob Hope”!