Remarks at a Dinner Marking the 40th Anniversary of the United Service Organizations, Inc.

October 17, 1981

Bob, that was a great one-liner. [Laughter]

President Ford, Madam Chairman, Mr. President, and all you distinguished ladies and gentlemen here tonight:

It is a great pleasure for Nancy and myself to be here to celebrate this 40th anniversary of USO and the 40 years of Bob Hope's association with USO.

I don't think any of us realize that there probably isn't anyone who loves his work as much as Bob Hope. I discovered that once when he was up at our ranch and I took him over to the paddock fence to show him our horses. And then I got a telephone call. When I came back, he was doing a monolog to the horses. And they were laughing. [Laughter]

And, of course, as has been made so very evident here tonight, his other love is golf. When we met tonight, I said, ``Hello, how are you?'' And he says, ``Hello, what's your handicap?'' I said, ``The Congress.'' [Laughter]

But here with all the nice people like you I have to say I've discovered how nice people can be. I got a letter from an environmentalist the other day, and he was thanking me. He said it's the first time he's ever been able to make his children behave. He now scares them into being good by telling 'em James Watt will get 'em. [Laughter]

Of course, all your mail isn't that good. I've been getting some flak about ordering the production of the B - 1. How did I know it was an airplane? I thought it was vitamins for the troops. [Laughter]

Now, tomorrow Nancy and I are going to Virginia to commemorate the Battle of Yorktown. And let me lay to rest an ugly rumor. It isn't true that Bob entertained the troops there. [Laughter] He was still at Valley Forge. [Laughter]

But seriously, we are very proud to be here tonight, and I'm very proud to be the Honorary Chairman of the USO. The USO is the very epitome of the voluntary spirit, and it came into being 40 years ago, to meet a real need in the first few months of World War II. It continues because 40,000 volunteers give their time and effort to helping our men and women in uniform, and people like you give your help to them in what they're doing.

Now, this 40th anniversary is also the anniversary of Leslie Townes Hope with the USO. That's Bob. In fact, the USO had to catch up with him. Many of us have forgotten that he'd been entertaining the GI's for quite some time before there was a USO. And it was practically a solo act, wherever they were in the world. But now the USO goes on helping not only men and women in uniform but their families as well. And it does all this without government funding, depending on the great heart of a great people.

Let me tell you just one story -- and this is not a joke. There were two sailors, undoubtedly with our fleet there in the Mediterranean, who had a leave, and they were going to try and see Italy. And they were hiking their way around, and they were camped one night sleeping in sleeping bags, south of Rome. And they were mugged, set upon and robbed of everthing including their identification papers and the clothing of one of them. And the next day, being resourceful Yankee sailors, they hitchhiked their way to Rome, one of them zipped up in his sleeping bag, as he was the one who'd lost his clothes. Now, you can imagine what it would have been like if they'd had to tell their story to a chief petty officer, but instead, they landed on the doorstep of the USO in Rome. And the USO got clothing for them, got identity papers for them, and then, because they were trying to see Italy, took them on a tour of Rome.

Just about anywhere in the world that the American military men and women find themselves, they also find the USO. Noah Webster said, ``Wherever public spirit prevails, liberty is secure.'' Well, the public spirit of the USO and the public spirit of Bob Hope have been pretty evident for four decades now, and like everyone else up here, on behalf of all Americans, we thank the USO and Bob Hope for our liberty and for the men and women in the service.

And then, since I know that Bob hasn't got much to do these days, I have a job for him that he doesn't know about.

This is addressed to Bob Hope of California.

[At this point, the President read a commission, the text of which follows.]

Ronald Reagan

The President of the United States

of America

To Bob Hope, of California, Greetings:

For more than half a century, under eleven Presidents, you have raised the spirits of the American people. Your unmatched patriotism, integrity, stamina, and sense of humor have contributed to the well-being of your country in countless ways. As an entertainer, you have brought new meaning to the art of comedy and laughter to our hearts. During hard times, your comedy has uplifted the spirits of millions at home and reassured those in our armed forces overseas. Your years of selfless service and dedication have made you an American legend. For all that you have done, I do hereby appoint you Ambassador of Good Will to the entire World, and authorize you to do and perform all such matters and things as to the said Office do appertain or as may be duly given you in charge hereafter.

Done at the City of Washington this seventeenth day of October in the year of our Lord one thousand nine hundred and eighty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and sixth.

Note: The President spoke at approximately 10:15 p.m. in the International Ballroom at the Washington Hilton Hotel. In his opening remarks, he referred to former President Gerald R. Ford, Mrs. Charles H. Sethness, Jr., chairman of the dinner, and James E. Barrett, USO World President.

The transcript of the President's remarks was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on October 20.