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When servicemen spent time away from loved ones, a Bob Hope Christmas Show helped.

Christmas 1974, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas.

Part of joining the ranks of the new all-volunteer Army meant meeting a new bunch of guys.

They weren’t sports guys, or college guys. They weren’t career guys, or upwardly mobile guys.

Instead they were ‘just another guy’ sort of guys, or a Jag.

During the boot camp experience you saw weaklings get stronger, strong guys help others, and everyone gained a better understanding of their place in a bigger picture.

In 1974 the bigger picture was shutting down the Vietnam War instead of joining the fray, which happened a few months into 1975.

Every trainee from those days were tagged as Vietnam-Era vets. It was a big deal.

After boot camp comes something called Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, where you gained an MOS, or military occupational specialty.

That’s how we all arrived in Texas over Christmas.

To get the full effect of Army life I decided to stay in San Antonio over Christmas with the rest of the troops. I also had a pay issue between the Army and my bank where an allotment was supposed to be.

The money wasn’t in the bank and the Army was sure it was sent. In short, I was a broke baby boomer. It felt familiar.

Some of the AIT guys came from places they didn’t want to return to, others came from places like Hungary and Korea. My pals were foreign guys. You learn about other people and places by spending time with them.

I was all about the learning. Still am. That’s what Portland baby boomers are famous for.

Every morning started with a formation outside the barracks, followed by a nice walk to police up areas around the base. Policing up is official talk for picking up trash.

Christmas 1974 was all about trash picking and learning to do it right.

One of the gifts from that time was the early morning views of Texas. The sky and hills lit up each morning like a Christmas card. From dark, to gray, to colors fading in with the sunlight, the beauty was nearly unbearable.

But beauty isn’t for everyone.

The trash picker parade grew smaller each day as more guys went on profile. They’d come down with colds, visit a clinic, cough a lot, and get a bottle of codeine cough syrup.

The same people sleeping through morning formations also slept most of the day, waking up late to work on their cold and get more medicine.

Eventually the barracks looked like a shooting gallery, but instead of addicts nodding off for a corner drool, they had beds to stretch out on.

It wasn’t a real moral booster seeing how dudes spent their down time, but the Bob Hope Christmas Show changed that.

By 1974 Bob Hope was seventy years old. He’d already been in every major theater of war since WWII. By the time Vietnam was ending, Hope wasn’t as popular as he was in his prime.

Blame a friendship with President Richard Nixon for losing his youth audience.

One morning during trash pick up one of the guys said Bob Hope was doing his Bob Hope Christmas Show at Brooke Army Burn Center.

My Korean pal and Hungarian buddy said they were going, that I ought to come along. We planned on stopping at the PX for beers afterward.

The walk from the barracks to the show turned into a speed march between Korea and Hungary with the USA coming in last. Not good. The three of us stepped up the pace until we were nearly running.

No one wanted to come in last, even in an unofficial race.

In the 1974 Army everyone wore OD green shirts and pants called fatigues. Everyone also bloused their trousers. Think Star Trek uniforms with high pants tucked into boot tops.

Once inside the Brooke auditorium the only light came from the stage, leaving the rest of the room dim.

Before the show started the audience rolled in. By the time the Bob Hope Christmas Show started the room was full.

The band kicked in, Bob came out, guest stars took a turn. When he wasn’t on, Bob disappeared. I saw him in a room offstage keeping time to the band with a pencil, looking like a guy who still enjoyed the show.

My group was riveted to the stage. Gedi and Pak loved the Bob Hope Christmas Show.

The lights came up at the end and we saw the audience for the first time.

All servicemen who sustain horrible burns end up in the Brooke Army Burn Center, and there they were.

If you’ve never seen humans consumed by fire and still alive, it’s a testament to the human spirit.

Everyone looked alike. No ears, noses, or hair. Some were in different stages of treatment from walking, to wheelchair, to beds on wheels with IV racks.

The Bob Hope Christmas Show lifted these guys to a better mood, reminded them of a different time.

That one man would make the effort to show up in their house over Christmas was a thing of beauty.

The audience made the slow move out of the auditorium. They had to move slow because of the burns.

We moved slow, too. No one wanted the Christmas spirit to fade away.

After seeing the effect of the Bob Hope Christmas Show, it never will.

About David Gillaspie
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