Local veterans thankful for Bob Hope USO memories
By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Veterans Day is commemorated annually at Southgate at Shrewsbury. And around the same time for the past several years, the anniversary of that retirement community has been celebrated with a musical-comedy revue performed by residents, and written and directed by Program Director Deanna Swan. This year, Swan integrated the two activities.
“It's about time that we combined them together,” she said. “It makes perfect sense.”
A cast of residents ranging in age from 65 to 95 presented the “The 2013 USO Show” with performances Nov. 10 and 11. The show honored both Veterans Day and Southgate's 24th anniversary. For the special occasion, the facility's 200-seat Flanagan Theater was transformed into Fort Southgate, the premiere retirement base.
The program included a photo of an actual stage built by troops for the Bob Hope USO Show, taken with a Kodak Brownie camera by resident Harold MacCombie while serving in the Amphibious Navy in New Guineas during World War II. In addition to Hope, that show featured the star's sidekick, Jerry Colonna, and the Andrew Sisters.
“We sat on coconut logs to see the show,” MacCombie recalled.
MacCombie performed in Southgate's revue, wearing his original uniform from 1942 through “46 – with a few alterations.
“I had to have it opened up a bit on the sides,” he explained. “Then, I was a 110 pounds soaking wet. Now, I's 140.”
The Southgate show included a men's chorus singing “This Is the Army, Mr. Jones.” Among the singers was John Cragan, who served in the Air Force from 1947 through “53 both stateside and overseas including Europe and the Far East.
While in England, Cragan was assigned to monitor and park the airplane of the Military Air Transport Service in which Hope flew. After the plane landed, Cragan was the first on base to preview the comedian's shtick.
“I went up the ladder, introduced myself to Bob Hope and shook his hand,” Cragan relayed. “He stuck his hand in his shirt like Napoleon and made some wisecrack comment. He knew where he was and why he was there.”
Hope was there to entertain the troops in a truck maintenance shop. The makeshift stage was two 40-foot flatbed trucks placed together and raised up four feet high.
“Seeing his shows made a lot of difference to the GIs,” Cragan said.
Backstage duties at Southgate were also handled by residents including Bill Moore, who operated the spotlight. Moore served from 1952 through “56 in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Korea, where he saw Hope perform at the Bayonet Bowl.
“He was very funny,” Moore said, “and he had an orchestra with a bevy of girls with him.”
Moore also saw Debbie Reynolds entertain onstage and then mingle afterward at the officers” club.
“I was too naïve back then to say a word to her,” he shared.
This was Moore's first time working on an anniversary show and he enjoyed the experience.
“It was a thrill seeing Bob Hope then,” he said, “and it's been a thrill doing this show now.”
Portraying Hope at Southgate was Jack Bouvier, a retired sergeant major of the Army with 22 years of service. A comedic sketch partnered him with Bing Crosby played by Tom Klett, a retired chief master sergeant of the Air Force with 30 years of service.
Swan noted that the residents” personal experiences and memories contributed to this production.
“Our folks are very patriotic,” she said. “We have people here from all walks of life and different viewpoints politically, but they'se all patriotic Americans.”
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