The Golddiggers reminisce about traveling with Bob Hope to Vietnam and around the world between 1968-70.
"We were absolutely thrilled to be invited to be part of the most prestigious of all USO Tours...The Bob Hope Christmas Show! Understandably, some of our families were rather worried about us girls heading into war zones and as we were soon to find out, with good reason. Little did we know at the time, what life altering experiences awaited us."
Rosie Gitlin recalls, "Bob was amazing to work with, so kind and gracious. He practically adopted us, taking us everywhere with him. Whenever he received an invitation, we accompanied him. I remember when he was invited to dine with President Richard Nixon. Off we traipsed with him to the White House, where we performed for the leadership of our country, including a young senator, George Bush! Imagine our group of naive girls, from all parts of the USA and Canada, being treated like royalty as we dined at the White House. We had to pinch ourselves to be sure it was real! Bob opened so many doors for us and we were always treated First Class, whether visiting the King and Queen of Thailand in their palace or lunching with General Abrams in Saigon."
"We fondly remember his gift of laughter, how he was able to do four to five shows a day under terrible conditions, in the midst of a war in the jungles of Vietnam, yet always appeared refreshed. Dressed in the attire of the camp we were visiting and with his ever-ready golf club in hand, Bob gave his all for our servicemen and women away from home at Christmas. Susie Ewing recalls a specific incident in Cu Chi. "When we arrived at the base, which was knee deep in mud and rain, we heard what sounded like thunder. I was quickly told it wasn’t thunder, but gunfire, and we were to head for the nearest bunker immediately! I was standing next to Bob and heard him reply, ‘Don’t bother me with bombs right now; I’m busy working on my cue cards!’ That was Bob for you."
Speaking of cue cards, we traveled with tons of them. Our cue card guy was a critical part of the success of our shows, recalls Sheila Allan. She goes on to tell a funny story about being in Italy and Bob wanting to make sure we saw as many of the sights as possible as this was our first trip to Europe and beyond. He hired a bus to take us to points of interest, in particular the Vatican. "We arrived at the Vatican in our travel wardrobe which consisted of a mini length black jumper and a jacket. Of course, the guards wouldn’t let us in, dressed like that. Being the resourceful girls that we were, we turned our jumpers around, pulled them down to an appropriate length, put our jackets on over our tops and sailed past the guards!"
We flew around the world in military aircraft, cargo planes with no windows. Jackie Chidsey recalls, "When we boarded the plane we were surprised to see the inside decorated for Xmas, tree and all, which really kept us in the Christmas spirit! I’ll never forget the moment when we were about to board a helicopter to take us from Lai Khe to Utapao and I noticed a lot of bullet holes on the Huey. My escort commented that the life expectancy of a helicopter pilot in Vietnam was only 27 days, after which I immediately asked him how many days had our pilot been flying!"
Nancy Sinclair recalls, "We were right in the midst of the war and it was not glamorous. It was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. Knowing our military guys and gals had their lives on the line, we knew how much seeing our show meant to them, so following Bob’s lead, we kept an upbeat attitude. We represented home. We visited the hospitals, too, and Bob always went into the burn wards where the soldiers suffered the most, but that’s where he drew the line. He wouldn’t let us go, trying to protect us from the horror of the casualties."
For Suzy Cadham, our Canadian Golddigger, the most poignant memory was on Freedom Hill in Da Nang . "We were all on stage closing the show and as far as I could see there were Marines, 20,000 of them, hanging from trees, poles, anything to catch a glimpse of the girls from back home. We looked out on the first rows in front of us, where the patients always sat, with their makeshift IV’s, gurneys, bandages and casts; the wounded, for a precious brief time, laughing and having a good time. As always, Bob closed the show with everyone singing ‘Silent Night’. That day it was raining and we had slickers on over our costumes. Singing that Christmas carol under those conditions, far from home, well, believe me, everyone was crying, not just on stage. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house."
Even after all these years, The Golddiggers will tell you that this was the most difficult, but also the most rewarding, experience of their lives. Little did they know back then, how it would impact them forever. Today, when they run into servicemen and women who shared this time with them in Vietnam, it still brings back strong emotions.
Undeniably, it was our dear Bob Hope who made it all possible. Of his great service, he said simply, "We went because there were kids there who needed a show, and television made it possible for us to show the faces of thousands of kids in combat areas to their families back home." The Golddiggers are proud to have been a part of that history. "Thanks for the Memories!"