Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 31, 2003

pens tribute to entertainer Hope

World War II veteran Bobby Brown sits at his Phoenix home with a photograph and a jacket from his days as a private in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne. Brown said the death of legendary comedian and actor Bob Hope was like losing a fellow serviceman.(Melanie Ducnan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

PHOENIX Bobby Brown watched Bob Hope perform about three times during World War II, including when Hope was just about “from here to Satartia” from the Germans during the fight in Europe.

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Hearing Hope tell jokes took the war off the soldiers’ minds for a while, Brown said, even though more than 400,000 Americans died in the fighting.

“I felt like he was just as important as those servicemen out there,” said Brown, 75, who also spent 453 days in a German POW camp.

Brown and his wife, Frances, live in Phoenix, a South Yazoo County community about four miles from the equally small Satartia. They didn’t hear about the entertainer’s Sunday death until late Monday night. And when they did, Brown just sat and cried.

Hope’s death affected him so much he dictated a tribute, which his wife wrote down after setting aside the grocery list she was making.

“You put a memory in all of our hearts … especially when you was on the front lines of enemy fire,” Brown said. “That took a lot of love for your fellow man.”

Hope, not only a comedian but a highly decorated civilian, died in Los Angeles two months after turning 100. The comedian, television and movie star entertained American troops during every military engagement from World War II to the first Gulf War. He earned a fortune from his humor, gave generously to charities and won so many awards he had to rent a warehouse to store them.

Brown said he never saw Hope perform before he enlisted in the military and he never saw him after his discharge. But memories of the shows, because they brought cheer in such tense times, remain strong.

“I got to thinking about the things he’d done,” Brown said from his rocking chair. “He’ll be in a many a person’s heart for years.”

Brown wouldn’t have seen Europe or combat or Hope if he had told a U.S. Army recruiter the truth. He fibbed about his age so the could join. He was actually born in 1927, but his discharge papers show 1923 as the year of his birth.

An American flag drapes across the front door of Brown’s home. Two pictures of him as a 15- or 16-year-old in an Army uniform face each other in his living room.

Frances Brown said she watched Bobby sit in their living room and cry when they heard the news. She said she understands why he gets emotional about that time in his life.

Brown was assigned truck driver duties in the Army, but when his 101st Airborne Infantry moved through occupied France, he turned into a grenade-carrying rifleman.

Brown said he didn’t think Hope knew he was so close to the Germans during his performance in Nuremburg. Brown said he saw shots fired at Hope during the show.

Wednesday, Brown looked at a picture of Hope in a newspaper at his house and said the world had lost a great man.

He gave credit to the other performers, too, including “those girls in swimsuits dancing with him.”

He said the women performing for the soldiers never received the applause they deserved. “I think they need to be recognized like he was, too,” a reminiscing Brown said, looking at the picture of Hope. “Those girls came out there in their bathing suits in freezing weather.”