Some soldiers were willing to do anything for a chance to see Bob Hope, whose thousands of wartime performances at military bases across the globe are depicted in “So Ready for Laughter: The Legacy of Bob Hope,” on display through April 17 at the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, 300 W. Broad St. in Columbus.
Hilliard resident Paul Ritzenthaler, 70, is the quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4931, 2436 Walcutt Road, just south of Hilliard. He was among a group of Post 4931 members who received a guided tour of the exhibit Feb. 15.
Ritzenthaler said he recalled piling into a truck to ride miles across a base to see Hope only days after arriving at Long Binh Post in Vietnam in December 1970.
“It was around Christmastime, and we were still being processed,” Ritzenthaler said. “We heard (Bob Hope) was (at our base), and we asked to go.”
The reply was a flat no, he said, because they were new to the base and there was no transportation for them.
“So we kind of gave up, but then a guy who we knew to be a heck of a scrounger runs in and says to us, ‘Hey, let’s go to the show,’ ” Ritzenthaler said. “We were way in the back, and it was hard to see the stage, but speakers were set up everywhere so we could hear the show.”
When it was over, the men found their truck was gone, and Ritzenthaler worried the resourceful soldier who obtained their ride might get in trouble because he had taken the truck without signing for it in the first place.
“So we had to thumb back, (but) it was a great show,” said Ritzenthaler, who served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1972 and is a retired Norwich Township Fire Department captain.
The essence of the show Ritzenthaler watched – both from the perspective of the military personnel and of Hope – is recounted in a video of his performances and interviews that serves as a centerpiece to the exhibit at the Columbus museum.
For those who are not as well-acquainted with Hope’s reputation as Ritzenthaler is, the exhibit is an introduction to his legacy and a portal into how Hope’s NBC Radio Network show was a springboard to his live performances for military personnel whose service spanned from World War II to the Gulf War.
Hope lived to be 100 before he died in 2003, and the exhibit includes gifts from throughout his colorful life, such as an engraved cigarette case he received while on tour, show programs, an invoice from a Paris hotel and various identification he was required to carry while traveling.
Medina resident Bob Mieyal, 71, also a member of Post 4931, said he saw Hope perform in 1991 at Fort McCoy in Sparta, Wisconsin.
“I was surprised he came to such a small base. ... It was a great show,” said Mieyal, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve who worked in the communications center at Fort McCoy, from which soldiers were deployed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Also visiting the museum was Beth Kohler of northwest Columbus and her father, Chuck Gilbert, 81, a 21-year U.S. Air Force veteran from Fairborn who visited the museum specifically to see the Hope exhibit.
Gilbert said he missed his chance to see Hope in December 1972 because his plane back to Vietnam from the U.S. was delayed a day due to the crash of a civilian plane at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
Their first stop was the Hope exhibit before visiting other parts of the museum that cover the nation’s military history since the American Revolution.
“The exhibit has been as well-received as we expected,” said Gretchen Klingler, veteran- and community-outreach coordinator for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. “There has been a great response to it.”
The exhibit is on its first stop since leaving its home at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, where it debuted in May 2018.
After closing in Columbus on April 17, the Hope exhibit will move to a venue in New York City and then to the West Coast.
“We can’t express how exciting it is to be the first stop of the national tour of this exhibit,” said Andy Cloyd, associate director of visitor experience for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, which opened in October 2018 at the former site of the Franklin County Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays.
Admission is free for veterans and active military personnel. Adult admission is $17.
The National Veterans Memorial and Museum also is part of the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s program to lend free “cultural passes” available in limited quantities. Availability can be checked by calling the library’s main line at 614-645-2275.
In addition to the regular exhibit, a special event inspired by Hope will be held at 7 p.m. March 7.
“So Many Laughs: A Night of Comedy Inspired by Bob Hope” will feature a pair of military-veteran comedians and a Bob Hope impersonator.
“This will be an unforgettable evening at the (museum), as comedians Thom Tran and Leslie Battle, both veterans, join with Bob Hope impersonator Bill Johnson to share Hope’s legacy of laughter,” said Tammy Brown, marketing and communications manager for the National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
Tickets are $30 for museum members and $35 for all others at nationalvmm.org. Doors open at 6 p.m.
For more details and parking information, go to nationalvmm.org.