A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military
San Diego, California
"Unconditional Surrender" -- the giant statue of a World War II sailor kissing a nurse -- was the reason we were loitering along Harbor Drive in San Diego. We were impressed by the statue's gaudiness and scale, against the imposing backdrop of a real US Navy aircraft carrier (USS Midway), and the procession of tourist photo subjects willing to stand next to it and look up the nurse's skirt.
But then, right next door...what's this? An elevated plaza with the sign: "A National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military." And what looks from a distance like a small crowd assembled around a man at an old time-y microphone.
The figure with the mic is a bronze likeness of Bob Hope, the legendary movie/TV comedian and entertainer, in his prime. Before his death in 2003 at age 100, Hope had performed in hundreds of USO events since 1941, entertaining US military audiences in far-flung theaters of conflict, from World War II to the Gulf War.
Like some morale-igniting secret weapon, Bob Hope was deployed for maximum laugh efficacy, and much loved by men and women in uniform. In 1997, President Clinton bestowed on Hope the rank of "Honorary Veteran."
On the plaza, there are 15 life-sized bronze statues, arranged as if attending a Bob Hope show. Each figure represents a serviceman from a different conflict. The scene is completely open, allowing visitors to wander between the figures, and pose with them in reverent or irreverent pull-my-finger positions, or join the frozen crowd to cheer on Bob Hope's one-liners.
Women in the service are represented, as are wounded vets, with a racial diversity that underscores Hope's broad appeal. One figure holds up a sign with stenciled, punch-through lettering: "Thanks for the Memories BOB."
The "National Salute to Bob Hope and the Military" cost $1.5 million, and was a combined effort of the port of San Diego, the Hope family, and Navy vets of World War II's Battle of Leyte Gulf. The plaza and sculpture were officially dedicated in July 8, 2009, with two of Bob Hope's children on hand.
The sister version of "Unconditional Surrender" has gotten some heat in Sarasota, FL, where alleged art aficionados would eject all maudlin, representational sculpture and replace it with obtuse blocks and headache-inducing curlicues.
While Sarasota's smoochers may be threatened by blockheads, the art war seems over in Navy-friendly San Diego. There are plenty of abstract sculptures elsewhere in town, but here at the port more and more happy-go-lucky military bronzes are appearing on parks and lawns. All the figures around the park are collectively promoted as part of the "Greatest Generation Collection."
Bob Hope was a funny guy, a quipster with a lonnnng career. Though his relevancy started to wane in those last few decades, no equivalent master comic of the military-industrial complex has emerged.
This sculpture of a never-ending joke told to an eternally amused military is a fitting tribute.