Monday, November 8, 2010


Bing Crosby's Service to Soldiers by Carolyn Schneider Note: Nevada resident Carolyn Schneider is author of the book “Bing: On the Road to Elko” about her uncle Bing Crosby and his 15 years as a Nevada cattle rancher... Bing Crosby was a great American and a great friend to the military. He was 37 years old when World War II started and was a well-known celebrity living in Hollywood. As a married man with children, he didn't qualify for the Selective Service, yet he was anxious to show his support for the war effort and even remarked in a news interview that he "felt foolish" for not being in uniform. So when the opportunity presented itself to contribute to the cause, he jumped at the chance. A request came out of Washington, D.C., for performers to entertain the troops and boost morale, Bing went into action, answering the call with his time and talent. Crosby teamed up with a USO Overseas Unit, and he soon received his notice to leave for Europe in August, 1944. Once the departure date was set, the USO unit sailed out of New York harbor on board the SS Ile de France, which had been converted into a troop transport, holding 10,000 men. Bing gave four shows a day to the servicemen on board during the five-day crossing to Scotland. He entertained 2,500 soldiers at a time on the voyage, until all the GIs had heard him sing and deliver some lighthearted banter, usually about his cohort, Bob Hope Traveling by train to London, Bing reported to the American Army Headquarters. One of his early military performances in England was for the 381st Bomb Group of the United States Air Force. This time, it was on a make-shift stage in a hangar, and he strolled out singing "Swinging on a Star." He was doing his show with a B-17 parked in the background and members of its air crew sitting on the wings of the plane -- plus any other space they could find. He entertained 4,000 soldiers that day, and it was the most successful concert the air base ever had. Soon thereafter, Bing was flown to France on a C-47 to Cherbourg where he entertained at an Army hospital and met up with Fred Astaire who joined his troupe. Later, the singer reported that during his extensive overseas tour, without fail, the GIs requested that he sing "White Christmas" because it reminded them of home. Of course he complied, but it was a tough performance for him, because half his audience would be in tears. He went anywhere and everywhere that American boys were fighting, at some of his shows the GIs would be sitting on the ground holding their rifles, at other times they would stand for the entire performance. Conditions for putting on a show were less than ideal, Bing and Dinah Shore sang to the troops from the bed of a truck. One show used a temporary stage, lit entirely with flashlights. No star treatment Bing always preferred to be thought of as a "regular guy," and during his European tour, he often joined in the chow line and ate with the men. He usually performed on stage wearing Army fatigues and a cap -- looking for all the world like the soldiers in his audience -- and with his hands in his pockets. He was very popular with the men and he sang for them in a bombed-out factory, field hospital and outdoor pasture. In England he dodged the buzz bombs, and in France, the German tanks, When their European tour was over, Bing and Fred Astaire returned home aboard the RMS Queen Mary, which also served as a troop carrier during wartime. The boat was crammed with servicemen, some were of the bomber group that was being transferred to the Pacific, and a few lucky ones were going home on leave. All of them were so tired they just dropped down anywhere on the deck to grab some sleep. Bing, Astaire and the others did a few shows for the boys during the crossing, including in the hospital wards for the many returning wounded. Upon his return stateside, Bing was questioned about his two months of being with the nation's fighting men: "It was the most satisfying and rewarding experience of my career," he said. SOURCE

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