By then the host of one of the country's most highly rated radio programs, Hope reluctantly agreed in May 1941 to broadcast a show from the March Field military base near Riverside, California. The reception was overwhelming - Hope and the G.I.'s formed an immediate, almost spiritual bond. He would later call the day one of the most important in his life.

"The feeling we got from the G.I.'s in World War II, who were fighting what has been called 'the last good war' and made the world's greatest audiences, is something we'll never forget," Hope wrote in his 1990 autobiography, Don't Shoot, It's Only Me. "We all felt we were doing something worthwhile, not just making a buck."

Along with other big-name celebrities - Clark Gable, Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford - Hope's immediate reaction after the outbreak of war with the bombing of Pearl Harbor was to enlist. But President Franklin Roosevelt ordered deferments for a select few entertainers deemed essential to the morale effort.

"They said, 'Look, just do what you're doing and entertain troops, because you're valuable doing that," Hope says.

With music, television, movies, radio, and the Internet, celebrities today are never more than seconds away from us, making it almost impossible to comprehend the power Hope's traveling shows generated in the 1940s. In 2003 celebrity currency, the effect of having a star of Hope's stature show up in a tiny military backwater, bringing pictures of the soldiers' babies and loved ones from home (a personal touch Hope often included in his shows), might be comparable to having Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston unexpectedly dropping by your house for dinner. Then paying off the rest of your mortgage by way of saying thanks.