Mention the USO to your average American and chances are you’ll conjure one of two images: Bill Graham and his gaggle of scantily clad babes being airlifted out of a near riot in a Vietnam amphitheater in Apocalypse Now, or Bob Hope serenading GIs with ”Thanks for the Memory.” So news of last week’s USO-sponsored excursion to Bosnia by Sheryl Crow and Sinbad came as a surprise. It just sounded so hip for the military.
According to a Crow management employee, Pam Wertheimer, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s office called the singer at home March 15 with an invitation to accompany the First Lady to Tuzla. Crow, who has been asked to the White House on several occasions, felt ”honored,” Wertheimer says, and didn’t think twice about accepting. Because of space limitations on the seven-seat helicopter that ferried her from site to site, Crow brought only a guitar and performed unplugged versions of songs including ”All I Wanna Do,” ”Leaving Las Vegas,” and Bob Dylan’s Nam-era ”A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at three remote encampments and at the U.S. air base in Tuzla. The soldiers ”were in heaven,” says the USO’s Ellen Brody.
Unlike Crow, Sinbad says that he had been trying to set up a USO tour ”for five or six years.” His inspiration? ”I remember when the guys were over in Nam, they were actually having a good time when Bob [Hope] was there.” Sinbad’s not the only one eager to enlist: Country singers Mark Collie and Lisa Stewart, and Trek star Gates McFadden, have also participated in morale-boosting missions to Tuzla. USO officials say they plan to make such visits monthly events. Hootie & the Blowfish, Charlie Daniels, Jeopardy!‘s Alex Trebek, and B.B. King are considering summer tours of duty. And what about the USO’s oldest foot soldier? ”Bob Hope has an open invitation to tour with us,” says USO producer Mauri Wagner. ”Whenever he’s ready, he’s more than welcome.”