It was funny, it was the slightest bit irreverent in all the right places, and it was emotional. It perfectly did the duty of honoring our nation’s veterans by taking its audience on a trip back in time to war-torn Vietnam, where USO sponsored visits and shows did what they could to shine a brief light of happiness into a world of darkness.
Presented by the Hay Springs Chamber of Commerce Vietnam War Veterans Commemorative Partner, the mock-USO show was one of two yearly events required of the group for their partnership and served the objective of the program to honor Vietnam War veterans, and to, among other things, highlight service organizations such as the USO.
Eleven Hay Springs community members comprise the committee, which applied and was approved to become a commemorative partner of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration. Per the organization’s website, “The Commemorative Partner Program is designed for federal, state and local communities, veterans’ organizations and other nongovernmental organizations to assist a grateful nation in thanking and honoring our Vietnam Veterans and their families.”
The Oct. 1 show, featuring its very own version of Bob Hope, felt as successful as it did authentic. Performer Tony Hindman had big shoes to fill as the MC and Hope stand-in. “There’s no way I could cover it,” he said of portraying Hope, “but I did my best.”
According to Hindman, research for the show included “a lot of Google, and a lot of You Tube,” as organizers sought to make the show as authentic as possible to the real thing. That is, as authentic as you can get outside of Vietnam.
Organizer Pat Skinner also got hold of Bob Hope DVDs which showed his performance during the war and went a long way toward helping create content.
Along with faux-Hope, actors and other performers entertained the audience with song, dance and sketches. In particular was crowd favorite Phyllis Diller, portrayed by Julie Rasmussen, who brought the house down every time she strutted onto the stage.
Singers included “The Andrew Sisters,” Tawny Weaver, Becky Mitchell, and Mary Schadwinkel, as well as performances of songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Ballad of the Green Berets” by “The Mamas & the Papa” Jessi Badje, Payton Schoenhals, and Kaelob Marx, all from Hay Springs High School.
Nebraska royalty Miss Chadron 2018 Kaelia Nelson was in attendance and performed two dances for the audience, and was joined by Miss Nebraska 2017 Allison Tietjen who also provided entertainment. Rounding out the royalty group was Miss Heartland 2016 Tosha Skinner, who read poetry and assisted in multiple skits, and Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance, who played a piano solo.
Skits and performances by Ericka Gaswick as Nancy Sinatra, along with Cynthia Rasmussen as Joey Heatherton, and Fred Jungck as Jerry Colona provided a wealth of laughter from everyone assembled.
Lending to its success, the show also featured segments honoring veterans, not just of the Vietnam War, but of all wars. Veterans in the audience were asked to stand and be recognized by branch while the performers sang the official branch song for each group.
After an evening of laughs, Hindman closed out the show on a serious note, thanking all for their sacrifice, and becoming emotional as he expressed the hope that veterans indeed felt honored and thanked by a grateful nation.
The event was sponsored by several entities whose donations made it possible for the group to offer free admission to any veteran desiring to attend. Those sponsors were Security First Bank, Modern Farm Equipment, Corp., and Western Valley Irrigation.
In addition Northwest Rural Public Power/Tri-State sponsored Miss Nebraska’s appearance, Bar J provided a delicious meal for attendees, and the American Legion hosted a bar.
Former U.S. Army Combat Engineer and Vietnam veteran James Johnson never had the opportunity to see Bob Hope, but was in attendance for a USO show while serving in Vietnam. When asked what he thought of the Hay Springs show he simply remarked that he “thought they did a great job, “and that “they make a guy feel proud.”