Wayne Newton revitalizes the USO
By Paul Vercammen
CNN Showbiz Today Reports
LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Wayne Newton now carries the USO tour baton, or microphone, held for decades by comedian Bob Hope, now 98 years old.
Hope's wife approves as the 59-year-old Newton, the new chairman of the USO Celebrity Circle, embarks on the first USO holiday tour since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"I think it's great," says Dolores Hope. "He's a wonderful young man and very capable of doing that job."
Newton has long belted out tunes for the USO, short for United Services Organization. He first performed with the USO at age 8, with a group of singers, before President Harry Truman.
Entertainer Wayne Newton performed on the USS White Plains in 1988 (October 24)
(QuickTime, Real or Windows Media)
"Now, of course, there's certainly more of a profound need for the USO maybe since Vietnam," Newton said.
Newton's upcoming November road trip starts at U.S. bases in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Bahrain, South Korea and possibly more stops.
Retired General John Tilelli Jr., president of the USO, says shows at other installations or Navy ships could be added.
"Now there is an urgency," explained Tilelli. "We're trying to figure out new ways to take care of the men and women that have deployed. We're trying to find out what the commanders want us to do in these new areas. We're going to do two shows a day. There may be two shows in one location, or we may hopscotch around the region to do as many shows as the commanders want us to do."
Tilelli added that security will be tightened for the tour.
"We will take the proper and prudent security measures to ensure that these people who volunteer their time are protected and safe and get to the places they are supposed to go," Tilelli told CNN. "And to make sure they get home."
The USO reports Newton will be joined by Shaggy -- the singer is a former U.S. Marine and veteran of the Gulf War. Peter McNichol from television's "Ally McBeal" is also onboard, along with Bo Derek, Jessica Simpson and The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.
"It's going to be a real tough tour for me having to look at all these pretty girls," Newton joked.
USO tours have always provided such inspiration for the men in uniform, including appearances by Hollywood bombshells such as Jayne Mansfield and Raquel Welch.
Any entertainer who sets a high heel or boot on a USO stage is a volunteer -- the USO and its shows are funded by donations.
The organization, a non-profit group and not a branch of government, operates 117 centers around the world -- comfort zones for U.S. military personnel and their families.
Newton is hosting a USO benefit in Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 11, Veterans Day. Lance Burton, Rick Springfield and Jessica Simpson are among the performers in the line-up.
The entertainers will travel to global hot spots, including some that have become infernos since September 11.
Is Newton worried?
"Actually, in terms of being afraid, I'm aware -- that's a better choice of words than being afraid," Newton confessed. "I really celebrate life, as do all our men and women in the Armed Forces. They have truly put their future and lives on the line."
In military circles, Newton, like Hope before him, is viewed as a patriot.
"He did not jump on the bandwagon after the crisis," USO President Tilelli pointed out. "He volunteered to do this (the USO Holiday tour) ten months ago."
The theme song for the USO tour's entertainment leader has changed, from Bob Hope's signature "Thanks for the Memories" to Newton's staple, "Danke Schoen."
Either way, as both have suggested, it's their version of "thank you" to U.S. troops.