Bing Crosby might be known as the voice of Christmas, but he was also a patriotic American. When he was barred from serving overseas during World War II due to his age, he dedicated his time to doing all he could in support of the war effort. Among his wartime activities included volunteering with the Armed Forces Radio Service and working with the Hollywood Victory Caravan.
Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the US government made it so that all men aged 20-44 had to register for the draft. Bing Crosby added his name. While he expected (and hoped) to be called up, he knew he was likely at the bottom of the list, due to his age – he was 38 at the time – and the fact he was married.
This assumption proved true on December 5, 1942, when the War Department suspended the induction of men over the age of 38. Crosby was embarrassed over his inability to serve his country and decided to support the war effort at home.
Bing Crosby’s contributions to the war effort
Bing Crosby’s involvement began on January 29, 1942. After receiving a message from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, he broadcast his Kraft Music Hall show by shortwave to US forces fighting at Corregidor, in the Philippines. To show his appreciation, he began the set by performing “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.”
A rather unexpected win for GI morale came with the release of Irving Berlin’s song, “White Christmas.” Crosby performed the track live 17 days following the attack on Pearl Harbor, and it resonated with troops and their families. While touring with the USO, he sang the song for thousands of soldiers who ended up losing their lives during the Battle of the Bulge.
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt called upon Hollywood to do its part for the war effort, Crosby teamed up with some of its finest – Carey Grant, Desi Arnaz, Olivia de Havilland, etc. – for the Hollywood Victory Caravan. The variety-type show traveled across the country in support of the Army and Navy Relief Society, and raised over $700,000.
In recent years, letters Crosby wrote to and received from American soldiers during the war were discovered. Along with showing his support, the letters sent to him expressed thanks for bringing hope to everyone during such a trying time.
In total, Crosby spent 25 weeks touring with the USO, entertaining servicemen in Britain, Belgium and France. His efforts overall resulted in the sale of millions of dollars worth of war bonds, as well as substantial donations to the Red Cross, the USO and other war-based charities.
Creation of the Armed Forces Radio Service
On May 26, 1942, the War Department created the Armed Forces Radio Service to entertain American forces overseas. Bing Crosby volunteered to get involved, and within days recorded a guest spot on the Command Performance show – the first of many.
In total, Crosby appeared in over 70 radio shows for the service, including 30 Command Performance spots; 13 on Mail Call; at least five on Song Sheet; 19 on GI Journal; and at least two performances on Jubilee. He also had his regular Kraft Music Hall show transcribed on discs, and he made appearances on the Personal Album show and Front Line Theatre.
A poll taken at the end of World War II found US troops believed Crosby had done the most to increase GI morale, surpassing the likes of comedian and actor Bob Hope, Franklin Roosevelt and Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.