The USO, the American Soldiers and Robin Williams: Saying Goodbye to a Man Who Had a Heart for the US Servicemen

The recent passing of thespian Robin Williams saddened even the military world.

Gooooood Morning, Vietnam!

That was the famous line of Robin Williams when he played the enthusiastic radio DJ in the 1987 US comedy-war film Good Morning, Vietnam. He made the troops laugh and had an easy rapport with them in the said film, which was based on the real-life experiences of former US Air Force sergeant Adrian Cronauer (who was also Williams’ character in the movie) as he worked in Saigon as a DJ during the Vietnam War.

Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam.
Robin Williams as Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam.

In a like manner, Robin Williams had a heart for military men off the screen. He had an instantaneous connection with American servicemen wherever he went.

Throughout his lifetime, Robin Williams traveled to the various war zones in 13 countries and entertained over 89,000 troops during his tours with the United Service Organizations (USO). These trips could be remorseless. He had to contend with traveling in a cargo plane while doing everything just to stay awake. But then, Robin Williams had made it his life’s point to perform and reach out to US troops. Furthermore, Robin Williams did not stop once his show ended and he had stepped off the stage. He would go around and talk to random servicemen making a connection with them. This character was one of the many things retired General Carter Ham respected from the award-winning actor.

According to Ham, Robin Williams would go to the guard towers, dining stations and the security police, the ones who couldn’t come to see him perform as they were on duty. Then, he would spend time talking to them individually. Ham added that seeing what Robin Williams was doing was very inspirational.

Williams had made it a point to personally talk to soldiers after his performances.
Williams had made it a point to personally talk to soldiers after his performances.

Many of the soldiers who saw him perform had said that Robin Williams never came with a privileged air of being a celebrity. He made them laugh and used comedy to make them forget the cruelties of war or the impact of surgery even for just a short while. He touched the life of every soldier he connected with.

Robin Williams followed in the path taken by other USO performers before him — Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Jay Leno and Willie Nelson.

One time during the event Stand Up for Heroes in 2012, Robin Williams admitted that it was he who felt honored and humbled to meet the troops and get to talk to them about their struggles.

One of incidents Robin Williams encountered in his USO performances was in Kuwait in 2007. He was performing that time when there was a flag retreat in the middle of his act and the troops all turned their backs at him to face the flag. Instead of feeling insulted, the comedian joked about it when the audience turned back around. The said incident became one of the unforgettable points in his life as a USO performer and he would retell it for years to come.

Not only did Robin Williams made it a mission to visit war zones and bring laughter to military men, he extended financial support, too, and was known to hold shows for that cause.

The want to bring the soldiers a bit of home, to show them that they were not forgotten while they were on duty were the push that made Robin Williams tour with USO. He started to do so way back in 2002 with his first tour being in the Middle East. In return, he got to meet a lot of people which, according to him, was really incredible.

The actor sharing a laugh with US Army Lt. General John F. Campbell.
The actor sharing a laugh with US Army Lt. General John F. Campbell.

After the news of his death came out, USO released its statement expressing sadness of the actor’s passing. In the same manner, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel described Robin Williams as a true friend and supporter of the troops.

“He will be dearly missed by the men and women of DoD. So many of them had been touched by his generosity and humor,” the Defense Secretary added.

Heziel Pitogo

Heziel Pitogo is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE