WASHINGTON – President Bush mourned Bob Hope (search) Monday, noting his hundreds of visits to battlefields in virtually every U.S. military action from World War II to the Persian Gulf.
With U.S. troops in the field in Iraq, Afghanistan and on the Korean demilitarized zone, Bush, who was traveling to Pittsburgh, stopped on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base (search) to express his sorrow for the man who was known for his efforts to boost the morale of troops stationed in distant lands.
"Bob Hope made us laugh. He lifted our spirits. Bob Hope served the nation when he went to battlefields to entertain thousands of troops from different generations. We extend our prayers to his family and we'll mourn the loss of a good man. May God bless his soul," Bush said, extending the nation's condolences to the Hope family.
Later in the day Bush ordered that on the day of Hope's burial, flags fly at half-staff on all public buildings and grounds, including Naval vessels and military posts.
Hope died Sunday night from complications related to pneumonia. At age 100, he had entertained generations spanning nearly 80 years.
In a rare move, the Department of Defense issued its own statement on the death of Hope.
"The first and only American ever to be made an honorary Veteran of America’s Armed Forces, Bob Hope holds a special place in the national security pantheon ... Although he is no longer with us in life, he will always remain, just as he was, in our hearts -- cracking jokes, boosting morale, and reminding all the world of what it means to be an American," said the unattributed statement.
Bush's recognition of Hope isn't the only to come from a president. Hope had been recognized in some way by every president since Eisenhower. In 1969, President Johnson gave Hope the highest presidential award, the presidential Medal of Freedom. Avid golfers, Hope played with Presidents Nixon and Ford.
He met with President Reagan regularly and knew the first President Bush. President Clinton signed the paperwork establishing the USS Bob Hope. The current President Bush signed the bill establishing the Bob Hope American Patriot award.
Presidents Clinton, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush all attended Hope's 90th birthday celebration, aired on television in May 1993.
"Bob Hope was one of our dearest friends for over 60 years -- losing him is like losing a member of the family," said former first lady Nancy Reagan. "Ronnie always said that Bob was one of our finest ambassadors for America and for freedom ... He showed people around the world that American spirit and enthusiasm are unstoppable. His unmatched patriotism, energy, integrity and spirit of goodwill have contributed greatly to the public spirit in the United States."
The USO (search) calls its highest award the Bob Hope award. President George H.W. Bush, whose father Prescott helped establish the USO, received the award last year.
He also expressed his condolences Monday, calling Hope an "true icon" and a "genuine American hero."
In the Senate, Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Lieberman said Hope never stopped making people laugh.
"I read somewhere what he said when he was 85, which is that he felt that he was aging like a fine wine. He was getting better but his cork was getting a little loose," Lieberman said. "I suppose there is nothing better to say in this case to Bob Hope than thanks for the memories."
Hope wasn't just a hit with presidents and presidential wannabes. A number of other politicians also praised him and found a way to be photographed with him. Congress gave Hope its highest award in 1962, the Congressional Gold Medal.
In May 2000, the Library of Congress (search) opened the permanent Bob Hope Gallery of American Entertainment.
On Monday, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, mourned the loss of the man who kept the troops laughing. Hope had known McCain's father, an admiral in the Navy stationed in Hawaii, where Hope had performed. Hope was among the first to call the younger McCain when he returned from Vietnam in 1973.
“Today, America lost one of its most dedicated and talented sons," McCain said. "Bob Hope was a true American patriot. He brought joy and laughter to millions of American fighting men and women who were a long way from home defending our nation and our values."
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, "Bob Hope was a unique American treasure and will be remembered forever."
Of course, the House of Representatives did prematurely report the death of Hope.
Five years ago, the Associated Press unwittingly sent out to subscribers an updated obituary on the entertainer.
When the "news" broke, an aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, informed the boss, who told then-Veterans Affairs Chairman Bob Stump, R-Ariz., the sad news.
Since Hope was such a friend to American soldiers through the years, House leaders decided that Stump would perform the honorific duties of informing the world. Not only were colleagues on both sides of the aisle misinformed, but so was the C-SPAN audience watching floor proceedings at the time.
After that, then-House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich., who heard the news for the first time from Stump, also got up to give his condolences. Reuters News Agency, hearing the House majority and minority leaders and committee chairman announce Hope's death, also filed a report. The situation was finally cleared up when a reporter called the Hope family to learn more of the details and was informed by Hope's daughter that the entertainer was just fine.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and Jim Mills contributed to this report.