Bob Hope’s humor eased the heavy heart of a nation for decades. Over more than 50 years, the world-famous comedian toured U.S. military bases across the world, dressed in fatigues and usually accompanied by attractive female entertainers.

A typical Hope joke — “They won’t let you be in the Army if you have flat feet, then they march you 10 miles a day till you’ve got ’em” — drew loud cheers from appreciative troops.

“Bob Hope gave us comic relief when we needed it,” says Dick Dal Pino, president of Dal Pino Quality Pools Inc. in Auburn, Calif. “He was always trying to spread a little cheer among the military, and was kind of our ambassador during military conflicts.”

We could use more of that humor nowadays, Dal Pino adds.

Surely Hope would’ve agreed. “I have seen what a laugh can do,” he once said. “It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.”

He was born Leslie Townes Hope in London in 1903. Five years later, his family moved to the United States. Hope changed his name to “Bob” in 1929, after race car driver Bob Burman.

Hope’s incredible career spanned theater, film, radio and TV, but he may be most remembered for his lifelong commitment to entertaining U.S. servicemen and women.

In fact, in 1997, Congress unanimously passed an act naming him an “Honorary Veteran,” the only American ever to receive such a distinction. “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime,” an emotional Hope said. “But to be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever received.”

Dal Pino says that when it comes to Hope, “he was a public figure hardly anyone could say anything negative about. I look at him as a great American.”

Hope also was a great golfer, with a four handicap. “Golf is my profession,” he once said. “I tell jokes to pay my greens fees.”

Indeed, in the ’80s, a golf club became a permanent prop during his USO shows and TV specials. One of his most memorable games was at the 1995 Bob Hope Desert Classic, when he was in a foursome with Presidents Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

After the match, Hope said, “Clinton had the best score, Ford the most errors and Bush the most hits. … Me, I cheated better than ever.”

His wit was sharp to the very end. On his deathbed, at age 100, Hope’s wife asked where he wanted to be buried. He replied, “Surprise me.”