The late comedian and actor entertained members of the U.S. military all around the world.
Robin Williams, the beloved comedian and Academy Award-winning actor who sadly took his own life recently in his Northern California home, enjoyed a close bond with America’s Veterans.
After 9/11, Williams essentially became this generation’s Bob Hope, but in a much quieter way. With little fanfare, he paid frequent visits to deployed troops and veterans. Williams did six USO tours, visiting groups both large and small in more than a dozen countries including Iraq and Afghanistan, and was involved in numerous charity events for Veterans.
Williams, whose acclaimed acting roles included his memorable performance as Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer, the disk jockey for Armed Services Radio Service, in “Good Morning Vietnam,” made trips to the war zones dating back to 2002, when he was among the first entertainers to travel to Afghanistan.
On that first trip, the Washington Post notes, Williams was full of gratitude and hilarious, and popular with those he met.
“We’re here at the third hole of the Afghan Open,” Williams reportedly said during one performance, using a golf announcer’s whisper. “We can’t play the 10th hole, because it’s still mined.”
Four years ago, Williams was an honored guest at a kickoff dinner for 18 wounded warriors participating in the 4,000-mile Sea to Shining Sea bike ride across America. Paul Bremmer, who was presidential envoy to Iraq in 2003-2004, writes in the Washington Post that Williams then made good on his promise to join the veterans group at its first rest stop across the Bay Bridge in Sausalito.
One of the riders, Chad Jukes, and Army staff sergeant who lost a leg when his truck hit an antitank mine on convoy duty in northern Iraq, and Williams, an avid bicyclist, rode together during that leg of the trek. Williams later told the press, “It’s amazing to be around these guys. They fly. I got my ass kicked by a guy on a bike with one leg!”
Rachel Tischler, vice president of USO Entertainment, told Public Radio International this week that she accompanied Williams on the USO tours. She said her favorite moment with Williams a quiet one backstage in which a young sergeant approached Williams to thank him for his performance.
As PRI reports, the sergeant told Williams that he wanted to give him something meaningful and took the Saint Christopher medal from around his neck and handed it to the comedian.
“Robin, of course, was completely flabbergasted and certainly didn’t want to take this young kid’s talisman but he insisted so Robin reached down and took off the cross that he was wearing around his neck and gave it to him,” said Tischler.
In a statement, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said of the beloved entertainer, “The entire Department of Defense community mourns the loss of Robin Williams. Robin was a gifted actor and comedian, but he was also a true friend and supporter of our troops. From entertaining thousands of service men and women in war zones, to his philanthropy that helped veterans struggling with hidden wounds of war, he was a loyal and compassionate advocate for all who serve this nation in uniform. He will be dearly missed by the men and women of DoD – so many of whom were personally touched by his humor.