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Commemorating the 75th Anniversary of the USO

The Jack Kemp Foundation sends its deepest gratitude and a warm hello to all those who wear the uniform of the United States.  Your dedication and sacrifices have been the bedrock of keeping America safe and free, and your service has made the world a more hopeful place.

We are proud to participate in the USO’s “campaign to connect” and thank the USO for sending our message of support to American service personnel worldwide. And we thank the USO for all you have done for the last 75 years to help honor and sustain our troops and their families whether here at home or deployed far from our shores.  That includes the ongoing 50-year partnership between the National Football League and the USO, to enable pro football players to visit troops abroad.

Jack Kemp had the honor of going on one of those early NFL/USO tours in the Republic of Vietnam.   It was early 1968, and as former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker  Andy Russell tells the story,  “My companions were Bobby Bell, a future Hall of Famer, Bill Brown, the Viking’s tough fullback, John David Crow, a Heisman Trophy winner and great pro running back with St. Louis and San Francisco, and Jack Kemp, the Buffalo Bill’s fine QB…”

Russell’s account of their seven days in country, visiting troops at remote camps, aboard ship, and in hospital units, begins with a memorable first night:

I woke up sweating and looked at my watch.  It was nearly 3:00am and quiet outside.  I realized that it was yesterday in Pittsburgh – my internal time clock just could not adjust. Lying in the dark, trying to go back to sleep, I heard an explosion nearby and then another. Almost at the same instant, I heard machine gun fire and the repetitive rack of semi-automatic weapons. Jack was up on his feet and Bobby ran to the bathroom. The noise escalated. More explosions. We heard a different kind of blasts, which I knew from my military training were grenades. The intelligence info was correct. Saigon was being attacked…

We heard people speaking in Vietnamese in the alley outside the hotel, right below our window.  I was astonished when I saw that Kemp was standing at the window, holding out, at arm’s length, his tape recorder’s microphone.

I yelled, “Jack, get down! What the hell are you doing?”

Still staring out the window, he replied calmly, “I am recording the sound of warfare.”

Incredulous, I answered, “You’re gonna get yourself killed – hit the floor and cover yourself with that mattress…”

Jack responded stubbornly, “I committed to ABC that I’d record what’s going on over here and I’m going to do it.”

Meanwhile, the shooting was all around us and I had no idea if the Vietnamese we had heard in the alley were Viet Cong or just frightened Saigonese. I ran into the bathroom to see if Bobby was all right. At first I couldn’t see him, but then saw his hugely muscled legs sticking out from behind the old metal tub – -he had wedged his 6’4”, 248 lb body in between the wall and the tub. Thinking that he’d found as safe a spot as any, I asked, “Bobby, are you all right?”

“Hey man, this ain’t no bullshit, man!”

“You got that right. Kemp’s lost his mind! He’s hanging out the window trying to record the sounds of warfare.”

I could almost hear Bobby thinking, and after a long pause he said, “I always knew quarterbacks are crazy.” [1]

Following Jack’s death in 2009, The Buffalo News posted an obituary to which readers can send condolence messages online. One reads as follows:

“Mr. Kemp took the time to visit Vietnam in 1968 along with Bill Brown, Bobby Bell, John David Crow, and other NFL players. They arrived in Saigon and were staying in the Meyerkord Hotel when the Tet Offensive began. I was wounded across from the Embassy and the next day their group visited me and others at the 17th Field Hospital. I have always been appreciative of being able to sit around having a cup of coffee and listening to them razz each other about their reactions when the fighting broke out (crawling under the beds, etc). I can especially remember Bill Brown teasing Mr. Kemp about his “hair-do”. Their visit meant a lot to me… — Gary Cole, Dalton, Georgia.

Congratulations again to the USO on its 75th anniversary.  And to both the USO and all United States service members: thank you for your unyielding commitment to freedom.

To participate in the USO’s campaign to send a million messages to our troops, please visit:

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