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Comedian Bob Hope, back from a round of USO Christmas shows in the Persian Gulf region, says American troops are in high spirits despite their desert ordeal.

"We found the morale over there just sensational," Hope, 87, told a news conference Friday night at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington.

"My opening line in the last week has been, 'Are you ready?' " he said. "And, man, they all stood up with a fist and said, 'We're ready.' "

Hope confessed that he and his entourage were tired after a 20-hour flight from Bahrain that seemed like "the longest flight of my career."

He said the gulf trip would be the last of the Christmas tours to entertain American troops overseas that began during World War II and continued through Korea and Vietnam.

Hope was accompanied by his wife, Dolores, actress-singer Ann Jillian, former Cincinnati Reds baseball star Johnny Bench and country singer Aaron Tippin.

In deference to Saudi religious customs, Hope toned down the racy jokes and did without the scantily clad beauties who have been included in shows in years past. Reporters were banned from covering the performances.

Ms. Jillian and other female performers did entertain troops aboard ship off Bahrain. "We referred to ourselves as the pantyhose division of Bob Hope's USO tour," she said.

Portions of shows at camps across Saudi Arabia and aboard ship will be spliced together for a 90-minute special to be telecast by NBC on Jan. 12.

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