Since his death on August 11, 2014, tributes to Robin Williams have flooded in. While the actor/comedian is often remembered for his tremendous talent and larger than life personality, the military community remembers Williams as a friend.
Robin Williams has been likened to the Bob Hope of the Iraq and Afghanistan generation of U.S. service members. Out of respect to the iconic Hope, Williams would humbly deny the distinction. But his own reputation for entertaining this generation of service members at U.S.O. shows in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Bahrain and at military bases across the globe is well known.
One of the most memorable moments from Williams’ U.S.O. lore occurred at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait on December 6, 2007. Williams was mid-show, entertaining the service members there, when a sound was heard, a sound that anyone who has served in the military responds to immediately, but one that most civilians aren’t familiar with: the sound of the bugle playing “Retreat” at sunset. On the Youtube video of the event, Williams can be seen actually saying “Uh-oh!” not knowing what was happening, as the entire audience to face the music behind them. Williams stood patiently and removed his cap, waiting for the bugle to stop playing before he continued. When the bugle stopped and the service members returned their attention to Williams, he genuinely asked what had just happened, and made fun of the moment, especially his ignorance of the custom. That was the genius of Williams. He took those deployed service members’ minds off of their deployments and made them laugh.
Several ranking officers, U.S.O. organizers and enlisted personnel have shared stories about Williams spending his entire time on military installations with the service members, getting to know them on an individual basis. Williams was even known to make it a priority to visit the on-duty personnel who weren’t able to make it to the show. While on a military base, Williams was notorious for shaking every hand and posing for every picture. Williams wanted the service members to know that he was there for them.
And when he returned home from the U.S.O. shows, Williams wanted to make sure that the American people knew that the service members were there for them, raising awareness and funding for military and Veteran organizations.
Robin Williams’ suicide came as a shock to the military community that loved and admired him. Many have eulogized Williams, but perhaps the truest words came from the commander-in-chief:
“Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind,” President Obama said. “He arrived in our lives as an alien – but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most – from our troops stationed abroad to the marginalized on our own streets.”
He will be missed.
Military Connection Remembers Robin Williams: By Debbie Gregory