Pinellas County resident, Sandy O'Hara, has been recognized for her unselfish devotion to supporting the troops of the United States Armed Forces. O'Hara pays tribute to veterans by participating in veteran's commemorations on national holidays and speaks to groups throughout the year concerning the importance of supporting our men and women in the military. For Veterans Week, O'Hara participated in the Clearwater Veterans Appreciation Day. Most recently, she and husband, actor and Korean vet, Dave Hanson, produced and appeared in Sun City Center after Dark on November 10, where they gave a rollicking tribute to World War II vets in the audience.
Following previous Miss Armed Forces Pin-Ups Betty Grable (World War II) and Marilyn Monroe (Korean War), O' Hara was unofficially proclaimed Miss Armed Forces Pin-Up Vietnam War in 1971.
Says O'Hara, "I don't believe that there are any particular criteria for one to be selected as Miss Armed Forces Pin-Up; it is not a competitive contest and it should be known that the title is unofficial in as much as the military is not in the business of officially selecting pin-ups or beauty queens. My being chosen Miss Armed Forces Pin-Up originated as what I describe as a "fluke".
A press release gone wild thrust O'Hara in the spotlight far from those that she was accustomed to in Las Vegas.
"I was appearing as the head-liner of a musical variety show at the Silver Slipper Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada in 1970.On occasion, fan mail would be sent to me by way of my Las Vegas agent. My husband David received a telephone call from my agent one day informing him that I had received some mail. Upon arriving at my agent's office, we were completely dumfounded by the fact that eight large postal sacks of mail were awaiting me. In opening the first few letters, I could not help but notice that most of those letters started out . . . 'I'm not from your home town but would you please send me an autographed picture of yourself?' Finally upon opening one of the letters, enclosed was a copy of a full page picture of me in a recent edition of the Air Force Times with a caption which included my agent's address, 'Las Vegas show girl would like to hear from home town G.Is'. It also mentioned that I was originally from Boston, Massachusetts."
Air Force Times former editor, Bruce Callender, ran a publicity shot from the casino of O'Hara posing in a bikini cut costume. The letters started pouring in. O'Hara said, "I felt very touched in reading the letters from so many service men from all over the world missing their loved ones at home, and felt obligated to answer every one and honor the requests for autographed photos. Bear in mind that our country was in the middle of the Vietnam War and that I was very distressed as to how the returning G.I.s were being abused by many of our citizens and anti war protestors. Every American has the right to protest but it is unconscionable that one would abuse those who had answered the call to duty in order to serve their country. Freedom is not free. "
Requests for the pin-up image snowballed as other military publications, including The Navy Time; The Army Times; Your Army in Europe; and Leatherneck Magazine ran the photo. O'Hara was autographing and mailing hundreds of 8x10s and later scaled down to picture postcards of the pin-up.
After her Vegas run, O'Hara and her husband embarked on a national tour. He let military recruiters know in advance that Sandy would be coming to their city and would like to visit their area's VA and military hospitals. Her personal appearances helped recruiting efforts and in May 1971 while appearing in Louisville, Kentucky, the commander of the US Air Force Recruiting Detachment, Major Gilberto Valdez, approached his counter parts from the other four branches of the service with the idea to name O'Hara Miss Armed Forces Pin-Up.
O'Hara was bestowed with another title two decades later in 1990 while she and Hanson's show, "The Best of Burlesque" was playing at the Stateline Hotel & Casino in Wendover, Nevada. She said, "I was contacted by the World War Two Commemorative Association and asked if I would accept the title of "Sweetheart to American Veterans" being the only living military pin-up. Both Betty and Marilyn had passed away sometime before. Without hesitation, I accepted. My most memorable experience in this capacity was as the keynote speaker at the annual reunion banquet of the 509th Composite Group which had been commanded by then Colonel, now General, Paul Tibbits, pilot of the Enola Gay which dropped the first Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. It was a very moving experience to mingle with these men, who were responsible for helping to end World War Two, and being escorted by Tibbits, George "Bob" Caron the Enola Gay tail gunner, and General Charles "Chuck" Sweeney, who piloted the "Bocks Car" which carried the bomb dropped on Nagasaki."
O'Hara encourages everyone to be mindful of not insulting the troops when venting frustrations over the war. "Veterans and active duty members of our military are very appreciative of those who support them and what they accomplish in order to preserve our freedoms. Do whatever you can to let our veterans and active duty military personnel know how truly grateful you are that they in many cases, gave up their youth and their dreams in order to protect our freedoms. Each and every veteran lost something while serving as do those who serve now. Let all who now serve and those who have served know how much you appreciate their service and sacrifice. Visit a vet be it at a Veterans Hospital close by or the veteran just next door."
O'Hara and Hanson plan to perform their show that was filmed by Warner Cable for Showtime in Pinellas County soon. "The Best of Burlesque," has since 1972 grossed $18 million and features O'Hara's tribute to fan dancer Sally Rand along with other saucy and satirical burlesque variety acts akin to those made popular in the early 1900s by W.C. Fields, Mae West and Abbott and Costello.
O'Hara has headlined in four other burlesque productions, and has appeared in movies and on television with Don Rickles, Jack Carter, Edie Adams, Victoria Principal, Omar Sharif and Robert Urich.
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