From the uso.org and 1940s.org websites describing a storied history of the United Service Organizations or the USO, I wanted to capture the essence of this great organization which has entertained millions of US service men and women over 80 years through WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq, Afghanistan and Enduring Freedom.
The official motto of the USO is “Until Every One Comes Home,” and that effectively sums up the organization’s goal. The USO has provided a few hours’ respite for soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen from the thankless tasks at hand and lifted the spirits and morale of those who needed it the most. For some, a USO show would be their final hour of entertainment before heading back onto the battlefield.
The USO has existed to provide recreational, entertainment and morale-lifting services to U.S. military service personnel worldwide. Although a non-profit and non-government organization, the USO is in partnership with the Department of Defense, which provides funding and logistics. Private and public contributions also contribute significantly in supporting the USO, which is commonly referred to as a “home away from home” for service members in foreign lands.
Today, the USO continues to support our nation’s military and their families as they defend our country and its freedoms. By providing support to our servicemen and women as they perform their most challenging duties around the world, the USO credo is to be always by their side.
The reach of the USO’s more than 250 centers extends to countries on every continent, operated by thousands of staff and volunteers whose goals are to match our service members’ vigilance and provide best-in-class service to those who sacrifice so much for America.
In The Beginning
In 1940, America’s military was essentially “on alert” and escalating both in enlistment and training in preparation for what appeared to be inevitable entry into World War II. President Roosevelt, aware that troops needed the occasional “break” from their daily routine, approached several private organizations and challenged them to pool their resources to provide recreational and entertainment services for these service personnel, to lift their morale and nourish support on the home front. These private entities – the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board – jointly formed an outreach that became the USO. In February 1941, the USO was chartered and soon began “Camp Shows” at bases within the US.
With the US entry into WWII after Pearl Harbor, these shows were expanded to US outposts globally.
Celebrities of the day selflessly volunteered to perform their services for free and represented every corner of show business. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, The Rockettes, Glenn Miller, James Cagney, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire and countless other “legends” entertained troops during the 1940s, and in later years, iconic figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, John Wayne, Sammy Davis, Jr., Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret and Redd Foxx entertained troops in both Korea and Vietnam. In more recent years, U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have attended shows featuring Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson, Kellie Pickler, Toby Keith, Dane Cook and Carrie Underwood, to mention only a few. A very popular “show” during recent Christmas appearances has been WWE RAW (World Wrestling Entertainment) matches.
Credit to Mike Case and Sandi Gohn on their Bob Hope story
Bob Hope knew what it meant to be away from home during the holidays. Hope’s decades-long tradition of entertaining service members began in May 1941, when he recorded an episode of his NBC radio show, the “Pepsodent Show,” during a visit to a California naval base.
He headed out on his first overseas USO Camp Show tour in 1943. During this and the many WWII USO Camp Show trips that followed, Hope hosted dozens of variety-style shows featuring some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
In fact, during WWII, with only a few exceptions, all of Hope’s shows were performed for a military crowd.
His productions became the most widely known and recognized of all the USO shows performed for our guys and gals in the military. In December 1948, at the request of the Pentagon, Hope and his USO troupe, which included Irving Berlin at the time, recorded a “Bob Hope Show” radio episode in front of troops stationed in Germany supporting the Berlin Airlift.
According to the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, it was this USO trip that inspired Hope to begin his tradition of entertaining the military community during the holiday season.
The comedian continued to host and tape additional radio and USO performances at bases across the US.
From World War II to Desert Shield, the legendary star spent scores of December days on the front lines entertaining service members all around the world. There was more than one occasion when the enemy keyed off the popularity of these shows and began hostile actions before, during and after several shows.
It has been estimated that the USO performed, between 1941 and 1945 alone, almost 300,000 shows before over 150 million service members. The USO shows weren’t without calamity: In fact, over the years twenty-eight performers died from various causes, including plane crashes or illness. Al Jolson, notable for being the very first performer to appear overseas, contracted malaria and had to end his “tour” prematurely.
To everyone involved past and present, thank you!