Founding of the USO

On this day in 1941, the United Service Organization (USO) was founded.
As it became clear that the United States was destined to enter World War II, organizations across the country began to mobilize to support the growing military. These organizations included the YMCA, the YWCA, the Salvation Army, National Jewish Welfare Board, the National Catholic Community Services and the National Travelers Aid Association. President Franklin Roosevelt formed the USO to create synergy between these agencies with the objective to provide emotional support for the troops during their service.
During World War II, the USO became the G.I.’s “home away from home” and began a tradition of entertaining the troops that continues today. Involvement in the USO was one of the many ways in which the nation had come together to support the war effort, with nearly 1.5 million Americans having volunteered their services in some way.

Camp Shows began in Normandy in July 1944, one month after Operation Overlord. Until fall 1944 overseas units contained five performers or fewer; The Barretts of Wimpole Street, using local theaters in France and Italy, was the first to use an entire theater company, including scenery. At its high point in 1944, the USO had more than 3,000 clubs, and curtains were rising on USO shows 700 times a day. From 1941 to 1947, the USO presented more than 400,000 performances

In 1947, the USO clubs and facilities were closed and the organization was given an Honorable Discharge by President Harry S Truman. In January 1951, the USO was reactivated for the Korean War under a memorandum of understanding between the President and the Department of Defense (DOD).
In June 1972, The USO was again shuttered as troops withdrew from Vietnam. In December of 1979, President Jimmy Carter signs the USO’s newly granted congressional charter.
The organization became particularly famous for its live performances called Camp Shows, through which the entertainment industry helped boost the morale of its servicemen and women. Camp Shows began in Normandy in July 1944, one month after Operation Overlord. At its high point in 1944, the USO had more than 3,000 clubs, and curtains were rising on USO shows 700 times a day. From 1941 to 1947, the USO presented more than 400,000 performances

USO Peformance on Ship during Vietnam

USO Performance on Ship during Vietnam

Hollywood in general was eager to show its patriotism, and many famous celebrities joined the ranks of USO entertainers. They entertained in military bases at home and overseas, sometimes placing their own lives in danger, by traveling or performing under hazardous conditions. Performances over time have included a long list of celebrities. During WWII, performances from Hollywood legends such as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Frank Sinatra, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Lucille Ball, and many more helped bring a bit of home to the troops. During the Korean War stars such as Errol Flynn, Debbie Reynolds, Danny Kaye and Jayne Mansfield to name a few took up the torch. During Vietnam, soldiers were entertained by John Wayne, Sammy Davis Jr, Phyllis Diller, Redd Foxx and a host of others. In recent years stars such as Zac Brown, Lewis Black, Robin Williams, Carrie Underwood, Toby Keith, Dane Cook, along with countless other stars, both big and small, traveled to raise the morale of the troops.

Of all the entertainers that took time to serve the USO, the greatest name on the list would be Bob Hope. Bob Hope’s contributions to the USO and the troops started in 1941 and ended in 1991. He spent 48 Christmases overseas with American Service Personnel. War correspondent Quentin Reynolds wrote in 1943, “He and his troupe would do 300 miles in a jeep, and give four shows… One of the generals said Hope was a first rate military target since he was worth a division; that that’s about 15,000 men. Presumably the Nazis appreciated Hope’s value, since they thrice bombed towns while the comic was there.” In the spring of 1973, Hope began writing his fifth book, The Last Christmas Show, which was dedicated to “the men and women of the armed forces and to those who also served by worrying and waiting.” He signed over his royalties to the USO.

Bob Hope Performance in 1945

Bob Hope Performance in 1945

As a result of his non-stop entertainment to both the civilian population and the military, he received numerous other honors over the years. In 1997, the U.S. Congress honored Bob Hope by declaring him the “first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces.”

Today the USO has over 160 locations around the world in 14 countries (including the U.S.) and 27 states. The USO has a paid staff of approximately 300. Additionally, more than 44,000 USO volunteers provide an estimated 371,417 hours of service annually.  As reported by the USO, the unpaid volunteer to paid employee ratio overseas is 20 to 1. Within the United States, the number is “significantly higher”.

The author with the band Scarlet Ending in Djibouti Africa 2009

Whiskey Dave hanging with the band Scarlet Ending on Camp Lemmonier, in Djibouti in 2009

In 2011, USO centers served 8 million visitors.

In celebration of the USO, a first class organization, I give you Deputy Dave’s Drink of the Day: The Classic Martini
1 ½ oz gin
½ oz dry vermouth

Stir with ice cubes and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an olive or a twist of lemon


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