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The United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) is an American nonprofit-charitable corporation that provides live entertainment, such as comedians, actors and musicians, social facilities, and other programs to members of the United States Armed Forces and their families. Since 1941, it has worked in partnership with the Department of War, and later with the Department of Defense (DoD), relying heavily on private contributions and on funds, goods, and services from various corporate and individual donors. Although it is congressionally-chartered, it is not a government agency.

Founded during World War II, the USO sought to be the GI'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 people having volunteered their services in some way. The USO initially disbanded in 1947, but was revived in 1950 for the Korean War, after which it continued, also providing peacetime services. During the Vietnam War, USO social facilities ("USOs") were sometimes located in combat zones.

The organization became particularly known for its live performances, called camp shows, through which the entertainment industry helps boost the morale of servicemen and women. From the start, Hollywood was eager to show its patriotism, and many celebrities joined the ranks of USO entertainers. They went as volunteers to entertain, and celebrities continue to provide volunteer entertainment, in military bases in the U.S. and overseas, sometimes placing their own lives in danger, by traveling or performing under hazardous conditions. In 2011, the USO was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

The USO has over 200 locations around the world in 14 countries (including the U.S.) and 27 states. During a gala marking the USO's 75th anniversary in 2016, retired Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the current chairman of the USO Board of Governors, estimated that the USO has served more than 35 million Americans over its history.[2][3]

History

Mission and goals

United States Armed Forces and their families. Since 1941, it has worked in partnership with the Department of War, and later with the Department of Defense (DoD), relying heavily on private contributions and on funds, goods, and services from various corporate and individual donors. Although it is congressionally-chartered, it is not a government agency.

Founded during World War II, the USO sought to be the GI'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 people having volunteered their services in some way. The USO initially disbanded in 1947, but was revived in 1950 for the Korean War, after which it continued, also providing peacetime services. During the Vietnam War, USO social facilities ("USOs") were sometimes located in combat zones.

The organization became particularly known for its live performances, called camp shows, through which the entertainment industry helps boost the morale of servicemen and women. From the start, Hollywood was eager to show its patriotism, and many celebrities joined the ranks of USO entertainers. They went as volunteers to entertain, and celebrities continue to provide volunteer entertainment, in military bases in the U.S. and overseas, sometimes placing their own lives in danger, by traveling or performing under hazardous conditions. In 2011, the USO was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

The USO has over 200 locations around the world in 14 countries (including the U.S.) and 27 states. During a gala marking the USO's 75th anniversary in 2016, retired Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the current chairman of the USO Board of Governors, estimated that the USO has served more than 35 million Americans over its history.[2][3]

Author Linda Granfield in describing the show, writes, "For two hours, the men could forget they were

Author Linda Granfield in describing the show, writes, "For two hours, the men could forget they were soldiers at war. After the show, they returned to the fighting in the hills. Some in that audience never made it back."[31] By the end of the war, over 113,000 American USO volunteers were working at 294 centers at home and abroad.[32] And 126 units had given 5,422 performances to servicemen in Korea and the wounded in Japan.

The USO was in Vietnam before the first combat troops arrived, with the first USO club opened in Saigon in April 1963. The 23 centers in Vietnam and Thailand served as many as a million service members a month, and the USO presented more than 5,000 performances during the Vietnam War featuring stars such as John Wayne, Ann-Margret, Sammy Davis Jr., Raymond Burr, Phyllis Diller, Martha Raye, Joey Heatherton, Wayne Newton, Jayne Mansfield, Redd Foxx, Rosey Grier, Anita Bryant, Nancy Sinatra, Jimmy Hawkins, Jimmy Boyd, Lola Falana, George Peppard and Bob Hope. Philip Ahn, the first actor of Korean descent to become a Hollywood star, became the first Asian American USO performer to entertain troops in Vietnam.[33]

lounge and place to sleep for American servicemen between their flights. Vietnam historian James Westheider noted that the USO "tried to bring a little America to Vietnam." Volunteer American civilians, who did 18-month tours, staffed the clubs. According to Westheider, "The young women wore miniskirts – no slacks were allowed." Each club had a snack bar, gift shops, a barbershop, photo developing, overseas phone lines, and hot showers.[34]

When providing entertainment, the USO did its best to attract known stars from back home to help relieve the stresses of war. Senator John Kerry recalled how important this kind of diversion would become. He remembered a "Bob Hope Follies" USO show, which included actress Ann-Margret, Miss America, football star Rosey Grier, and others. According to Kerry biographer Douglas Brinkley, "When the Swift finally made it back to the My Tho River, the crew confronted the heartbreaking sight of a huge Navy landing craft ferrying the troops back. The USO show was over." Kerry later wrote, "The visions of Ann Margret and Miss America and all the other titillating personalities who would have made us feel so at home hung around us for a while until we saw three Chinook helicopters take off from the field and presumed that our dreams had gone with them."[35]

But for GIs who saw the show, it was worth it: "We turned to watch Ann perform, and for about two minutes of American beauty, the war was forgotten. Everyone fully understood just what was really worth fighting for. ... The show was fantastic, but the escape the Bob Hope tour provided us in expectation for days before, and after, helped us keep in touch with what we were there for – God, Country, apple pie ... and Ann-Margret!"[36]

The visits by the stars meant a lot to the men and women in Vietnam. "It was not just the entertainment; it meant that they were not forgotten that far away from home," writes Westheider.[34] He adds that the tours made a "deep impression" on the stars as well. Singer and actress Connie Stevens remembered her 1969 tour with Bob Hope, when she decided to go despite the fact she had two children both under the age of two. Today, she claims that "veterans were still stopping her and thanking her for visiting Vietnam over 30 years later."[34]

Similarly, Ann-Margret during a book signing was approached by a veteran who asked her to sign a photo he took of her performing in Vietnam. Although the book's publishing representative for the signing event would not allow her to sign anything other than her book, the veteran's wife recalls:

She took one look at the photo, tears welled up in her eyes, and she said, 'This is one of my gentlemen from Viet Nam and I most certainly will sign his photo. I know what these men did for their country and I alwa

When providing entertainment, the USO did its best to attract known stars from back home to help relieve the stresses of war. Senator John Kerry recalled how important this kind of diversion would become. He remembered a "Bob Hope Follies" USO show, which included actress Ann-Margret, Miss America, football star Rosey Grier, and others. According to Kerry biographer Douglas Brinkley, "When the Swift finally made it back to the My Tho River, the crew confronted the heartbreaking sight of a huge Navy landing craft ferrying the troops back. The USO show was over." Kerry later wrote, "The visions of Ann Margret and Miss America and all the other titillating personalities who would have made us feel so at home hung around us for a while until we saw three Chinook helicopters take off from the field and presumed that our dreams had gone with them."[35]

But for GIs who saw the show, it was worth it: "We turned to watch Ann perform, and for about two minutes of American beauty, the war was forgotten. Everyone fully understood just what was really worth fighting for. ... The show was fantastic, but the escape the Bob Hope tour provided us in expectation for days before, and after, helped us keep in touch with what we were there for – God, Country, apple pie ... and Ann-Margret!"[36]

The visits by the stars meant a lot to the men and women in Vietnam. "It was not just the entertainment; it meant that they were not forgotten that far away from home," writes Westheider.[34] He adds that the tours made a "deep impression" on the stars as well. Singer and actress Connie Stevens remembered her 1969 tour with Bob Hope, when she decided to go despite the fact she had two children both under the age of two. Today, she claims that "veterans were still stopping her and thanking her for visiting Vietnam over 30 years later."[34]

Similarly, Ann-Margret during a book signing was approached by a veteran who asked her to sign a photo he took of her performing in Vietnam. Although the book's publishing representative for the signing event would not allow her to sign anything other than her book, the veteran's wife recalls:

She took one look at the photo, tears welled up in her eyes, and she said, 'This is one of my gentlemen from Viet Nam and I most certainly will sign his photo. I know what these men did for their country and I always have time for 'my gentlemen.'[37]

In November–December 1968 the Sig Sakowitz troop from Chicago performed over 36 shows in South Viet

In November–December 1968 the Sig Sakowitz troop from Chicago performed over 36 shows in South Vietnam with the USO in: Pleiku, Dalat, Danang, Cam Ran Bay, Phu Bai, Phu Loy, Hue, Natrang, Tan Son Nhut Airbase, Saigon and places in the boonies known only to military intelligence and the lonely soldiers yearning for a taste of home. The troop consisted of Doublemint Twins Terrie and Jennie Frankel, Gaslight Club singer Sara Sue, Comedian Tony Diamond and personality Sig Sakowitz. Shows were also performed with comedian Joey Bishop of the Rat Pack.[38]

George Pepp

George Peppard, successful star of stage, TV and motion pictures, arrived in Vietnam for a USO HANDSHAKE TOUR in 1970 to visit the military in the hospitals and out in the "boonies."... He showed a keen interest in the men's mission while they were hungry for news of life back in the "World."... Polaroid pictures were taken by Mr. Peppard's escort officer, autographed, and given to the men.[39]

In 1983, a bloody civil war was raging in Lebanon. In an effort to stop the violence in the region a Multinational Force of peacekeepers composed largely of U.S., Italian and French armed service members was created and sent to the region to attempt a restoration of order. As part of the multinational force the United States mobilized an expeditionary force composed of members of the United States Marine Corps and elements of the United States Sixth Fleet which operated out of the Mediterranean Sea.[40]

Carrying on a tradition he had begun in World War II of spending Christmas with U.S. forces overseas, Bob Hope and his troupe of entertainers gave a show on board the battleship USS New Jersey on December 24, 1983. Four hundred Marines stationed in Beirut attended the show.[41]

Italy

American troops have been deployed in Italy since the end of World War II. In 1988, a car bomb targeted the USO club in Naples, which killed five people including a U.S. Navy officer.

Gulf War

Bob Hope and his troupe of entertainers gave a show on board the battleship USS New Jersey on December 24, 1983. Four hundred Marines stationed in Beirut attended the show.[41]

American troops have been deployed in Italy since the end of World War II. In 1988, a car bomb targeted the USO club in Naples, which killed five people including a U.S. Navy officer.

Gulf WarTo support troops participating in Operation Desert Shield, USO centers opened in Saudi Arabia. Entertainers performing for the troops included Bob Hope, Jay Leno, Steve Martin, Delta Burke, Ann Jillian, Gerald McRaney, Marie Osmond, the Pointer Sisters, country singer Gina James, and Bob Hope on his final USO tour.[42]

Afghanistan and Iraq

To support troops participating in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, USO centers opened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. USO centers number more than 160 around the world. In those years, the USO opened centers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Afghanistan. The USO provides a variety of programs and services, including orientation programs, family events, free Internet and e-mail access, free drinks and snacks, free phone calls home and recreation services. One of the newer programs, called "USO in a Box," delivers program materials ranging from DVD pl

To support troops participating in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, USO centers opened in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. USO centers number more than 160 around the world. In those years, the USO opened centers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Carson, Colorado; and Afghanistan. The USO provides a variety of programs and services, including orientation programs, family events, free Internet and e-mail access, free drinks and snacks, free phone calls home and recreation services. One of the newer programs, called "USO in a Box," delivers program materials ranging from DVD players and videos to musical instruments to remote forward operating bases in Afghanistan.

U.S. military personnel and their families visit USO centers more than eight million times each year.

[43]

From June 8 to 11, 2009, TV personality Stephen Colbert traveled to Iraq to film his show The Colbert Report for four days in a USO sponsored event.

Other entertainers who have traveled to the Middle East to perform include Al Franken (who made six USO tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan before being elected a United States Senator from Minnesota), Robin Williams, Craig Ferguson, Gary Sinise, Zac Brown, Five Finger Death Punch, Artie Lange, Gary Dell'Abate, Nick DiPaolo, Jim Florentine, Jim Norton, Dave Attell, Avenged Sevenfold, Jessica Simpson, Carrie Underwood, Drowning Pool, Toby Keith (with special guest Gina James), Montgomery Gentry, Stephen Colbert traveled to Iraq to film his show The Colbert Report for four days in a USO sponsored event.

Other entertainers who have traveled to the Middle East to perform include Al Franken (who made six USO tours in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan before being elected a United States Senator from Minnesota), Robin Williams, Craig Ferguson, Gary Sinise, Zac Brown, Five Finger Death Punch, Artie Lange, Gary Dell'Abate, Nick DiPaolo, Jim Florentine, Jim Norton, Dave Attell, Avenged Sevenfold, Jessica Simpson, Carrie Underwood, Drowning Pool, Toby Keith (with special guest Gina James), Montgomery Gentry, Kellie Pickler, Mayra Veronica, Carlos Mencia, O.A.R., Trace Adkins, Kathleen Madigan, Louis C.K.,[44] Dane Cook, Lewis Black, Third Day, Colin Quinn, Kathy Griffin and Neil McCoy.[45]

The USO has provided services for the annual "Tribute to the Troops" special of World Wrestling Entertainment. They have aired WWE RAW from Afghanistan and Iraq every Christmas in the United States in a pre-taped show from the combat zone.

On July 16, 2012, Hollywood actor Charlie Sheen announced that he would donate at least $1 million to the USO. This would be among the largest single monetary donations ever given to the organization.[46]

In 1997, the U.S. Congress honored Bob Hope by declaring him the "first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces."[47][48] According to Hope biographer William Faith, his reputation has become ingrained in the "American consciousness" because he had flown millions of miles to entertain G.I.s during both wartime and peace. His contribution to the USO began in 1941 and ended with Operation Desert Shield in 1991, spending 48 Christmases overseas with American service personnel.[42] He was always treated as "an asset to the U.S. Government with his willingness to entertain whenever they needed him."[48] After WWII was declared over, the USO had sent out an "impassioned bulletin" asking entertainers not to abandon the GIs now that the war was over. Hope was among the first to say yes. The Military Order of the Purple Heart notes that "his contributions to the USO are well known: they are legend."[49]

As a result of his non-stop entertainment to both the civilian population and the military, he received numerous other honors over the years: a C-17 Air Force plane was named The Spirit of Bob Hope; a naval vessel was named the C-17 Air Force plane was named The Spirit of Bob Hope; a naval vessel was named the USNS Bob Hope; and streets, schools, hospitals, and a golf tournament were also named in his honor. A Senate resolution declared him "a part of American folklore." The Guinness Book of Records called him the most honored entertainer ever. And during his 1993 televised birthday celebration, when he turned 90, General Colin Powell saluted Hope "for his tireless USO trouping", which was followed by onstage tributes from all branches of the armed forces. General William Westmoreland spoke about his loyalty to the GI throughout the gritty Vietnam years. And bandleader Les Brown, who was with him during many of his tours, mentioned that his band "had seen more of Hope's ass in the last forty years than any of Hope's immediate family."[48]

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."[18]

During the Vietnam War years he gave a number of high-rating television specials and sensed that the media had given him a broad endorsement for continuing on his GI mercy missions. Soon after his Christmas show in Saigon in 1967, he learned that the Vietcong had planned a terrorist attack at his hotel against him and his entire troupe, missing him by ten minutes. He was later "mystified," writes Faith, "and ... increasingly intolerant of the pockets of dissent. Draft-card burnings on college campuses angered him ..." "Can you imagine," Hope wrote in a magazine article, "... that people in America are burning their draft cards to show their opposition and that some of them are actually rooting for your defeat?"[48] 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.

His final Christmas show was during Operation Desert Shield in 1990. The show was not easy, notes Faith. "There were so many restrictions. Hope's jokes were monitored by the State Department to avoid offending the Saudis ... and the media was restricted from covering the shows ... Because in Saudi Arabia national custom prescribes that women must be veiled in public, Ann Jillian, Marie Osmond, and the Pointer Sisters were left off Hope's Christmas Eve show."[48]

In 2009, Stephen Colbert performing his last episode of weeklong taping in Iraq for his The Colbert Report show, carried a golf club on stage and dedicated it to Bob Hope's service for the USO.

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 Charity Navigator gave the United Service Organizations a 3-star overall rating, a 2-star financial rating and a 4-star accountability and transparency rating.[50]

The Charity Navigator gave the United Service Organizations a 3-star overall rating, a 2-star financial rating and a 4-star accountability and transparency rating.[50]