Mission and goalsThe USO was founded in 1941 by Mary Ingraham in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide morale and recreation services to U.S. uniformed military personnel. Roosevelt was elected as its honorary chairman. This request brought together six civilian organizations: the Salvation Army, YMCA, Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board. They were brought together under one umbrella to support U.S. troops. Roosevelt said he wanted "these private organizations to handle the on-leave recreation of the men in the armed forces." According to historian Emily Yellin, "The government was to build the buildings and the USO was to raise private funds to carry out its main mission: boosting the morale of the military."Yellin, Emily. ''Our Mothers' War: American Women at Home and at the Front During World War II'', Simon and Schuster (2005) The first national campaign chairman was Thomas Dewey, who raised $16 million in the first year. The second chairman was future senator Prescott Bush. The USO was incorporated in New York on February 4, with the first facility erected in DeRidder, Louisiana,1941.John Whiteclay Chambers II. "USO." ''The Oxford Companion to American Military History''. Oxford University Press (2000)
World War IIUSO show, 1943 After being formed in 1941, in response to World War II, "centers were established quickly ... in churches, barns, railroad cars, museums, castles, beach clubs, and log cabins."Clairday, Robynn. ''Postcards from World War II'', Square One Publishers (2001) Most centers offered recreational activities, such as holding dances and showing movies. And there were the well-known free coffee and doughnuts. Some USO centers provided a haven for spending a quiet moment alone or writing a letter home, while others offered spiritual guidance and made childcare available for military wives. But the organization became mostly known for its live performances called ''Camp Shows'', through which the entertainment industry helped boost the morale of its servicemen and women. USO Camp Shows, Inc. began in October 1941, and by that fall and winter 186 military theaters existed in the United States. Overseas shows began in November 1941 with a tour of the Caribbean. Within five months 36 overseas units had been sent within the Americas, the United Kingdom, and Australia, and during 1942 1,000 performed as part of 70 units. Average performers were paid $100 a week; top stars were paid $10 a day because their wealth let them contribute more of their talents. These overseas shows were produced by the American Theatre Wing, which also provided food and entertainment for the armed services in their Stage Door Canteens. Funds from the sale of film rights for a story about the New York Canteen went toward providing USO tours of shows for overseas troops. Following the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Edward G. Robinson was the first movie star to travel to Normandy to entertain the troops. He had already been active back home selling war bonds, and donated $100,000 to the USO. During his show, he said, "This is the most privileged moment of my life, the opportunity to be here with you." The following month, Camp Shows began in Normandy. 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. The USO's fundraising efforts were controversial. An MGM film, ''Mr. Gardenia Jones'', created to assist the USO in its fundraising campaign, was nearly withdrawn from theaters due to objections by the War Department, mainly because of scenes showing soldiers jumping with joy at the opportunity to shower in canteens and rest in overstuffed and comfortable USO chairs. The Army, noted the ''New York Times'', "feels this is not good for morale as it implies that there are no showers or other comforts for soldiers in military camps." The film starred Ronald Reagan, then a captain in the United States Army Air Force, Army Air Force. Fundraising was also aided by non-USO entertainment groups. Soldier Shows, which troops – often experienced actors and musicians – organized and held their own performances, were common. The army formed a Special Services (entertainment), Special Services unit that organized such shows and supervised the USO, and the experience from the Soldier Shows led to Irving Berlin's Broadway show ''This Is the Army''. Performers and writers from throughout the army were recruited for the production; they remained soldiers and continued drills. Berlin, who had written and produced the similar ''Yip, Yip, Yaphank'' during World War I, took the entire 165-person cast on tour in Europe in 1942, raising nearly $10 million for the Army Emergency Relief Fund. The following year the show was made into a film by the same title, again starring Ronald Reagan. The ''This Is The Army'' stage production toured worldwide until it closed in October 1945 in Honolulu. War correspondent Quentin Reynolds, wrote in an article for ''Billboard magazine'' in 1943, that "Entertainment, all phases of it – radio, pictures and live – should be treated as essential. You don't know what entertainment means to the guys who do the fighting until you've been up there with the men yourself. ... You can quote me as saying that we should use entertainment as an essential industry so long as it's for the boys in service. Anybody who has been there would insist on it. ... Hell, you should have seen how happy the G.I.s were when they heard the ballplayers were coming over. And John Steinbeck, just back from a chore as war correspondent, ... also applauded show business as part of the war effort and its importance as a morale builder.""Quentin Reynolds Talks on Terrific Job Big and Little Showbiz is Doing Overseas"
Women in the USOAccording to Emily Yellin, many of the key foot soldiers in the USO's mission were women who were "charged with providing friendly diversion for U.S. troops who were mostly men in their teens and twenties." USO centers throughout the world recruited female volunteers to serve doughnuts, dance, and just talk with the troops. USO historian Julia Carson writes that this "nostalgic hour," designed to cheer and comfort soldiers, involved "listening to music – American style" and "looking at pretty girls, like no other pretty girls in the world – American girls." African-American women scrambled to rally the community around the soldiers and create programs for them. By 1946, hostesses had served more than two thousand soldiers a day while also providing facilities for the wounded and convalescent who were on leave. They went to black businesses and fraternal organizations in order to find sponsorship for their USO group, and later expanded to fulfill the needs of soldiers during the Korean War. Moreover, they worked to merge black and white USOs into one desegregated unit. As black historian Megan Shockley noted, "Their work for the desegregation of USOs had begun during World War II, and it finally paid off." Women were also key entertainers who performed at shows. Stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth had traveled over a million miles. Yellin notes that on one tour, Hayworth visited six camps, gave thousands of autographs, and "came back from Texas with a full-fledged nervous breakdown from over-enthusiasm!" Opera singer Lily Pons, after she had performed a "serious" opera song to troops in Burma, "an applause erupted that stunned even the most seasoned performers." She later wrote in a letter, "Every woman back home wears a halo now, and those who represent her had better keep theirs on, too." Author Joeie Dee pointed out that "for women entertainers, traveling with the USO made it possible to be patriots and adventurers as well as professionals." She adds, however, that the G.I.s in the USO audiences "tended to see these women in a different light – as reminders of and even substitutes for their girls back home, as a reward for fighting the war, as embodiments of what they were fighting for."Dee, Joeie. ''Hi GI'', Xulon Press (2005) Edward Skvarna remembers 1943, when he met Donna Reed at a USO canteen and asked her to dance. "I had never danced with a celebrity before, so I felt delighted, privileged even, to meet her. ... But I really felt she was like a girl from back home." Jay Fultz, author of a biography of Reed, states that soldiers "often wrote to her as if to a sister or the girl next door, confiding moments of homesickness, loneliness, privation and anxiety."
Women entertainersOne female entertainer wrote about conditions while performing: Singer-actress-dancer Ann Miller described performing for badly wounded soldiers. She did forty-eight shows for "broken soldiers," who were mostly lying on stretchers in the lobbies of hotels, watching as she entertained them. Yellin writes, "During her last show she collapsed and had to be taken home on an Army airplane." Afterwards, Miller described the experience:
Korean WarIn 1947, the USO was disbanded, due partly to lack of funds.Freedland, Michael. ''The Story of Al Jolson '' (1972), pp. 283–84 In 1951, when the United States entered the Korean War, Secretary of Defense George Marshall and Secretary of the Navy Francis P. Matthews requested that the USO be reactivated "to provide support for the men and women of the armed forces with help of the American people." According to war historian Paul Edwards, between 1952 and 1953, not a day went by without the USO providing services somewhere in Korea. At home or overseas, in 1952 it was serving 3.5 million in the armed forces using much the same methods of operation as it did in World War II. Many stars, both well-known and new, came to perform, including Bob Hope, Errol Flynn, Debbie Reynolds, Piper Laurie, Jane Russell, Paul Douglas (actor), Paul Douglas, Terry Moore (actress), Terry Moore, Marilyn Monroe, Danny Kaye, Rory Calhoun, Mickey Rooney, Linda Coleman, Al Jolson#World War II and Korean War tours, Al Jolson and many others. Hispanic and Latino Americans#Military, Hispanic-American soldiers were entertained by artists such as Dámaso Pérez Prado, Pérez Prado's Show featuring Evita Muñoz as his invited Mambo (dance), mambo dancer. Jolson was the first to volunteer, but due to lack of USO funds traveled to Korea at his own expense (he was also the first to entertain troops during World War II). Veterans have recalled many of the USOs events, sometimes in vivid detail: 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." By the end of the war, over 113,000 American USO volunteers were working at 294 centers at home and abroad.Edwards, Paul M. ''The Korean War'', Greenwood Publishing Group (2006) And 126 units had given 5,422 performances to servicemen in Korea and the wounded in Japan.
Vietnam WarThe USO was in Vietnam War, 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 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. File:USO Show Vietnam 1968 Terrie Frankel, Sara Sue, 3 Soldiers, Jennie Frankel.jpg, USO Show Vietnam, 1968: Terrie Frankel, Sara Sue, Jennie Frankel, and three Soldiers In addition, the USO operated centers at major U.S. airports to provide a airport lounge, 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.Westheider, James E. ''The Vietnam War'', Greenwood Publishing Group (2007) 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." 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!" 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. 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." 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: 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. 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.
Lebanese peacekeepingIn 1983, a bloody Lebanese civil war, civil war was raging in Lebanon. In an effort to stop the violence in the region a Multinational Force in Lebanon, Multinational Force of Peacekeeping, 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. 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 on December 24, 1983. Four hundred Marines stationed in Beirut attended the show.
ItalyAmerican troops have been deployed in Italy since the end of . In 1988, a car bomb 1988 Naples bombing, targeted the USO club in Naples, which killed five people including a U.S. Navy officer.
Gulf WarImage:Bob Hope and Ann Jillian.jpg, Bob Hope and Ann Jillian perform at the USO Christmas Tour during Operation Desert Shield To 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.
Afghanistan and IraqTo support troops participating in Operations War in Afghanistan (2001–present), 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. Bruce Willis visited Baghdad, Camp Kir Kush and Camp Caldwell, Iraq around December 2003. Mr. Willis visited military bases in Iraq during his visit in Iraq. 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#USO service, 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 (comedian), 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. (band), O.A.R., Trace Adkins, Kathleen Madigan, Louis C.K., Dane Cook, Lewis Black, Third Day, Colin Quinn, Kathy Griffin and Neil McCoy. 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.
Honoring Bob HopeIn 1997, the U.S. Congress honored Bob Hope by declaring him the "first and only honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces."Faith, William. ''Bob Hope: A Life in Comedy'', Da Capo Press (2003) 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 (Gulf War), Operation Desert Shield in 1991, spending 48 Christmases overseas with American service personnel. He was always treated as "an asset to the U.S. Government with his willingness to entertain whenever they needed him." 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." 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 Globemaster III, C-17 Air Force plane was named ''The Spirit of Bob Hope''; a naval vessel was named the USNS Bob Hope, 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 (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." 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." 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?" 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 (Gulf War), 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." 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.
AccountabilityThe 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.
See also* Gilla Gerzon (Former director, USO Haifa) * United Service Organization of North Carolina * Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA), an organisation established to provide entertainment for British armed forces personnel during World War II