The United Service Organizations Was Chartered
When a World War II soldier received a needed
break from fighting, where could he go and what could he do? A
solution to this problem came with the formation of the United
Service Organizations, popularly known as the USO, on February
4, 1941. Its mission was to provide recreation for on-leave
members of the U.S. armed forces and their families. USO
recreational clubs supplied a place for everything from dancing,
movies, and live entertainment to a quiet place to talk, write
letters, or find religious counsel.
At the suggestion of
General George C. Marshall in 1940, and with the approval of
President Franklin Roosevelt, representatives from existing
public service organizations came together to form the USO Inc.
Creating the USO were the Salvation Army, the YMCA, the YWCA,
the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Travelers Aid Association
of America, and the National Catholic Community Service. During
World War II, more than 1 million volunteers operated more than
3,000 recreational clubs, which were established wherever they
could find room. Clubs were housed in churches, museums, barns,
railroad cars, storefronts, and other unlikely locales.
During World War II, the best-known USO center in the U.S. was
New York's Stage Door Canteen, celebrated in song and in the
film "Stage Door Canteen" starring Katharine Hepburn and Groucho
Marx. A message on the door read, "All American place for the
all American boy." The Hollywood Canteen was one of the largest
USOs, with capacity for 10,000 and featuring entertainment by
famous movie stars like Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, and the
USO champion, Bob Hope.
Comedian Bob Hope is famous for
taking his USO shows on the road and performing at bases and
hospitals, wherever U.S. servicemen were stationed in World War
II and beyond. Disbanded in 1947, the USO reorganized during the
Korean War, expanded considerably during the Vietnam War, and is
still in existence today.
Bob Hope traveled to the troops
in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Persian Gulf War.
His "cowardly wise-guy humor" has brought laughter to millions
of GIs. If you know anyone in the armed forces, ask if they have
ever experienced a USO-sponsored club or event. Maybe they even
saw Bob Hope live.