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A brief history of the USO
The USO was founded in 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide morale and recreation services to uniformed military personnel. This request led six civilian agencies - 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 - to unite in support of the troops. The United Service Organizations, or USO, was incorporated in New York February 4, 1941.
USO centers and clubs opened around the world in order to be a "Home Away from Home" for GIs. The USO was a place to go for dances and social events, for movies and music, for a quiet place to talk or write a letter home, or for a free cup of coffee and a doughnut. The USO also brought Hollywood celebrities and volunteer entertainers to perform for the troops.
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. Entertainers such as Bing Crosby, Ann Sheridan, James Cagney, Jimmy Stewart, Fred Astaire, the Andrews Sisters, Joe E. Brown, Glenn Miller, Martha Raye and, of course, Bob Hope were just a few of the “Soldiers in Greasepaint” who volunteered their time and talents to tour with the USO.
In 1950, when the United States entered the Korean War, the USO once again brought its vital services and entertainment tours, including Marilyn Monroe, to the troops. This effort continued after the war ended, and the USO expanded to serve the more than one million troops who remained stationed overseas. During the 1960s, as tensions escalated in Vietnam, the USO began to open centers in combat zones. 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.
The USO today is alive and well, and continues to serve. Recently, USO centers were opened at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Raleigh/Durham Airport in North Carolina and in Afghanistan. To support troops participating in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, centers opened in Kuwait and Qatar. Now with 122 locations worldwide, the USO provides a touch of home with services such as orientation programs, family events, travel assistance, free Internet and email access and recreation services. USO entertainment tours continue to boost troop morale and feature such celebrities as Robin Williams, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Wayne Newton, Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise, Drew Carey, Bruce Willis, Toby Keith and Kid Rock.
Military personnel and their families visit USO centers more than five million times each year. A non-profit, charitable organization, the USO relies on donations from private citizens, foundations, organizations and corporations. More than 33,571 USO volunteers provide an estimated 371,418 hours of service annually, a volunteer-to-paid-staff ratio of 20 to1.
USO fact sheet
- For 64 years, the USO has been providing morale-boosting programs and services to enhance the quality of life for military personnel and their families around the world.
- The USO was conceived in 1941 in response to a mandate from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The President challenged six private organizations - the YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Traveler’s Aid Association and the Salvation Army - to handle the on-leave morale needs for members of the Armed Forces.
- While the USO has diversified and changed over time, the mission remains unchanged: to bring a touch of home to our men and women in uniform, “Until Every One Comes Home.”
- The USO is the link between the American people and military personnel. Through the USO, Americans can show their appreciation and express their gratitude.
- The USO is not a government agency. It is a non-profit, charitable organization and relies on donations from private citizens and corporations.
- USOs in 10 countries and 21 states use the services of more than 33,571 volunteers. Unpaid volunteer to paid staff ratio overseas is more than 20 to 1.
- Throughout World War II, the USO was the channel for community participation in the war effort.
- The USO had all but disbanded by 1947, but regrouped when the United States entered the Korean War. At the Department of Defense’s request, the USO continued to expand following the end of the Korean War.
- For the first time in its history, USO centers were located in combat zones during the Vietnam War.
- In the early 1970s, the need for the USO was questioned. The Department of Defense and the United Way of America conducted a review of USO programs and services, and determined that “if there were no USO, another organization would have to be created....” The USO then was launched into a new era of peacetime service.
- An agreement with the Department of Defense signed in 1987 names the USO as a principal channel representing civilian concern for U.S. military personnel worldwide.
- The USO opened new centers in the Middle East during the Persian Gulf War, and the USO Mobile Canteen Program was begun.
- The USO also had a presence in Somalia from December 1992 until April 1993, and served troops in Haiti and the Balkans.
- Following September 11, 2001, USO Centers extended their hours and services for military personnel and their families, and expanded the availability of free Internet access.
- In 2004, the USO opened a new center in Vicenza, Italy. Today, there are 122 USO centers worldwide: 72 stateside centers, 50 overseas and six mobile canteens.
- Three stateside centers - in Fort Hood, Texas, and two in Hawaii - and all overseas centers are under the jurisdiction of USO World Headquarters. The remaining centers are affiliates.
- USO World Headquarters serves as the enabling body for all programs, and provides training and technical assistance to all USO Centers. USO World Headquarters also produces Celebrity Entertainment tours.
- In 2003, the USO sent 66 Celebrity Entertainment tours to 25 countries, entertaining more than 275,000 service men and women.
- In 2004, the USO sent 55 Celebrity Entertainment tours to 22 counties, entertaining more than 348,000 service men and women.
- USO tours have featured such entertainers as Drew Carey, David Letterman, Robin Williams, Bruce Willis, Gary Sinise, Toby Keith, Wayne Newton, Jessica Simpson, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and countless others who volunteered their time to visit our troops.
- USO Centers provide a wide range of services, such as Internet access, phone cards, cultural orientation, libraries, showers, sleeping facilities, cyber cafes and travel assistance.
- In 2003, the USO provided assistance to service members and their families through more than five million visits.
- At a time when the United States is involved in a different kind of war, the USO has rededicated itself to meeting the increased needs of military personnel both in the United States and abroad.
Visit www.USO.org for more information.