History of the USO
The United Services Organizations (“USO”) was founded in Times Square, New York in 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin D. 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 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.
Today, the USO today is alive and well, observing 65 years of serving our men and women in uniform and their families around the world. To support troops participating in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, USO centers opened in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Qatar. USO centers number 132 around the world. The USO provides a variety of programs and services, including orientation programs, family events, travel assistance, free Internet and e-mail access, and recreation services. USO entertainment tours continue to boost troop morale and feature such celebrities as Robin Williams, Wayne Newton, Ben Affleck, Gary Sinise, Jessica Simpson, Charles Barkley, John Elway, Drew Carey and Toby Keith.
Military personnel and their families visit USO centers more than five million times each year. A nonprofit, charitable organization, the USO relies on donations from private citizens, foundations, organizations and corporations. More than 33,000 USO volunteers provide an estimated 371,418 hours of service annually.