By Amanda Huffman
On February 4, 2023, the United Service Organization, or what most people know as the USO, is celebrating the 82nd anniversary of its founding. The USO was created when the US was on the verge of joining World War II. Tensions were mounting and President Franklin D. Roosevelt was worried about the morale of troops entering into warfare. There were a number of organizations supporting different organizations but no one was focused on supporting the troops.
So with war looming on the horizon six service agencies — YMCA, YWCA, Salvation Army, Jewish Welfare Board, Catholic Community Charities, and Travelers Aid Society — worked in partnership to create and support the launch of the USO. Over the course of WWII, the USO operated 3,000 recreational clubs and boasted over one million volunteers.
Besides clubs that provided relief and a morale boost, the USO, through its subsidiary Camp Shows Inc., creates professional-quality shows with volunteer entertainers. One of the first and most well-known entertainers to support this was Bob Hope. On May 6, 1941, Bob Hope performed his first USO show at March Air Base. He continued to perform for troops for the next 50 years. His work supporting and entertaining the troops for much of his 80-year career inspired other entertainers to follow in his legacy. He entertained troops at home and abroad during WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
In 1947, with the end of World War II, the need for the USO was no longer seen and it was disbanded until the Korean War. In 1950, it was revived and began providing support for troops again. It was then expanded considerably during Vietnam. After the Vietnam War ended, the future of the USO was once again questioned. But an investigation was conducted and it was unanimous, “If there were no USO, another organization would have to be created… Isolation of the military from civilian influences is not, we believe at this time, in the interest of our nation.” So the USO continued on and shifted its mission from supporting troops during times of war to a focus on programs helping military members transition and supporting traveling military families at airports.
Today, the USO is still going strong. While most Americans might think about the USO tours that offer entertainment to the troops overseas, just as Bob Hope did during WWII. One of the best parts of the USO is the 160 recreational clubs located across the country. Along with 30 airport centers. There servicemembers and their families can grab a meal and have a quiet place to rest, watch a movie or get away from the crowds.
When I was in the military and traveling for both work and vacation I loved getting a chance to spend time in the USO. My favorite memory was when I went to Dallas-Fort Worth’s Airport when Gary Sinise had donated catered food for everyone passing through the USO that day. Most often when you visit the USO you can count on something microwavable to eat and, if you are lucky, Girl Scout cookies. I was excited to see a full spread available to make roast beef sandwiches. And I felt loved and appreciated for my military service.
What started in 1941 to support military troops and their families continues its legacy and mission forward today — and that’s worth celebrating every day.
Amanda is a military veteran who served in the Air Force for six years as a Civil Engineer who served on a combat deployment with the Army in Afghanistan. She traded in her combat boots for a diaper bag to stay home with her two boys and follow her husband’s military career in the Space Force. Amanda is the host of the Women of the Military podcast. There she shares the stories of women who have served or are serving in the military. The podcast has over 200 episodes and over 100K downloads. Amanda is also an author and has published two books. Her first book, Women of the Military tells the stories of 28 military women who served in the military. Her second book, A Girl’s Guide to Military Service, is the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Winner for Teen Non Fiction. It is a guide for high school girls considering military service to help them build a strong foundation for their future career. She also works as a freelance writer and has been featured in a number of military publications including The War Horse, Military.com, Military Families Magazine, Clearance Jobs, Military Spouse Magazine, and more.