In the United States during the Second World War there were numerous individual service organizations, charities, and clubs that offered recreation and morale boosting activities to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. Chief, and largest, amongst them was the USO. During the Second World War the USO was a large organization that sought to provide a vast array of much needed services to military and support personnel throughout the globe. The USO became so synonymous with aid and recreation to soldiers that over time “uso”, a very specific brand, has become a generic term to describe any Serviceman's or Servicewoman's club, canteen, or organization, regardless of actual USO affiliation (much like Kleenex or Xerox and their respective products.) Here, we are concerned strictly with the brand name USO and not the many other organizations that emulated or followed suit offering similar services.
The United Service Organizations for National Defense was brought into existence through Presidential order February 4, 1941. The USO was incorporated in New York state as a private, nonprofit organization, supported by private citizens and corporations. President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted the morale of military personnel to remain high and believed that current service organizations would be better suited for the job than the Department of Defense. The Department of Defense felt that they should control every aspect of the soldier's life, however the chairmen of The Salvation Army, Jewish Welfare Board (JWB), National Catholic Community Service (NCCS), Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), and National TravelerÙs Aid Association felt that their organizations were better suited for the responsibility. In the end, a compromise was reached. The six civilian service organizations would be in charge, and the military would provide building supplies, locations, and labor when needed and available. For example, in a town that did not have a suitable building to use as a club, the military would build a structure using supplies and labor from the local military base. The USO originally intended to offer assistance only in communities that could not support the great influx of service personnel, as this was what their budget and fund-raising abilities allowed. Shortly after conception and the initial integration of the USO into various communities the overwhelming need for more operations in more communities was evident. This led to the creation of Community Conducted Operations (CCO). CCOs were born out of an individual's desire to have a USO presence and programs in their community. The National USO allowed the franchising of these operations to meet the needs of the individual community, provided they followed all the rules, regulations, ideas and standards of the National USO. This allowed for a standardization of USO policies. By 1943 all CCOs were integrated into the National USO structure.
During the Second World War, the USO was an organization which oversaw and provided recreation and aid services for the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. The types of USO services offered were: Clubs, Lounges and Traveler's Aid Service, Mobile and Maneuvers Service, Home Hospitality, Service to War Workers, Service to Women in the Armed Forces, Service to African-American military personnel, Service to Merchant Seamen, Service to members of the armed forces of US Allies while temporarily Stateside, Overseas Service, and Camp Shows Inc.
The USO was not interested in changing the social norms of the time. The integration and co-operation of the various religious organizations (Catholic, Protestant and Jewish) was revolutionary in and of itself. If clubs were to be located in a church or synagogue, it was required that all faiths be welcome and informational literature about all faith organizations in the community be provided. All races were welcome at the USO clubs and functions. In segregated communities, USO clubs were also segregated and in non-segregated communities they were integrated.
In more than 3,000 communities in the Western Hemisphere USO clubs were established and became a “Home Away from Home” for many military personnel and workers in wartime industry. The organizational framework for the USO was highly structured at the national and local levels. Large cities that had representation from one or more of the six founding agencies as part of their Executive Committee/Board of Directors was known as a USO Council. In small communities that did not have this representation, these groups of citizens that were chosen to represent the USO were known as USO Committees. USO Councils/Committees contained an Executive Committee or Board of Directors. If the Council/Committee was incorporated it was known as a Board of Directors while unincorporated Councils/Committees had an Executive Committee. The USO required both Executive Committees and Boards of Directors to consist of the following officers: Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Treasurer, and Subcommittee Chairmen. Suggested executive subcommittees were: finance, public information, club management and program. These boards/committees were to be composed of a variety of people (when possible) including: a USO representative from the local War Fund Committee, Local USO treasurer, Representative of the local Community Chest, Mayor (or his representative), the Army and Navy (if locally represented), and finally representatives of the three faiths (Protestant, Catholic and Jewish). Each club was financed both at a local and national level through Community War Chests, The National War Fund, and individual donations. Clubs were accountable to the National USO's standards and regulations. Depending on the size of the community and its needs, there could be more than one club each with its own specific clientele. Clubs would have specialized operations based on the service member's needs and interests. One club might have had more lively entertainment like dances, sporting tournaments, and outings. Another might offer a daycare and activities for wives and children of soldiers stationed nearby. Woman soldiers and nurses might have had their own club where they would have felt more relaxed. Lastly, War and Industrial Workers may have had their own club which was open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week to accommodate all shifts around the clock with dances, daybreak outings and other services related to war time industry.
Activities and facilities provided and coordinated by USO Clubs may have included, but were not limited to: athletic equipment, archery, art club, art materials, auditorium, badminton, baseball, basketball, barn dances, beach parties, bingo, boxing ring, bridge club, camera club, canteen, card games, checkers, checking, chess club, clubmobile/mobile canteen, concerts, crafts, crafts shop, croquet, dance instruction, dancing club, daycare services, dining facilities, dramatics club, fishing equipment, folk dancing, football, foreign language instruction, game room, glee club, gymnastic equipment, hay rides, holiday programming, horseback riding, horseshoe court, house parties, housing information, ice skating, juke-box, kitchen facilities, library, magazines, mending kits, miniature golf, movies, musical instruments, music library, music room, newspapers, outdoor dance floor, outdoor grill, outdoor patio, outdoor theatre, plays, photo darkroom, piano, picnic facilities, picnics, ping-pong, pool tables, pressing facilities, public telephone, punching bag, PX, radio, reading room, record player, religious information, roller skating, sewing facilities, shaving equipment, shoe shine outfit, showers, shuffleboard, snack bar, social dances, social hall, softball, square dances, swimming, swimming pool, table games, tennis, tether ball, theatre tickets, themed dances & parties, travel aid, typing instruction, typewriter, valet service, volleyball, voice recordings (“letters” on records), weddings, wiener roasts, and writing facilities. Service of any intoxicants at any USO Club, Lounge, Mobile Canteen, or at any party or social function under USO auspices was absolutely prohibited. The USO policy in regard to charges to service personnel was to provide all services free except those which could not be offered unless some charges were made, such as packages of cigarettes. The Army preferred that candy, cigarettes, and food be sold in USO Snack Bars in the same way the Army sold these items in their own Post Exchanges. “It is important that no practices are instituted which might impair the self-respect of service men.” (USO Manual Community Conducted Operations, 38).
In each club there was a paid Director and, dependent upon club size, also an Assistant Director that was hired by the executive committee or board of directors, with approval from the National USO. On occasion, National USO directly appointed a club Director. National USO provided the appropriate training for all Directors and Assistant Directors. These individuals were responsible for the overall day to day operations of the club, communications with other service organizations in their local community, and implementing National USO policy within the club. Directors and Assistant Directors were the only paid positions within the clubs. Another important position within the USO club was Senior Hostess, a volunteer position. They were generally married and/or 35 years or older, with valid community references. Senior Hostesses recruited on an individual basis needed to furnish at least two character references. Senior Hostesses recruited on an organizational basis, functioning as a group or appointed to specially represent the group, were considered acceptable if their membership was in a club recognized and accepted by USO. The USO stated that, “Since USO is a civilian agency, it is desirable that representatives of non-member agencies wear civilian clothes while on USO service.” (USO Manual Community Conducted Operations, 43) Training requirements for Senior Hostesses included both orientation and in-service training. These women were Committee Chairs and members; committee members chose chaperones for dances, parties and other social events. Other responsibilities within the club were reception, canteen and refreshment, game room, library, information, checking and similar services (USO Manual Community Conducted Operations, 41). They also solved problems on a case-by-case basis and served as de facto counselors for many service personnel who visited USO clubs. Senior Hostesses were expected to be motherly and act in a non-sexual manner (Winchell, 31).
Perhaps the most well known and often most fondly remembered USO volunteers were the Junior Hostesses. A Junior Hostess was a young lady who was willing and eager to help promote and provide wholesome activities for men and women in the Armed Services. They were usually single women aged 18-30, however marital status was not grounds for exclusion. National USO strictly opposed the inclusion of women under age 16 as hostesses. In order to become a Junior Hostess these young women needed to fill out an application and submit it to the staff member in charge of Junior Hostesses. They needed to provide the following information: name, address, telephone number, occupation, employer, length of residence in their community, husband's occupation (if married), age, church preference and recommendations by at least 2 mature members of the community other than their relatives. In addition to the two community references, some USO clubs also required a Senior Hostess to recommend the young lady applying for a Junior Hostess position; it was of utmost importance to the USO that Junior Hostesses be “good girls”. Once accepted as Junior Hostesses, young women were issued I.D. Cards that identified them as such. These cards, issued by the individual clubs, were required for admittance to the USO Club. If Hostesses did not present their I.D. Card, they were denied entry. Junior Hostesses were also required to take a minimum of one class per year to prepare them for their duties and responsibilities as a Junior Hostess. This class included information about the function, program & philosophy of the USO, charm & etiquette, health, cosmetics & clothes, citizenship & loyalty, and how to handle inappropriate behavior from military personnel. The Salvation Army manual recommended that USO clubs include Margery Wilson's 1934 book Charm in Junior Hostess training programs (Winchell, 90).While on duty, Hostesses were not allowed to smoke on the dance floor, in the canteen or at the front desk, etc., they were not allowed to drink intoxicants, were not allowed to dance with another girl when there were servicemen present, were not allowed to refuse to dance with anyone unless they were being un-gentlemanly, were not to indulge in conspicuous dancing, and were discouraged from chewing gum. They were expected to be a lady at all times. USO also had rules that governed how a Junior Hostess should dress:
Junior Hostesses also formed Committees that were responsible for various social events. Within the confines of the USO Club and its officially sponsored activities and events, Junior Hostess often acted as surrogate dates/girlfriends for servicemen, however they were not allowed to actually date the servicemen they met during their tenure as Junior Hostess. Dating a Serviceman one met at the USO could be grounds for dismissal as USO Junior Hostess. Junior Hostesses were required to volunteer a minimum of two hours per week and only registered hostesses could attend social activities for service men. A Junior Hostess who worked the minimum required hours from 1941-1945 would have earned 490 hours, just shy of a service pin with one star (Scherrer). Civilian men were allowed to volunteer or be hired by the National USO or local USO councils/committees; male volunteers did not receive a specific title. Even though National USO policy stated that Hostess candidates, “Should be included from different social and economic groups.” (USO Manual Community Conducted Operations, 42) the great majority were middle income to wealthy individuals. This also held true for paid staff and other volunteer positions within the USO.
Mobile and Maneuvers Services
In various parts of the conterminous 48 states and the District of Columbia, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii, and the eastern seaboard of Canada the Mobile Services were responsible for the morale of U.S. service personnel on maneuvers or on detached duty at points widely separated from populated centers and USO clubs. This was when the USO Club came to the soldiers. A Mobile Unit was operated by a mobile unit director and driver-technician consisting of a light truck or passenger automobile equipped with a motion picture apparatus, power generator, PA system and microphones, turn table and musical recordings, current motion picture productions, athletic equipment and expendable recreational materials such as games, books, magazines, religious literature, stationary and refreshments. The Mobile service volunteers also arranged carloads of USO Junior Hostesses with Senior Hostess chaperones to isolated stations for dances and parties. The Mobile Service also shopped, delivered mail, and on occasion provided pets to service personnel stationed at remote outposts. The USO Mobile Service volunteers would often advise personnel where the nearest USO Clubs were located (USO Reporter No. 9, 2).
Lounges and Traveler's Aid Services
Traveler's Aid Services generally consisted of a small office in a USO club or a desk in the waiting room of a bus or railroad station. They supplied information on rooms, transportation, facilities and community resources; they located people and also gave emergency aid and other services. The USO Lounges usually conducted operations in cooperation with the Traveler's Aid Association to afford the broader service needed in the larger transportation centers for troops in transit. They provided facilities for reading, resting and writing letters, information service, and other personal services without charge, such as showers, clothes pressing, and barber shop facilities. Generally service to troops in transit was locally funded through the use of local USO funds and other community resources. Participation by local committees and the provision of volunteer works for these USO Lounges constituted a major USO service (USO Manual Community Conducted Operations, 55).
USO Overseas Service
In addition to its nation-wide activities in the continental USA, the USO operated an Overseas Division. The Overseas Division mirrored the same programs, standards, and organizational structure of its stateside counterpart. At the request of the War Department it operated only in those overseas territories that had been assigned to it by the War Department. Prominent amongst these territories were the war bases leased from Great Britain, which extended from Newfoundland to the Atlantic coast of South America. USO Overseas Units were found in the Hawaiian Islands, certain parts of Alaska, certain places in Canada, Newfoundland, Bermuda, Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, The Panama Canal Zone, various Caribbean Islands, and places on the Northeastern coast of South America, as well as in the Guianas, and Brazil. All other territories were assigned to the Red Cross by the US Military authorities with the exception that the USO Camp Shows may operate anywhere throughout the world when requested by the War Department (USO Manual Community Conducted Operations, 56). During World War Two the Hawaiian Islands had the greatest aggregation of USO clubs and services.
USO Camp Shows, Inc.
A division of the USO, but it's own separate entity, was USO Camp Shows, Inc. This organization was funded through the USO, but was governed by a separate board of directors consisting of individuals from the entertainment industry intimately familiar with all the ins and outs of show business. Camp Shows, Inc. was created October 30, 1941, six months after the USO's chartering, and was run by Abe Lastfogel, “King” of the talent agents and chairman of the board at the William Morris Agency. It was created as a way to standardize and match entertainment needs with needs of Army Camp Commanders. Units, ranging in size from 1 to 50 people, were formed and sent where required as requested. There were a total of 702 USO Camp Shows units that entertained service personnel on tours that lasted from three weeks to six months (Andrews, 254). Through Mr. Lastfogel's efforts, “all the major entertainment unions (Actor's Equity, the Screen Actor's Guild, and the major musician's unions) agreed to allow entertainers to waive pay and working conditions requirements in order to bring live shows to armed forces personnel” (Coffey, 25). In the first six months of operation 24 separate units gave 3,791 performances. By 1942 it was considered the biggest booking agent in the world. Camp Shows Inc. executed 273,599 separate performances to 171,717,205 people from 1941-1945 (Carson, 130). There were 4 main entertainment circuits that operated during the war years (Carson, 117-118). The first was the Victory Circuit which brought the big shows with famous celebrities or complete Broadway musicals with as many as 50 performers each on stateside tours to the largest bases. Second was the Blue Circuit which was a Vaudeville circuit with comedians and 3 or 4 other acts on stateside tours of smaller venues. The Foxhole Circuit, the most renowned of all USO sponsored entertainment efforts, brought performers overseas and in combat areas around the world; tours were located in all war theaters of operations. “Foxhole circuit entertainers performed to all sizes of audiences, from as many as 15,000 GIs at a large stadium or airfield to as few as 15 or 20 soldiers standing around a jeep at a remote battlefield crossroads.” (Coffey, 27). By 1946, 5,424 entertainers had been sent overseas and twenty-eight players lost their lives while on USO tours; most were lost in transport plane crashes (Carson, 135). The Hospital Circuit, begun in 1944, brought special entertainment units to military personnel in hospitals (Carson, 118). Celebrities, singers, artists and dancers performed in hospital wards both stateside and overseas. Camp Shows Portraits were some of the most common entertainment provided on the Hospital Circuit. After the portrait was completed, the subject's name, artist's name and USO Camp Shows, Inc. was noted in the corner of every portrait drawn, then it was sent home to family members (Scherrer). In 1944 alone, the entertainers on the Hospital Circuit gave 5,444 performances for 850,537 patients at 79 hospitals. The Victory Circuit entertained another 352,000 patients and by the end of the war, USO performers had entertained 3.3 million patients in 192 hospitals (Andrews, 254). From 1941 to 1947, USO Camp Shows presented an amazing 428,521 performances. In 1945, curtains were rising 700 times a day and in all, more than 7,000 entertainers traveled overseas to entertain the troops.
February 4, 1941 The USO is incorporated under the laws of the State of New York.
January 1951 USO is reactivated for the Korean War under a Memorandum of Understanding between the president and the Department of Defense
December 20, 1979 President Jimmy Carter signs the USO's newly granted congressional charter
Present USO operates throughout the United States and Internationally
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