The following is a guest post by Rachel Telford, Program Specialist for the Veterans History Project.
Founded 73 years ago this month, the United Service Organizations (USO) was created at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide entertainment and recreation to members of the military. Six civilian service organizations – the Salvation Army, the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the National Catholic Community Service, the National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board – came together to offer dances, movies, coffee and doughnuts, and perhaps the most well-known offering of the USO, live performances by American entertainers, known as Camp Shows. Over the years, American performers have traveled the world to boost morale, and offer a brief respite from the stresses or simple boredom of wartime service.
Comedian Bob Hope began entertaining the troops shortly before the US entry into World War II, when he recorded his radio program, “The Pepsodent Show,” in front of an audience of soldiers at March Field in California. Hope continued performing for the troops throughout World War II, and his name and image appear in numerous VHP collections. Navy Photographer’s Mate First Class Joseph Leary served as an aerial photographer, but also put his talents to good use on the ground. He caught the photo to the left as Hope and his troupe recorded a radio show on Enewetak Island during their 1944 tour of the Pacific Theater.
Though the USO was disbanded in 1947, it was reactivated at the outbreak of the Korean War, and has been entertaining the troops ever since. A non-commissioned officer in charge of a Public Information Office at the tail end the Korean War, Army Sergeant Robert Krishef recalls the few hours he spent with Marilyn Monroe as one of the highlights of his years in the service. The actress visited Korea on a USO tour in 1954, and Krishef notes that during her brief stay, she declined to eat lunch with commanding officers, as was customary for visiting celebrities. Instead, she shared a meal with the enlisted men, and posed for pictures, before performing for an audience of thousands in the “Bulldozer Bowl.”
Big stars weren’t the only ones entertaining the troops. In 1968, 18-year-old Terrie Frankel and her twin sister, Jennie, traveled to Vietnam on a USO tour with The Sig Sakowitz Show, performing more than 30 shows over 22 days. As they both played the accordion, the Frankel sisters were able to perform without electricity, and the tour took them to remote locations that larger USO shows could not normally visit.
The USO has continued to provide entertainment into the 21st century. During the most recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, troops have enjoyed brief diversions from their daily duties, thanks to a varied group of musicians, comedians, athletes, and other entertainers. Aviation Ordnanceman Second Class Heather Sandler discusses the hard work and long hours she put in loading ammunition and performing quality assurance during deployments to the Persian Gulf. But the snapshots in her collection contain a glimpse into rare moments of recreation, including a 2004 USO show aboard the USS Harry S. Truman, which featured former football player John Elway.