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Serving the Armed Forces: The USO

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The following is a guest post by Rachel Telford, Program Specialist for the Veterans History Project.

Black and white image of four men standing around a microphone stand. One man has a safari helmet on. One man is holding a piece of paper.
Bob Hope and his troupe, Enewetak Island. Joseph Leary Collection (AFC2001/001/15804), 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.

Black and white image of woman on stage with arms open wide.
Marilyn Monroe at the Bulldozer Bowl. Robert Krishef Collection (AFC2001/001/8284), Veterans History Project

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.”

Color photo of two women on stage with accordians.  Men in green uniform are watching from chairs in front of the stage.
Terrie and Jennie Frankel performing in Vietnam.Terrie Frankel Collection (AFC2001/001/78282), Veterans History Project.

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.

Color photo of woman in hat and blue uniform standing in front of a table with man sitting behind table. Both are smiling.  Men in uniform can be seen standing in the background.
Heather Sandler and football player John Elway. Heather Sandler Collection (AFC2001/001/87289), Veterans History Project.





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.

Comments (7)

  1. One of our museum researchers is investigating local people who were actors (not movie or stage stars), and who served in the USO (wearing mandatory military uniforms) during WW II.
    We would very much appreciate information regarding any resources, contacts and links that would help find the names and other pertinent information about USO members serving during and after World War II, in the Allied European theater of opperations.

    Thank you

    • Thanks for your comment!

      We may well have suggestions or collections that would be helpful in your research. Our reference staff will get in touch with you directly. Again, thanks for reading!

  2. Megan, I don’t know if you would still be monitoring this post but I am writing an article about Watson Sr. and his involvement in the early USO-Camp Shows program (75th Anniversary Article) through the Friends of the 27th Division, Friends of the New York State Soldiers and Sailors and the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy. He was founder and chairman of all the above as well on the USO Board of Directors.

    I will be in D.C. and would like to see what information I can find. I would think there is information around to document and enhance what I have already written – maybe personal correspondence, more details.

    Any thoughts?



    • Hi Pete, thanks for getting in touch! Sounds like a fascinating topic. I think it might be easiest if I email you directly with some thoughts and to brainstorm possible resources. Thanks again for your comment! Best,

  3. If anyone knows how to contact CITIZENS COMMITTEE FOR THE ARMY, NAVY AND AIR FORCE, INC. please email me the address.


  4. I would also like to know if anyone has the contact information for the Citizens Committee. I have a library customer who received an American Spirit Honor Medal. They would like to replace the blue ribbon on it. Please email me if you have contact information. Thank you!

  5. My father had his own USO shows and also toured with the USO during WWII , Korea and Viet Nam. He and my mother both entertained during WWII and wore uniforms. My parents were entertainers but never BIG stars. I can provide info.

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