Today, February 4, marks the 75th anniversary of the 1941 founding of the United Service Organizations (USO).
General George C. Marshall first suggested and President Franklin D. Roosevelt recommended that civilian, public service organizations form the United Service Organizations to provide recreation for on-leave members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families in 1941. The USO was composed of the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the National Catholic Community Service, and the Travelers Aid Association of America. The USO created centers to support the welfare of the troops, providing for their social, educational, entertainment, and spiritual needs through recreational clubs, live entertainment, and quiet places to talk and write letters.
Formed just before the U.S. entered World War II, more than 1 million volunteers operated recreational clubs during the war. The USO was disbanded in 1947 but reorganized a few years later during the Korean War and expanded during subsequent wars. Today, the USO retains the identity that FDR recommended—a private, voluntary, civilian organization not part of the federal government but is federally chartered and incorporated.
In 2003 the USO Congressional Caucus was formed and today includes more than 200 congressional members. It is a bipartisan and bicameral caucus with members from both parties and both chambers offering support to service members and their families. Even the president of the United States plays a role in this organization, as the honorary chairman, as has every president since 1941.
The USO works in the U.S. and abroad. The USO offers programs for service members during their time in service, when transitioning out of the armed forces, and caring for injured or fallen service members and their families.
Today the USO has centers in more than 160 locations worldwide to provide a “home away from home” for service members and their families. Of course, the most visible tradition that began in 1941 is boosting morale among the military with concerts, tours, and other events. Bob Hope is well-known for his support and touring for more than fifty years. The Library of Congress has an excellent online exhibition of his life and time touring in the USO shows.
In 2014, USO centers were visited more than 7 million times and aided by more than 30,000 volunteers who continue to carry on the mission started 75 years ago to keep service members connected to the people, places, and things they love.