One of the icons of World War II, and a presence in the live of American service men and women from then to now, turns 75 today – the USO. It was the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who saw the need for an organization to boost morale and provide recreation to American G.I.’s. He also saw it as a way to build support on the homefront if and when the country went to war.
Roosevelt enlisted the help of Mary Ingraham, a long-time social reformer who from 1940-1946 served as president of the National Board of the YWCA. Her first task was uniting the work of half a dozen organizations under one umbrella. They were:
The resulting organization, the USO, was incorporated in New York on February 4, 1941. Although chartered by Congress, it was not a government program, but a private organization supported by donations and staffed largely by volunteers.
What would the movies do without all those scenes of USO dances sparking wartime romances between young G.I.’s and local girls? But USO centers, some in barns or churches, also provided coffee and small snacks, showed movies and provided writing materials. Some even made childcare available for military wives.
In October of 1941, the year it was founded and just two months before Pearl Harbor, the first of the legendary shows associated with the name USO was produced.
Happy Birthday, USO. Thanks for the memories.