There is much to think about on Memorial Day. Bringing to mind those who sacrificed for our well-being and freedom, and those who continue to do so, inevitably conjures up other and many instances when we rely on each other for support. Today, it seems appropriate to acknowledge an American tradition that seeks to give back to those who give so much. Let’s have a brief look at the United Service Organizations.
Our Mission: To lift the spirits of America’s troops and their families. ~ USO
In 1941, with World War II as a prominent background, several organizations came together to seek ways to support the growing number of men and women in the military. Among them, the National Travelers Aid Association, the Salvation Army, the National Jewish Welfare Board, Young Women’s Christian Association and Young Men’s Christian Association. The goal was clear and unanimous: To provide much-needed emotional support for the troops. President Franklin D. Roosevelt formed the United Service Organizations in order to bring these groups’ efforts under one synergistic roof.
Even if you were born after the 1960’s, there is little doubt that you have seen images, news reel clips or references to Hollywood actor Bob Hope performing on a stage abroad before hundreds of soldiers, bringing a carefree (for a moment) smile to their faces, and tears too. Others like him have since continued to bring entertainment and to sit at Holiday dinner tables with US troops stationed around the world. They provide levity, yes, but more than this, they provide the spark that keeps that flame of hope inside burning; hope that all is not in vain, hope that home is near even though it’s far and hope that it is worth fighting for. Feasts for the spirit.
The following excerpts were borrowed directly from the USO website. As you’ll see, the scope of the project is far-reaching. Please take a moment to explore further when you have a moment.
May 6, 1941 – Three months after the USO was founded, Bob Hope led a group of celebrities to perform for airmen stationed at March Field (now March Air Force Base) in California—the beginning of a great tradition.
May 1945 – By V–E Day, the USO was producing as many as 700 shows a day around the world. Performers ranged from the most famous faces in Hollywood, like the Andrews Sisters and Marlene Dietrich (pictured), to those just beginning their careers.
1954 – First USO performance broadcast on still–new television: Bob Hope and Anita Ekberg in a Top of the World Show at Thule Air Force Base in Greenland.
1979 – Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders made their first trip on behalf of the USO. They have continued to tour annually ever since. In 1997, they received the USO’s first Spirit of Hope award.
1983 – The cast of the hit TV show “Happy Days” went to Germany on a USO tour.
1990 – Comedians Steve Martin and Jay Leno spent time with troops stationed in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Shield.
2002 – Robin Williams embarked on his first of many tours with the USO, the first one to Afghanistan and Turkey, to provide comic relief and a show of appreciation to the troops.
2008 – Sesame Street and the USO began their successful partnership to provide programs and performances to address the concerns of today’s military families as they deal with multiple deployments and lengthy separations from loved ones.