The United Service Organization (USO) celebrates its 75th birthday in 2016. It is a nonprofit organization that proviedes programs, services and live entertainment to military service members and their families.
The USO was founded by Mary Ingraham after President Franklin Roosevelt asked her to conceive a way to provide morale and recreational services to our troops during World War II. As a result, she brought together six non-governmental agencies under a single umbrella to do just that. They were the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board.
Between 1941 and 1945, the USO presented 293,738 performances in 208,178 separate visits. Estimates were that more than 161 million servicemen and women, in the U.S. and abroad, were entertained. The USO also did shows in military hospitals, eventually entertaining more than 3 million wounded soldiers and sailors in 192 different hospitals around the globe. There were 702 different USO troupes that toured the world, some spending up to six months per tour.
Two of the more famous celebraties to tour with the USO overseas were Bob Hope and Robin Williams.
Bob Hope was a big part of the USO as he did his first show during World War II in 1941. He had a total of 57 shows during his 50-years of performing with the USO. After World War II, he did performed at most of our other wars: the Korean War, Vietnam, the Iran-Iraq War, and the Persian Gulf War. These tours were funded by the United States Department of Defense, his television sponsors, and by NBC, the network which broadcast the television specials that were created after each tour.
Many Vietnam Veterans will always remember their attendance at the Bob Hope extravaganza while serving there.
In more modern times, Robin Williams was considered the Bob Hope of his generation. Besides his contributions to fundraising and helping raise money for various charities, Williams was a regular on the USO circuit. He traveled to 13 countries and performed to approximately 100,000 troops.
After his tragic death, the USO thanked him “for all he did for the men and women of our armed forces. On the passing of Robin Williams, the USO released this statement on their Facebook page:
“He will always be a part of our USO family and will be sorely missed,”
We veterans are all glad to have had the opportunity to see the USO bring us comic relief and music to the battlefields of the wars in which we served. And many of us have fond memories of seeing two of our greatest comedians in action: Bob Hope and Robin Williams.
We all wish the USO continued success for those future military service members who will become part of our armed forces.