The USO: Entertaining Troops for 70 years - Armed Forces Week

ADDITIONAL CONTRIBUTORS BTR Editorial

Bob Hope Entertains the troops. Photo Courtesy of WikiMedia Commons

Since its inception in the early days of 1941, The United Services Organizations Inc., also known as the USO, has been giving troops overseas a little slice of home while they are battling on the frontline. The USO started up during the start of World War II by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a request to provide morale and recreation services to U.S. troops. Civilian organizations like The Salvation Army, National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Association, National Jewish Welfare Board and the Young Men’s & Women’s Christian Associations were brought together to build the foundation for the USO.

The USO began boosting morale via performances by the legendary Bob Hope within 3 months of the USO’s establishment and more recently the VH1 Divas Salute To The Troops featuring performances by pop stars Katy Perry, Nicki Minaj, Grace Potter, Hayley Williams and many others. With over 30 tours that happened over past year, the USO continues to be a strong force when it comes to providing morale and recreation services for troops stationed around the world.

When the USO was established, the United States was on the brink of engaging in one of the most important and pivotal conflicts in its history. During World War II, soldiers from the United States were stationed all over the globe and the USO quickly followed, providing any assistance to give troops a piece of home. Celebrities like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby (who actually performed on the back of an army truck for troops in France), Marilyn Monroe, Danny Kaye, Johnny Grant, Errol Flynn and many others performed for troops during the war and after the war ended. During the Vietnam War in the 1960’s, entertainers Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were among the first to perform for troops in the area, both being longtime supporters of the USO since its start. Charlton Heston visited the troops three times during the Vietnam War, including being interviewed on the Armed Forces Radio show “What’s New At The USO?”.

When the legendary actor John Wayne visited Vietnam, he traveled to the bases closest to the battlefields of Vietnam so he could be with the troops in the heat of the action. Las Vegas icon Wayne Newton traveled to Vietnam on two occasions in 1966 and 1968 and has become a stalwart on the USO tours ever since. Wayne is known to follow up with the families of the troops he meets to let them know about the welfare of their sons and daughters overseas. Other celebrities that performed in or visited Vietnam included Sammy Davis, Jr., Clint Eastwood, Nancy Sinatra, and baseball hall of famer and former Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench.

Since 1979, the cheerleading squad for the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys have made an annual trip to perform for troops in bases all around the world. In 1997 the cheerleaders received the USO’s first Spirit of Hope Award as recognition for their continuous support for U.S. soldiers. In the 1980s during a time where war was eminent but never materialized, musicians such as Lou Rawls, Randy Travis, Loretta Lynn, the cast of the TV sitcom Happy Days and actress Brooke Shields traveled to bases all around the world to show their support for soldiers in the military. Comedians Steve Martin and Jay Leno traveled to visit troops in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Shield at the turn of the decade in 1990.

On the 50th anniversary of the USO in 1991, Billy Joel performed on a rain-soaked night in the Phillipenes to over 100,000 troops stationed in the region. Alex Trebek, the host of the popular game show Jeopardy, has been a regular on USO tours since 1987. Alex has frequently met soldiers and families from around the world and actually has had some soldiers be contestants on Jeopardy. This past decade, Robin Williams toured military bases in Afghanistan and Turkey shortly after the 9/11 attacks to perform his stand-up comedy act and show his appreciation for the people who work to defend our way of life daily. Since his tour in 2002, Williams has accompanied Chairmen of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on many of their annual celebrity tours that take place during the holidays.

In 2003, Project Salute was Operation Iraqi Freedom’s first large-scale tour of the Persian Gulf region. Celebrities Robert De Niro, Alyssa Milano, Gary Sinise, John Stamos, Rebecca Romijn and many others participated in the tour, which gained worldwide recognition. In 2008, Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Robert Downey, Jr. hosted a special screening of their hit movie, Tropic Thunder, for troops at Camp Pendleton in California. Later that year, Sesame Street and the USO formed a successful partnership to provide programs to address the concerns of today’s military families along with Sesame Street cast members performing for troops worldwide. In June 2009, Stephen Colbert did a taping of his political satire program “The Colbert Report” in Baghdad. This marked the first time in USO history that a full-length non-news program was taped, edited and broadcasted from a combat zone.

As you can tell, for the past 70 years the USO has gone above and beyond to notify troops that they are supported by the American public, increase their morale and give them a taste of what life is like back home while they are battling overseas. Not many performances and tours have been named for this year, but be sure that celebrities from all over will be traveling to military bases all over the world to perform and show their support for U.S. troops. War can be hell, devastating and downright horrible, but the USO provides the light that is cast over a dark cloud that is armed combat. For more info on the USO, log on to www.uso.org and support U.S. soldiers worldwide.

writtten by: Robert Duguay

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