Sunday, May 22, 2016

Home Away from Home

By Marilyn Turk  *Leave a comment for a chance to win a book!

“Say Jack, you wanna go to the dance tonight at the USO? We gotta ship out in a couple of days, so we might as well enjoy ourselves while we can!”

“Sure. I’d like to look at some pretty faces before I’m stuck with a bunch of ugly guys.”

Conversations like these were common among servicemen in World War II for those who were either home on leave or about to be deployed.

Thanks to the USO, those in the military had a nice place to go for recreation and entertainment. The USO was formed in 1941, shortly before America became involved in World War II.

In a response to a request from President Franklin Roosevelt, Mary Ingraham founded the organization to provide morale and recreation services to U.S. uniformed military personnel. Roosevelt was elected as its honorary chairman. The Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board joined together to create the United Service Organization, or the USO.

The original plan was for the federal government to build and lease new buildings that would be staffed and funded by citizens from those service groups. However, many local groups decided to move forward without waiting for government’s help and pooled their efforts to create places for the military to go. Some built new clubs while others renovated existing buildings. As a result, the USO met in a variety of places – storefronts, college gyms, coffee shops, churches, restaurants, etc. – in cities all over the country.

The USO clubs served coffee, cookies, donuts and sandwiches, but no alcohol was allowed. Many offered stationery for letter-writing, places to sleep, sewing services for uniform-mending, regular religious services and free Bibles.  Dances at the USO became popular for these servicemen and women, offering a chance to mingle and have fun.

USO headquarters was in New York City where marketing, funding and standards of etiquette were decided, but other decisions were left to the local organization. The USO club in Anniston, Alabama, claimed to host the first dance, whereas the first federally-built, permanent location was at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and opened in November, 1941.
Bob Hope visits sailors

More USO centers and clubs opened around the world as a “Home Away from Home,” appearing in almost every American territory and as far away as Brazil, the Philippines, and Alaska. Hollywood celebrities such as Bob Hope joined forces with the USO to take the show on the road, “nurturing in troops a sense of patriotic identification.”
Ann-Margret entertains with USO
The USO still exists today, with 160 centers in every country except Antarctica. 

“By providing support to our servicemen and women as they perform their most challenging duties around the world, our credo is to be always by their side. The USO is staffed by thousands of volunteers whose goals are to match our service members’ vigilance and provide best-in-class service to those who sacrifice so much for America.”

Have you ever been to a USO or know someone who enjoyed its benefits while serving their country?

A multi-published author, Marilyn Turk writes historical fiction about and lives in the coastal South. Her most recent novel, A Gilded Curse, released in March 2016 from Heritage Beacon Fiction, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolina. Her fascination for lighthouses spawned her popular weekly lighthouse blog @, and inspired her book, Lighthouse Devotions – 52 Inspiring Lighthouse Stories.

*Leave a comment with your email address and you will be entered in a drawing for one of Marilyn's books - your choice!


  1. I only went to a USO sponsored event once. Most of the time I was not stationed in areas where it was available. fishingjan[at]aol[dot]com

  2. No, I haven't but I have always admired the support that was given to our soldiers through this organization.