USO: Going Strong at 75

What do Laurel and Hardy, Errol Flynn, Phyllis Diller, Jay Leno, Robin Williams, Jennifer Lopez, Toby Keith, and Five Finger Death Punch have in common? All contributed their talents at shows put on by the United Service Organization, or USO, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of its incorporation on February 4.

The timing of the founding of the USO could not have been more fortuitous: the attack on Pearl Harbor took place a mere ten months after its incorporation. Mary Ingraham, president of the National Board of the YWCA, spearheaded the creation of the USO at the behest of Franklin Roosevelt with the goal of boosting morale and providing recreation to uniformed U.S. military personnel, as well as encouraging civilian support for the nation’s enlisted men. Six organizations—the Salvation Army, YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, National Traveler’s Aid Association, and the National Jewish Welfare Board—combined their resources and talents to help this unique collaboration between government, service groups, and the entertainment industry get off the ground.

Toby Keith on tour in Afghanistan, 2009

It was the USO’s live performances, called Camp Shows, that left an indelible mark on the American consciousness. During World War II alone, the USO Camp Shows program put on over 293,000 performances comprising 208,178 separate visits to troops and support personnel. One of the earliest performers to lend his talents to the program was Bob Hope, who became a USO icon and was responsible for recruiting many fellow entertainers to participate in shows at various deployment locales around the globe.

Today, the USO offers a broad range of entertainment and services for military members and their families, with millions visiting the nearly 200 USO locations every year. To kick off its 75th birthday celebration, the USO announced its “Campaign to Connect,” with a goal of generating 1 million messages of support and encouragement Additionally, a USO team will visit USO locations around the country to report on stories pertinent to the challenges facing today’s military and update what they’ve discovered on social media (#USORoute75).

But those are just some of the events planned by the USO, and it’s a safe bet that white- and black-tie affairs will be part of this historic celebration. If your Dress Uniform is looking a bit long in the tooth, this would be a good time to consider replacing it.

To find out more about this iconic organization and what it has slated for the coming months, visit

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