‘A Big Smile and a Bullhorn’: Admiral Praises USO After Chicago Airport Experience

On occasion, the USO gets notes of appreciation from senior military leaders. Now-retired Army Gen. Carter Ham lauded the USO’s efforts in helping the freed Algerian oil-workers-turned-hostages back in January.

RDML Kirby, John

Rear Adm. John Kirby

Rear Adm. John Kirby, Navy Chief of Information, dropped one of those notes to USO Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications Frank Thorp two weeks ago. Kirby had just watched his son, Colin, graduate boot camp and traveled with him to Chicago O’Hare International Airport where he encountered a familiar sight.

Here’s the story in Kirby’s words:

[T]he real purpose of this note is to let you know how utterly impressed I was by the USO volunteers at O’Hare airport.

As I mentioned, my son graduated from Navy boot camp last Friday. I had the great fortune to be there with my wife. What a day.

Late that night, as they typically do at [the Navy Recruit Training Command], the new sailors were sent by bus to the airport to await their flights out. Colin was going to Charleston on a flight that left at 0600. Some kids weren’t leaving until after noon.

Didn’t matter. RTC dropped them all off at O’Hare at around 0100 to wait.

Who was there to meet them? A USO volunteer with a big smile and a bullhorn.

He separated them into groups based on their departure times, then marched them all up to the USO facility to drop off their gear and relax. Some stayed there. Some, like my boy, opted to go somewhere else to eat.

But all of them were made to feel welcome and proud. All of them were treated like war heroes by the staff there.

And it was the middle of the night.

I have to tell you, I got a little thick in the throat watching those volunteers check these kids in and answer their questions (some had never traveled on their own) and make them feel special.

They didn’t have to do that. But somehow, I got the feeling that they really believed they DID have to.

We didn’t stay with Colin all the way till his departure time. Some parents did. We figured he’d want a little time with his buddies. Besides, we weren’t worried about him.

He was at the USO.

–Preface by USO Story Development

20 thoughts on “‘A Big Smile and a Bullhorn’: Admiral Praises USO After Chicago Airport Experience

  1. The words of a commander, the words of a father to whom we say:”we do what we may and what is due for support and aid troops members, who are heroes as they affront daily challenges without exhitation and for us all. We may do little for them and feel to be very little. we have the sensation never may compensate their sacrifices, but we are sure to will done them our support, our hearts and all they need. For we are committed them for ever” claudio alpaca

  2. I volunteer at the USO at O’Hare and we do our best to make all military personnel feel at home.We do everything we can to them feel welcome, we’ll talk and joke with them, help with flight information, phone calls and sometimes walk them to their gate if they feel overwhelmed. It’s a great experience for us.

    • Ron thank you and all your volunteers to greet the service personnel. The Bob Hope Christmas tours in Southeast Asia entertained us during the war.

    • thank you for your service to our Military, Mr. Deverick. God bless you and the USO for their continued dedication to our men & women in the Military!

  3. I’ve been in the Navy for almost 18 years. I’m always impressed with the USO! Thank you for what you do to make us feel like we’re at home!

  4. More years ago than I care to admit… I was heading home and got stuck at O’Hare for 12 hours… I had been on my feet for 6 days flying space A from Diego Garcia… I was exhausted …and broke… and the USO took my to THEIR lounge..fed me their own lunch and let me sack out on their couch for a while! Class Act from start to finish. The next time I flew through O’Hare I made a special trip to the USO lounge and dropped off a $20.00 donation for them… the USO ROCKS!

  5. Great to hear BooBoo got a good send-off from Boot. May the remainder of his Navy career be as good an experience. Semper Fi, Chuck

  6. I had an 8-hour layover at O’Hare when I was a young E-4 nearly 15 years ago. One of the USO volunteers saw me sleeping out in the terminal and led me to the USO facility. I finished my nap in a dark, comfortable room in a nice recliner. They were awesome to us! I’m retired now and still remember their kindness. Thank you for all you do!

  7. My wife and I met my son there at O’Hare USO June 1st to see him before he left for Charleston. The USO staff were terrific. +++++++

  8. I had a similar (but VERY different) experience at the USO at O’Hare. I was a Coast Guard CPO that wanted a place to put my feet up for a while I waited to see if my flight was cancelled due to weather. Well, I happened to be travelling on the same day that new recruits were arriving from all over the country. I walked in with my decent size carry-on, some food, and a few other items that were considered contraband by the Navy CC (E5 or E6) that got very upset with me.
    When I introduced myself as a Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer – he could not back-peddle quick enough.

  9. Yes the USO @ O’Hare is great when I went to my youngest son’s graduation from Boot Camp I thought I had rental a car waiting @ the airport but I did not; they would not use my debit card to rent a car there and my cash was real tight. The USO officer there got me a ride to my motel room and it didn’t cost me anything.

  10. I was treated the same way in November 1950 at Chicago’s Union Rail Station in route to Korea by the USO. Shower, shave ,snacks and the works. I was so impressed that upon my return in 1952 I went to the USO in Washington DC and met a sweet young lady. We celebrated 60 years of marriage on April 18, 2013.

  11. If you are retired they could give two s#^ts about you @ the O’hare USO from my experience. I slept in a corner on the floor that night.

  12. I was a volunteer at the USO at O’Hare until this May, when I moved out of state. I worked the early Saturday morning shift when all of the Navy graduates were dropped off. It is an honor for us to be there and to offer whatever assistance we can. We will always be there. I might have moved, but I continue my volunteering at the Camp Atterbury USO. Thank you for your service, sir, and I thank your son for his service, too.

    USO – “Until Everyone Comes Home”

  13. Is it me or is there a TYPO in this message or is the picture miscaptioned? That picture is one of a NAVY CAPTAIN, NOT A REAR ADMIRAL!!!

    • Good eye! That was the picture he provided to us, turns out it’s a little older than we realized! We’ll try to get a newer image out of him. Thanks!

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