Some Reflections For Our Anniversary

From the Desk of John Hanson, Senior Vice President of Communications at the USO:

“First, a statement for the record – or at least that part of the record that includes social media. The president’s announcement that the last combat troops would leave Iraq in August could not have come soon enough. No one wants troops home more than my colleagues and I do. We’ve got friends who have served there, and who have been injured there. And, who have died there. Every day someone here sees what war does to the warriors.

But, there should also be a reminder that tens of thousands of troops will still be in the region – not to mention Afghanistan. Please don’t forget that troops around the world are serving around the world – away from friends and families. They’re missing birthdays and anniversaries and the births of children. Many aren’t in combat, but they’re just as likely to be in lonely isolated places, defending us. Their service counts and it’s important. My father is a World War II veteran who never got closer to overseas than San Francisco. I’m counted as a Vietnam veteran, but I repaired aircraft in Guam and Thailand. I am as proud of my service as my father was of his.

On February 4, the USO will enter the last year of its 7th decade (just a few months before I enter the first year of mine. But, this isn’t about me. At least not ALL about me). The USO’s focus from the beginning was on the simple notion of providing morale services for members of the U.S. military. We do that well, by the way.

Over the years, we’ve seen waves of support during times of war, and just the opposite in times of peace. Our challenge is to ensure that we continue to support troops around the world every day of every year – in times of war or peace.

The current conflicts this country is engaged in are complicated. My guess is that we will be involved in one way or another for the foreseeable future. As a veteran of our last long war, I’ve seen how the public’s patience can cause it to focus its discontent on troops, rather than the government. So far, that hasn’t happened. Regardless of how people view our foreign policy, support for the troops and for the USO remains strong. Maybe it’s because my generation realizes how we lost focus more than a generation ago. I hope so.

Wayne Newton entertains Troops on the first USO Celebrity Entertainment Tour in Afghanistan, December 2001.

One more thing. Earlier this week, I saw a brief mention of an attack at the US base at Camp Phoenix, near Kabul, Afghanistan. I paid attention because I’ve been there a few times. The 5-minute drive from Kabul to Phoenix is an exercise in breath holding. The distance is short, but the atmosphere is extremely tense. I hate to talk about being worried, because when we’re there it’s only for a few days. Our troops do this day in and day out for months at a time.

The report underscored what we already know. The U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan are facing difficulties we can hardly imagine. We can’t forget their service and their sacrifice – or that of their families.”

Anniversary Photos – Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders

As you probably read last week on the blog, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are perhaps the most prolific of celebrity entertainment tour participants the USO has out there right now.  Their tireless support of Troops and families has manifest itself in 70 tours, and they show no sign of putting away their pom-poms any time soon!  Today’s anniversary photo features the cheerleaders in action during a Navy show in 1983.  Check out that view!

A view from the top, as the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders entertain in 1983.

Anniversary Photos – USO Rome Tours, a Lasting Tradition

In one of the first color photos in our Archives, a USO Volunteer is seen loading up a bus for a USO Tour in Rome, a tradition that continues to this very day!  The USO supports our Troops and their families wherever they are, whether with programs and services, celebrity entertainment, or  – tours of some of the world’s most famous historical sites.  If you’re visiting Rome soon and will be visiting the USO, be sure to check out our current tour offerings.

A tour departs USO Rome - 1975


Anniversary Photos – Henry Fonda

Henry Fonda holds a special place in the heart of many who saw him tour with the USO during the Vietnam War.  Himself a decorated Navy veteran, Fonda put aside personal beliefs and  – as he wrote in his 1981 autobiography My Life – toured with the USO because he believed in supporting the Troops: “It was a trip that this (62)-year-old man didn’t want to take, but I felt I had to…for the guys sweating it out and dying in the rice paddies and jungles.”

But the story doesn’t end there.  In 2004, the USO moved its main operations from the Navy Yard in Washington, DC, to new offices in Arlington, VA.  Among one of the items found during the move was a letter from Fonda to the USO, dated 27 April 1967.  He explained in his distinct handwriting that his USO tour in Vietnam was “the most rewarding experience of my life, and I will be forever grateful that I was given this opportunity.”

The picture below was taken during that tour, as a reporter interviews Fonda.  We thank him for his service.

Anniversary Photos

Chaplain Saul Parker 8th U.S. Army Support Command accompanies his assistant Specialist 4 Ronald Hirsch in a folk song duet which is being taped to send home. The tape is one of 400 three-inch reels donated by Audio Devices, Inc., of New York to the USO in Korea. The USO supplies the tapes free-of-charge to visiting servicemen and sends the tapes to the servicemen's homes in the USA. (Seoul, Korea - July 22, 1966 - Photo by Specialist 5 Gordon Hart)