Photos Through the Decades: Celebrating the USO’s 74th Birthday

In honor of the USO’s 74th birthday, we’re taking a trip through time to revisit some of the iconic images we’ve captured. Here are a few snapshots that show how the USO has supported troops and their families over the decades.

1940s

USO_Founders

Leaders from the six founding organizations of the USO shake hands in 1941. USO photo

The USO, which stands for United Service Organizations (don’t forget the “s” in “Organizations”) traces its roots back to six other organizations. 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 pooled resources to start the USO on Feb. 4, 1941, at the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

1950s

Marylin_Monroe

Marylin Monroe at a USO show in Korea in 1954. USO photo

This snapshot shows Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe entertaining troops in Korea in 1954. Monroe entertained more than 100,000 troops while on tour for the USO. The USO still produces and hosts dozens of international celebrity tours each year.

1960s

Hope_Banner

Troops hold up a “Hi Bob” banner during one of Bob Hope’s USO shows. USO photo

Bob Hope was a USO tour staple for 50 years, making his last overseas trip to entertain troops during the Gulf War. In honor of his service and commitment to the military community, the USO center at Los Angeles International Airport bears his name today. In fact, the USO worked with Congress to designate Hope as first honorary veteran of the United States military.

1970s

Sammy_Davis

Sammy Davis Jr. performs in Long Binh, Vietnam, in 1972. USO photo

Sammy Davis Jr., a veteran himself, entertained 15,000 troops in his first USO performance alone. According to the USO’s On Patrol Magazine, Davis relished his tour and encouraged fellow entertainers to continue the tradition. “My recent tour in Vietnam was one of the most exciting and satisfying experiences of my career,” Davis said after the 1972 circuit. “I can only urge all entertainers to support this much needed USO program.”

1980s

Naples_USO

The USO Naples fleet center after it was bombed in 1988. USO photo

It was a somber scene outside the USO Naples fleet center on April 14, 1988, after a deadly car bomb exploded just outside the entrance, killing five people – including Navy RM2 Angela Santos – and injuring 15. In 2013, USO Naples hosted Santos’ sister, Jennifer Cruz, and held a special service in Santos’ memory.

1990s

Jay_Leno

Jay Leno entertains troops during the Gulf War. USO photo

Jay Leno has been making troops laugh for decades. He recently returned from a USO tour with Al Roker. Leno auctioned off a pair of cars in the last few years to raise nearly $1 million for military nonprofits. He also helped raise thousands for the USO serving as the grand marshal of 2012’s Love Ride through Southern California. “I have a couple of West Pointers in my family,” Leno recently told the USO. “And there’s a little sense [that] you’ve got to give something back. I didn’t get shot in the ass, I should do something else [for the troops].”

2000s

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a 2007 USO Chairman's Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Comedian Robin Williams greets troops during a USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour stop at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 17, 2007. Photo by Chad J. McNeeley/Courtesy of the Department of Defense

Robin Williams was committed to making service members smile. The comic legend, who passed away in 2014, went on six USO tours from 2002 to 2013, including five overseas. Through his work with the USO, Williams visited troops in 12 countries, making three stops to both Iraq and Afghanistan. “There’s nothing I enjoy more than traveling with the USO and giving back to our troops in whatever way I can,” Williams said during a 2007 USO tour led by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen. “They work hard, sacrifice a lot and deserve to be treated like the heroes they are. The very least I can do is bring a smile to their faces.”

2010s

ss_2012

Kids watch the 2012 Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. USO photo by Fred Greaves

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour entertained its 500,000th audience member in 2014. It’s the USO’s longest-running tour and is specially designed to help military children tackle the unique issues they face growing up with parents who serve.

Want to learn even more fun facts about the USO’s history? Check out our 73 facts for 73 years story from last year

Quiz: Can You Answer These Five Questions About the USO?

Think you know your USO and military history? Take this week’s USO quiz. (Answers at the bottom.)

1. The USO had an official mascot at one point during World War II. What was it?
A. a service dog
B. a mongoose
C. a fruit fly
D. a bugler

Library of Congress photo

Bob Hope. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

2. Bob Hope first performed for a military audience at what location?
A. Nome, Alaska
B. March Field, California
C. Love Field, California
D. Hickam Field, Hawaii

3. USO shows today are free to all service members. But that wasn’t always the case. How much did it cost in 1942 for Army and Navy troops to get into a USO Camp Show?
A. 1 to 5 cents
B. 10 cents
C. 15 to 20 cents
D. 25 cents

4. Which former Apollo Astronaut was once a member of the USO Board of Governors?
A. Neil Armstrong
B. John Glenn
C. Michael Collins
D. Frank Boreman

5. In 1982, then-USO President William G. Whyte personally accepted a $10,000 contribution to the USO from which of these celebrities?
A. Woody Allen
B. Reggie Jackson
C. E.T.
D. Shamu the Killer Whale

Highlight the line below to see the answers:
1. B; 2. B; 3. C; 4. C; 5. D

Hope for America: Performers, Politics and Pop Culture Opens at the Libarary of Congress

Bob Hope - with his trademark golf club - at Lackland Air Force Base in 1990.

Yesterday marked the opening of a new, ongoing exhibit at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, that’s very near and dear to our hearts.  Titled “Hope for America: Performers, Politics and Pop Culture,” the exhibit features such USO memorabilia as the golf club Hope swung onstage during his 1969 world tour, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded that same year by Lyndon Johnson, for service to the men and women of the armed forces.

For many, that item is the penultimate symbol of Hope’s universal appeal during his five decades of supporting the Troops.  “Some of the younger troops have asked me what the golf club is all about,” Stephen Colbert said during his own USO tour in 2009. “Well, it is partly an homage to Bob Hope who did USOs like this for 250 years. Good man.”

Colbert, in fact, kicks off the exhibit with a humorous video message, a fitting tribute since Hope’s own 85,000-page catalog of jokes is on display for the first time.  Woven throughout are images and reminders of Hope’s unfailing patriotism and support of the military, no matter the circumstances.

“Hope for America” also focuses on Hope’s unique takes on politics and the culture of Washington: “There are so many congressmen and senators here,” he said to an audience gathered at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1985. “I don’t know whether to tell a joke or pass a bill.” Pause. “As if there was a difference.”

The exhibit is on long-term display in the Library of Congress’s  Thomas Jefferson Building, located on 1st Street SE between Independence Avenue and East Capitol Street; the events schedule can be found online.  Hope (get it?) to see you there!

Remembering Bob Hope’s First USO Show

Audience reaction to Bob Hope show at Seoul, Korea October 23, 1950. (Photo by Capt. Bloomquist)

Can you believe it’s been 69 years since Bob Hope performed his first USO Show, at California’s March Field?  The words “thank you” are simply not enough when we talk about all he did for the Troops and the USO.

Hope toured with us for nearly five decades after that first show, culminating in a final USO tour in December 1990, when he brought laughter and Christmas cheer to troops participating in Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.  In 1997, the USO successfully worked with Congress to designate Bob Hope the first honorary veteran of the U.S. armed forces. And that same year  – at what was then known as the USO Holiday Gala – we unveiled the “Spirit of Hope” Award. It is a portrait bas-relief of Bob Hope, created by St. Louis sculptor Don F. Wiegand and Michael Fagin a major donor to the USO and carries on Hope’s legacy to this day.

We found this amazing fund-raising film that Hope created for the USO back in 1946, and in many ways it’s just as apropos today.  The USO continues to lift the moral of the Troops and their families to this very day and – even as we reflect back at the incredible legacy of supporters like Bob Hope – look forward to all that we’ll do in the future…