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

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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

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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.

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1960s

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

The Year in USO Entertainment

It was a huge year in entertainment for the USO. Here’s a look at some of the biggest celebrity experiences and shows we facilitated for troops and their families in 2014. They’re great examples of how — with your help — we make USO moments happen around the world for thousands of troops every day.

Hunter Hayes Creates Unforgettable Moments for a Military Family

Country star Hunter Hayes performed four USO shows in 2014, including late October and early November shows in New York City and Nashville, respectively, that helped the USO celebrate the anniversary of the Every Moment Counts campaign. Watch the video to see how Hayes created special moments for one Army family in particular during those shows.

Al Roker Entertains Troops and Sets a Guinness World Record

NBC's Al Roker headlined the "Today"/USO Comedy Tour in Afghanistan in October. USO photo by Fred Greaves

NBC’s Al Roker headlined the “Today”/USO Comedy Tour in Afghanistan in October. USO photo by Fred Greaves

Meanwhile, NBC’s Al Roker made it his personal mission to entertain the troops and raise funds for the USO. He went on a USO tour to Afghanistan in early October with TV stars Jay Leno, Kevin Eubanks, Iliza Shlesinger and Craig Robinson.

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While that was a huge commitment, Roker topped himself by pulling off the #Rokerthon, a 34-hour Guinness World Record-setting weather forecast that was broadcast between Nov. 12-14 that benefitted the USO. Roker asked #Rokerthon viewers to visit the Crowdrise page he started to raise money for the USO during the broadcast.

The USO/Chairman’s Holiday Tour

Actor/comedian Rob Riggle, actress Megan Markle, country music star Kellie Pickler, actress Dianna Agron, eight-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister went on this December's USO Chairman's Holiday Tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

From left: Actor/comedian Rob Riggle, actress Megan Markle, country music star Kellie Pickler, actress Dianna Agron, eight-time Pro Bowler Brian Urlacher and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister went on this December’s USO Chairman’s Holiday Tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

It’s not the holidays if the chairman isn’t on a USO tour. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey went on his fourth and final tour in December, bringing along country star and USO tour vet Kellie Pickler, USO tour vet and comedian Rob Riggle, “Glee” co-star Dianna Agron, “Suits” co-star Meghan Markle, former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and Washington Nationals pitcher Doug Fister.

Kellie Pickler and Aisha Tyler at the USO Gala

Speaking of Pickler, she and Aisha Tyler brought a sparkle to the USO Gala on Oct. 17 in Washington. See what they each had to say about why they support America’s troops.

Troops Hit the Red Carpet at “Unbroken” Premiere

Universal Pictures teamed with the USO on “Unbroken,” a World War II story of heroism that is poised to be one of the biggest movies of the Christmas season. See how troops were treated to a red-carpet experience at the premiere of the Angelina Jolie-directed film.

Trace Adkins and Casey James Rock Fort Hood

Longtime USO supporter Trace Adkins performed a special concert for troops on Fort Hood the first weekend in November, bringing up-and-comer Casey James with him.

Idina Menzel Meets Military Families

Broadway Star Idina Menzel — who became even more famous after her smash hit “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen — joined the USO for a meet and greet with military families in November.

Sesame Street/USO Experience Entertains 500,000th Guest

The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families entertained it’s 500,000th guest this year. The long-running USO entertainment tour has touched thousands of military families, including the the Curtises. Take a look.

Rock for Troops

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers KISS talked to the USO about why they’re raising awareness about veteran unemployment and why they donated some of the proceeds from their recent tour to the USO.

Pitbull Entertains Military Families on July 4 at the White House

Mr. Worldwide put on a USO show on the South Lawn of the White House for troops and families this past July 4.

The Band Perry Plays for Troops in Norfolk

The Band Perry sat down with the USO before its USO Virginia Beach Patriotic Festival show to talk about entertaining troops and their families.

Trio of NFL Players Visit Troops Downrange

Pierre Garçon goofs around with a service member on his March 2014 USO Tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

Pierre Garçon goofs around with a service member on his March 2014 USO Tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

Washington Redskins receiver Pierre Garçon, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham and Miami Dolphins punter Brandon Fields visited more than 1,800 troops in Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates during a USO/NFL Tour in early March. Read what Garçon had to say about the trip.

Brantley Gilbert Puts on a Show at the Coca-Cola 600

USO tour veteran Brantley Gilbert played a free concert for NASCAR fans and military members before the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, where the USO played a big role. Find out what he had to say backstage on Memorial Day Weekend to troops still serving in harms way.

Sneak Peek of “How To Train Your Dragon 2″

The crew from “How To Train Your Dragon 2″ stopped by for a special USO screening  at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst earlier this year.

Bruce Willis’ Holiday Message to the Troops

And finally, actor Bruce Willis took a moment to thank America’s troops for the holidays.

Milestone: Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families Entertains its 500,000th Military Family Member

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FORT BENNING, Georgia—It’s always a sunny day on Sesame Street. But Friday, Elmo, Cookie Monster and the Muppets had an extra special reason to sing and dance with all their friends: The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families entertained its 500,000th military family member.

“The fact that we hit that particular number is a giant milestone for us,” said Nicole McClendon, tour manager for the USO/Sesame Street Experience for Military Families. “It was just so amazing to be able to work so closely with everyone here at Fort Benning to make this moment so special.”

To commemorate the milestone, Elmo and his Muppet friends posed with the audience for a commemorative photograph after their performance. Audience members also received a special cookie to take home with them in addition to other Sesame Street/USO tour goodies.

“I might have told them that they came from Cookie Monster, but [assured the kids] he didn’t eat them [all] before the show,” McClendon said.

Since 2008, this longest-running annual USO tour has delivered memorable moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 140 military bases in 11 countries.

“Five hundred thousand represents the number of smiles Elmo and Katie have brought to military kids and their families … as the tour has traveled around the world,” USO President and CEO Dr. J.D. Crouch II said in a release. “We thank our friends at Sesame Street for helping to make this possible and we look forward to seeing many more smiling faces as the tour continues its journey.”

Sesame Street / USO Experience for Military Families Cast Members Share Their Favorite Tour Memories

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and  Rosita sing and dance for service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families which kicked off April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Grover, Cookie Monster, Katie, Elmo, Honker and Rosita entertain service members and their kids during The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families on April 7, 2012 at Scott Air Force Base. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

Since 2008, the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families tour has made unforgettable memories for military children and their families all around the world. The longest-running annual USO tour has delivered moments to hundreds of thousands of military children and their parents through more than 735 shows at more than 144 military bases in 11 countries.

In the spirit of the USO’s Every Moment Counts campaign — and in preparation for entertaining the tour’s 500,000th audience member — members of the 2014 cast and crew shares some their favorite Sesame Street/USO Experience memories.

Here’s just a small sample of the amazing stories they had to tell:

“My favorite moment actually happened in Spain. … A little girl came up, she gave me a picture to give to Elmo. I brought it backstage, gave it to Elmo, and the picture said, ‘Thank you Elmo for coming all the way across the sea to Spain, just to see me.’ And I think it really brought home exactly how important it is for these kids to see this show.” — Stephanie Harmon, performance director

“I have many favorite moments, but one that happens every single day [is] when hundreds of kids and parents walk out with huge smiles on their faces, holding onto their Elmo spinning lights, telling me how much they enjoyed the show, and they constantly say thank you to me. Its a stream of ‘thank you’s. And since I think the show is our way of saying thank you to those same military families, it’s great to just get that cycle of thank you.” — Nicole McClendon, tour manager

Want to learn more about the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families or see if a show is coming near you? Find out more here.

Comedians Lewis Black, Roy Wood Jr. Talk About ‘Extraordinary’ USO Tour Experiences

Back in Black ... er, camo. Comedian Lewis Black gets ready to fly to another forward operating base during a 2008 USO entertainment tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

Back in Black … er, camo. Comedian Lewis Black gets ready to fly to another forward operating base during a 2008 USO entertainment tour. USO photo by Dave Gatley

Spring is fast approaching. That also means USO entertainment tours are gearing up across the world.

A trio of NFL stars just visited bases in the Middle East. The Band Perry is slated to preform for troops Monday in England at and the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families is set to launch another year of touring on April 4.

Earlier this week, Politico highlighted two comedians – Roy Wood Jr. and Lewis Black – who’ve taken the USO stage to bring laughs to troops.

“You’re not getting the same kind of sense of self-worth when you get off the stage in Iowa on a Thursday night as you did entertaining a bunch of men and women who just want a slice of home,” Wood said.

Wood – a regular on TBS’ “Sullivan & Son” – wrapped a USO tour to Guam and the Philippines earlier this month.

The Politico story also quoted Black. The legendary stand-up comedian and frequent contributor to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart has been on three USO tours.

“You go to perform for the troops it’s what it must have been like performing at Woodstock,” Black said. “It’s extraordinary. … The amount of energy that you get on the stage is like nothing — I don’t know what else to compare it to. It’s like an adrenaline rush. They’re so thrilled that you are there. .. It was one of the most extraordinary times in my life.”

You can read the full Politico story on USO tours here.