Why Volunteer? Denee Hammond Explains Why She Gives Her Time at USO New England

Whether it’s about patriotism, family or being part of something bigger than themselves, USO volunteers each have personal reasons for giving their valuable time.

USO New England volunteer Denee Hammond took a moment recently to talk about why she does it.

“When they see the USO in an airport thousands of miles from home, they come back to that one moment when they may have met a USO volunteer,” she said. “Maybe they saw us at a Patriots game, maybe they came with us on a Polar Express event for their kids Š but they remember those letters and it immediately brings them back home, and they feel connected.”

How Bob Hope Impacted Two Troops in Vietnam (Without Actually Seeing Them)

Bob Hope interviews a service member on stage in Vietnam in 1966. USO photo

Bob Hope interviews a service member on stage in Vietnam in 1966. USO photo

Bob Hope did more for American troops than he probably realized.

If you know the USO, you know about Hope’s decades entertaining troops. You’ve probably seen footage from his televised USO specials, too, where he entertained service members in dangerous spots around the world. But what you likely don’t know about is the personal impact he had on some of those troops — even those whose duties prevented them from attending the shows.

Here are two stories* sent to us by former service members who fought in Vietnam and were touched by Hope in unique ways without actually seeing him.

Donald Scott

I had been in country less than a month when Bob Hope and his crew visited Cam Ranh Bay Air Base, Vietnam, in December 1966. They did a show at South Beach for the Army and Navy and one at the air base.

Being new in country, I was on duty as an aerial port duty officer and did not get to attend a show. That evening, as they took off and were flying to their next destination, we called the plane (call sign Sky King) from our [airlift control element] and spoke to Bob. He summoned Anita Bryant to the [microphone] and she sang “Silent Night” to us as they flew through the dark, black skies of Vietnam.

I will never forget this little act of kindness for a small group of about five guys who could not attend the big show.

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Jerry Tobias

The U.S. Air Force Fairchild C-123K Provider was a tactical airlift workhorse during the Vietnam War. I flew the C-123 out of Phan Rang Air Base in Vietnam, and crisscrossed the length and breadth of the war zone on a regular basis. This gave me the opportunity to observe the realities of war and the impact of combat on the people involved.

One very noticeable constant was the resignation and despair that I saw on the faces of the battle- and boredom-weary soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen that shuffled on and off of my C-123 each day. The war and its painful byproducts seemed to erase all other expressions from the faces of most of them. It’s not hard to understand why. Most of these men … were not there because they wanted to be, but because they had to be. Many had also already known a buddy — or at least had been aware of someone — who had been killed in an ambush, maimed by a booby trap, or caught in the web of cheap and easily accessible drugs. Tragically, all of them were also aware of the loud and negative segment of the population back home that neither cared about them nor cared about what they were going through day after day.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Tobias

Photo courtesy of Jerry Tobias

Those facts all helped to make my flights on Dec. 24 and 25, 1971, even more significant.

My C-123 unit had asked for volunteers to fly troops to and from the Bob Hope USO shows in Bien Hoa those two days. I decided that, rather than sit in my room and be even lonelier on Christmas, flying in support of those shows would be a great alternative. So, I signed up to fly as many sorties as necessary. I eventually flew 13 sorties back and forth to Bien Hoa. Every flight was packed with as many troops as we could legally carry aboard the C-123. …

The flights to the shows were pretty much normal troop transport flights. The troops were still mostly expressionless; they were just glad to get a break from the war. But, each return flight from the shows was absolutely not normal. … The emotional weight of the airplane seemed to be thousands of pounds lighter. Also totally different was the restored expression of life on the troops’ faces. It was amazing. It was as though Bob Hope had turned the light back on in their souls. That, I believe, was not the result the men having been entertained, but of their having been appreciated. …

The very genuine care and appreciation that Bob Hope and the rest of his cast expressed to the troops in a couple of hours during each USO show was, therefore, probably quite literally more encouragement and support than many of these young men had experienced before, during or — sadly, in some cases — even after their tours of duty.

[Bob Hope] entertained, yes, but he also imparted sincere value and respect to men and women who had not received much of either for a long, long time. We, as a nation, owe him and those who have followed after him in USO endeavors more than we could ever repay.

My flying schedule did not allow me to attend a Bob Hope USO show myself … but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that I personally witnessed and will never forget the incredible impact that he and those with him had on the morale of the U.S. military. What also mattered was that I had the tremendous privilege of providing several hundred others with airlift to the appreciation that they desperately needed and so very richly deserved.

Editors Note: Stories have been edited slightly for length and style.

USO Centers Around the World Host Eggstravagant Easter and Spring Celebrations

As flowers begin to bloom and birds begin to sing, USO centers are busy planning and hosting special Easter- and spring-themed events for troops and their families.

Here’s a look at what USO centers are doing around the world.

Europe

USO Grafenwoehr, Germany
On Easter Sunday, USO Grafenwoehr will host the Hippity Hoppity Easter Festival featuring crafts, Easter basket drawings, an Easter egg hunt and photos with the Easter Bunny. Military families attending the event can also enjoy a barbecue festival.

USO Kaiserslautern, Germany
On March 28, USO Kaiserslautern supported the 10th AAMDC Easter Egg Hunt on Rhine Ordinance Barracks with its mobile canteen. The USO provided attendees plenty of food to enjoy between hunting for eggs and taking photos with the Easter Bunny. USO Kaiserslautern served a menu of hot dogs, popcorn and cotton candy made in its brand new cotton candy machine.

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USO Stuttgart, Germany
USO Stuttgart hosted an Easter egg hunt Thursday for military children ages 5 and under. The Easter Bunny even made a special visit by the center to help the little hunters search for Easter treats.

USO Naples, Italy
USO Naples hosted a children’s activity event March 28 at the local MWR’s Easter Eggstravaganza. Over 1,000 people stopped by the USO tent, which featured face painting, pin the tail on the Easter Bunny, a can toss, bean bag games, a bunny hop relay and more.

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USO Rome, Italy
On March 28, USO Rome participated in the annual Easter Egg Hunt event at the U.S. ambassador’s residence. More than 100 children and their families attended the event and enjoyed the games, prizes, balloons and face painting.

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Pacific

USO Yokosuka, Japan
USO Yokosuka hosted a special egg-dying event Thursday. All of the painted eggs were donated to be part of an egg hunt at an orphanage near Camp Fuji.

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USO Kadena, Japan
Military families looking to ring in the spring season can stop by the Four Diamonds Softball Complex on Saturday for USO Kadena’s annual Eggsplosion event. Visitors can enjoy a giant Easter egg hunt, inflatables, pictures with the Easter Bunny and more from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time.

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Southwest Asia

USO Camp Buehring, Kuwait
On Easter Sunday, troops can stop by USO Camp Buehring at 6 p.m. local time for a special Easter Eggstravaganza celebration.

USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
To celebrate Easter and the start of spring, USO Kandahar will host a special spring pancake event Sunday at noon local time. Troops can enjoy a home-cooked meal of flapjacks and maple syrup while relaxing at the USO.

Stateside

USO Colorado Springs, Colorado
On Saturday , USO Colorado Spring will host a special Easter egg hunt for military children ages 1 to 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. local time. In addition to searching for Easter treats, kids can take pictures with the Easter Bunny and Ernie the Eagle, enjoy entertainment by the Shriner clowns and Cartoon Bill, and enjoy crafts, pizza and other snacks.

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USO Fort Hood, Texas
USO Fort Hood was on the ground at the Fort Hood Warrior Transition Unit’s Spring Fest last weekend, where more than 200 military members celebrated the arrival of spring. As part of the festivities, attendees enjoyed Easter egg hunts, face painting and visiting with the Easter Bunny.

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USO of Wisconsin
The USO of Wisconsin will kick of spring with a bang at its annual USO Easter Eggstravaganza at Cudahy High School on April 11 from 11:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. This family event, which is open to the public, will feature games, crafts, egg hunts, pictures with the Easter Bunny and more. All proceeds raised from the day’s festivities will go towards supporting military families through the USO of Wisconsin’s various programs. You can register for the event here.

USO San Diego
The Easter Bunny stopped by USO San Diego’s Downtown Center on March 29 to meet with military families over a spring-themed breakfast. Families enjoyed waffles, eggs, bacon and fruit prepared by GR Catering/Gourmet Rotisserie Events before story time with United Through Reading and meeting the Easter Bunny. There was music from the Hullabaloo band, balloon artists and baskets of toys for each child in attendance.

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2013 USO Marine of the Year Andrew Seif was One of 11 Killed in Florida Helicopter Accident

Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif

Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif at the 2013 USO Gala.

Andrew Seif was a hero with a chest full of ribbons and medals to prove it. He wasn’t much for talking about it, though.

Unfailingly polite with a sheepish smile, the Marine was reticent to recite his accomplishments when approached time after time by the press pool attending the 2013 USO Gala, where he was honored as the USO’s Marine of the Year.

He wasn’t naïve about what he’d done. Bragging just didn’t seem to be his thing.

The Department of Defense confirmed Friday that Seif was one of 11 service members killed Tuesday night when their helicopter crashed during a training mission near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. The 27-year-old staff sergeant was awarded a Silver Star just four days before the accident, an honor he received for his actions in Afghanistan in 2012.

“Staff Sgt. Seif was one of the Marines … who really showed tremendous heroism and valor,” said Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander of the Marines Special Operations Command [MARSOC]. Osterman, who confirmed the seven Marine deaths Friday, is also the officer who presented the Silver Star to Seif just a week ago. “He and his family … really epitomize the silent warrior and quiet professional that really is the hallmark here at MARSOC.”

The other six Marines who died in Tuesday’s accident are Capt. Stanford Henry Shaw III of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, Master Sgt. Thomas Saunders of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Staff Sgt. Liam Flynn of Queens, New York, Staff Sgt. Trevor P. Blaylock of Lake Orion, Michigan, Staff Sgt. Kerry Michael Kemp of Port Washington, Wisconsin and Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol from Warren, Michigan. All seven men were stationed at Camp LeJeune and were members of MARSOC’s 2nd Special Operations Battalion.

Four National Guard soldiers were also killed in the accident, though they have not been officially identified.

“Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif was an American hero and a deserving recipient of the USO’s 2013 Marine of the Year Award,” said Dr. J.D. Crouch II, CEO and President of the USO. “Our hearts go out to his wife Dawn, their extended families, and the families of all 11 service members who died in Tuesday’s tragedy.”

Described by his commanding officer as a Marine with “tenacity, vigor and common sense that he applies to every task or endeavor he undertakes,” Seif was attempting to detain a high-value target on July 24, 2012, along with his teammate, Sgt. Justin Hansen. Hansen was shot several times as the duo approached a compound. Electing not to wait for reinforcements, Seif entered the compound alone and eliminated the threat. After clearing the compound, Seif returned to treat his teammate’s wounds while exposing himself to constant enemy fire. Despite Seif’s efforts, however, his teammate died later that day.

“There are definitely some individuals out there who deserve [the Silver Star] just as well,” Seif said at last week’s ceremony, according to the New Holland Sentinel. “But it’s an honor to accept it on the behalf of the unit and on behalf of the rest of the men.”

Seif, a New Holland, Michigan, native, leaves behind his wife of four-plus years, Dawn. The couple celebrated their third wedding anniversary in 2013 with fellow USO honorees.

Coining a Legend: Richard Roundtree Talks About ‘Being Mary Jane,’ ‘Shaft’ and his USO Tour

"Being Mary Jane" cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

“Being Mary Jane” cast members B.J. Britt, Richard Roundtree, center, and Aaron Spears joined the USO during a visit to Naval Base San Diego on Tuesday.

When Richard Roundtree says you’re cool, is there anything left to accomplish?

Roundtree – the actor who played the title character in the “Shaft” franchise of the 1970s – had the all-too-civilian experience of being unexpectedly coined for the first time when he visited Naval Base San Diego on a USO tour Feb. 17.

He appreciated the base commanding officer’s style.

“He shook my hand and in the palm of his hand – I have it right here in front of me – he had this [coin],” the jovial actor said of his interaction with Capt. Curt Jones. “The way he gave it to me was just too cool.”

Roundtree knows cool. He’s spent five decades exuding it on screen, including his recent run on BET’s hit drama “Being Mary Jane.” Roundtree and co-stars B.J. Britt and Aaron Spears toured the base together last month.

“I was blown away seeing up close and personal what the Navy was about,” Roundtree said. “From a civilian’s point of view, I got to see a lot and it was wonderful.

“The icing on the cake was how appreciative the enlisted [troops] were toward us. It was just great. I loved it.”

The trio of actors mingled with troops and military family members, stopping to pose for photos and talk about their show and, of course, a little nostalgia.

“[Troops] were relating primarily to ‘Shaft’ understandably,’” said Roundtree, who had two paternal uncles who served in World War II. “I tried to push [“Being Mary Jane,” and they would say] ‘Oh yeah, yeah, we know all about that, but “Shaft” …’

“Even watching the Academy Awards the other night, there was the ‘Shaft’ theme in there at one point,” he said, chuckling.

Roundtree has transformed from an action hero to the man who polices the action in “Being Mary Jane.” He plays Paul Patterson Sr., the father of series star Gabriel Union’s Mary Jane Paul. The series has received positive reviews and was recently picked up for a third season.

“The beauty of it is the universality of the story lines are just great to be a part of,” he said. “Gabriele Union – the trials and tribulations she goes through with the extended family and I have to run kind of roughshod over this whole family – very exciting work. And challenging. I’m having a great time.”

Vince Vaughn Treats Troops to an Advance USO Screening of ‘Unfinished Business’

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Giving back to the military is in Vince Vaughn’s blood.

So when he was presented with the chance to treat troops at Edwards Air Force Base, California, to an advance screening of his upcoming film “Unfinished Business,” the three-time USO tour veteran had to say yes.

“I have military in my family,” Vaughn said. “My sister was [in the military], and [I have had] relatives [serve] way back, all the way back to the beginning, I believe, to the revolution.

“I’m always appreciative of the troops and all the sacrifices that are made and it’s always been important to me to express that.”

In addition to meeting with base leadership and personally kicking off the screening event, Vaughn got to chat and take photos with troops who had recently returned home and others who’d been recognized for excellence in their jobs.

“I hope that the movie brings them some laughter, that they have a good day laughing,” Vaughn said. “[I’m glad I] just get the chance to send the message that I know that a lot of people share, which is that they’re always in our minds and in our hearts.”

Vaughn traveled overseas with the USO to screen “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” for service members in Southwest Asia in 2004.

“I [had] shot ‘Dodgeball’ and was shooting ‘Wedding Crashers,'” he said. “I had met Pat Tillman and then I got the news … on the TV that he had passed. It really bothered me and I had other friends who were overseas. So, I called the USO out of nowhere and said, ‘Can I come over?’”

The following year, Vaughn continued his USO relationship by screening “Wedding Crashers” for troops. In the past decade, he’s entertained more than 8,735 servicemen and women through the USO.