By Emily Brickler
The USO, or United Service Organization, has been around for 77 years, providing entertainment to the U.S. Armed Forces and their families since 1941. The USO was founded by Mary Ingraham during a time when President Franklin Roosevelt was looking to merge several service organizations into one big organization. The purpose of that organization would be to lift the morale of our military service members overseas and rouse support on the home front.
The USO’s tradition of entertaining the troops was started during World War II and still goes on today. Some very famous entertainers have performed as a part of the USO efforts. The most well-known entertainer to work with the USO was Bob Hope. His association with the group lasted half a century. He made 57 Christmas tours between 1941 and 1991, and as a result was declared an honorary veteran in 1997 by the United States Congress.
Edward G. Robinson was the very first movie star to entertain the troops in 1944 after the invasion of Normandy. Al Jolson, America’s highest paid entertainer in the 1920s, did as many as four shows a day for the U.S. Navy bases in Central America during World War II. During the Korean War he again volunteered for duty. He did 42 shows in 16 days in Korea, and upon his return to the States agreed to star in a new movie about a USO group in the South Pacific during World War II. However, before the project could even get started, Jolson died of a heart attack. Many believe it was due to exhaustion from overexerting himself during his trip to Korea.
Other very famous performers who entertained our troops for the USO include Marilyn Monroe, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Ann-Margret and Nancy Sinatra, to name a few. Even John Wayne took a tour of duty with the USO during the Vietnam War!
To all our veterans out there, have a very happy Memorial Day, and thank you for your service!
Art Matters is a weekly column sponsored by Leach Theatre, a division of Student Affairs, on the campus of Missouri S&T, and produced by Emily Brickler, Managing Director of the theatre and ten-year veteran teacher with a Masters of Art in Teaching from Webster University.