Everything You Need to Know About the United Service Organization


The United Service Organization

Franklin D. Roosevelt established the United Service Organization (USO) in 1941 as a means to provide morale, welfare and recreation activities to uniformed military personnel deployed in harm’s way, far from the comforts of home. Although congressionally chartered, the USO is not a governmental agency.

Originally, the USO was an amalgamation of six organizations:

History of the USO

Operating as American troops’ “home away from home,” USO clubs quickly became famous among soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines as the place to go for social activities. From hosting dances and socials, screening movies, providing a legendary hot cup of coffee and a doughnut or offering a quiet place to write home, the USO establishment quickly grew in popularity.

The organization gained its greatest notoriety with the famous camp shows program that the USO hosted. Camp Shows began in October 1941 in the United States and shows quickly went on the road to Europe, Australia and throughout the Pacific. At the peak of the program in 1944, the USO operated more than 3,000 clubs producing over 700 shows per day. These shows featured virtually every top-billing celebrity of the day such as Bob Hope, the Christmas Special of 1967, Irving Berlin and Frank Sinatra, to name a few.

In 1947, the USO dissolved for a brief period after the war, but it was quickly reestablished in January of 1951 when the United States entered the Korean War. Since then, the USO has provided morale, welfare and recreation support in an ever-growing number of ways and pledges to do so until everyone comes home, which is the USO’s motto. The USO has entertained troops in every major conflict in which the United States has been involved since the Korean War, including Vietnam, The Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq.

USO Operations

Today the USO continues to operate the same way it did in 1940. It is a 501(c) (3) non-profit organization run exclusively by donations. The largest single donation ever made to the USO was in 2012 by actor Charlie Sheen, who pledged $1 million to support the organization. Today, it operates in more than 160 locations in 14 countries and 27 states. In 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the USO served over 8 million visitors and spent more than $300 million on program services to our troops.

Recent celebrities supporting troops in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom include comedian Al Franken (before being elected Senator from Minnesota), Gary Sinese, Toby KeithTrace AdkinsJessica Simpson and Dave Attell.

While commonly discreetly located in airports around the country, USO sites still offer the same calm reprieve to travelling soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines as they did a half century ago. The centers are similar to an airline lounge and include free Internet, phone and email access, libraries and quiet reading areas, nurseries, cultural education (including free or reduced tickets to theater, museums, events, and regional tours) and various support groups for troops and their spouses.

For deployed troops, the programs the USO offers “in the field” continue to expand. Many programs, like the ones listed below, exist to keep service members in touch and entertained during the hardships of being away from home in hostile areas:

The USO also provides support to the families of those who have paid the ultimate price, by providing travel to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where all U.S. casualties are received back into the country, and grief counseling assistance.

For more on the USO and their programs, visit the following links:

Additional Resources




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