Ever since the 1940s, the USO (United Service Organizations) has existed to provide recreational, entertainment and morale-lifting services to U.S. military service personnel worldwide. Although a non-profit and non-government organization, the USO is in partnership with the Department of Defense, which provides funding and logistics. Private and public contributions are also majorly involved in supporting the USO, which is commonly referred to as a "home away from home" for service members in foreign lands.
In 1940, America's military was essentially "on alert" and escalating both in enlistment and training in preparation for what appeared to be inevitable entry into World War II. President Roosevelt, aware that troops needed the occasional "break" from their daily routine, approached several private organizations and challenged them to pool their resources to provide recreational and entertainment services for these service personnel. In February 1941, the USO was chartered and soon began "Camp Shows" at bases within the U.S. Popular entertainers selflessly volunteered to perform for free, and with the U.S. entry into WWII after Pearl Harbor, expanded their services to U.S. outposts globally.
Celebrities offering their services represented every corner of show business. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball, The Rockettes, Glenn Miller, James Cagney, Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, Fred Astaire and countless other "legends" entertained troops during the 1940s, and in later years, iconic figures such as Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Danny Kaye, John Wayne, Sammy Davis, Jr., Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret and Redd Foxx entertained troops in both Korea and Vietnam. In more recent years, U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have attended shows featuring Stephen Colbert, Craig Ferguson, Kellie Pickler, Toby Keith, Dane Cook and Carrie Underwood, to mention only a few. A very popular "show" during recent Christmas appearances has been WWE RAW (World Wrestling Entertainment) matches.
It has been estimated that the USO performed, between 1941 and 1945 alone, almost 300,000 shows before over 150 million service members. The USO shows weren't without calamity: In fact, over the years twenty-eight performers died from various causes, including plane crashes or illness. Al Jolson, notable for being the very first performer to appear overseas, contracted malaria and had to end his "tour" prematurely.
The official motto of the USO is "Until Every One Comes Home," and that effectively sums up the organization's goal. For more than 70 years, the USO has provided a few hours' respite from the thankless tasks at hand and lifted the spirits and morale of those who needed it the most.
To everyone involved past and present, thank you!