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USO celebrates its 80th year of supporting the US military

Chairman's annual USO tour pose with Soldiers on Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, Romania, Jan. 7, 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Ethan Valetski, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
February 04, 2021

Feb. 4, 2021, marks the United Service Organization’s 80th birthday. The nonprofit organization has helped boost morale in the armed forces, operating in more than 200 locations worldwide.

As part of the USO’s 80th birthday, the organization asked the public to sign a birthday card to thank service members.

The USO has been a notable fixture in the lives of U.S. servicemen around the world since it was founded during World War II in 1941. The non-profit organization works with the Department of Defense to work with servicemen in all stages, from when they commit to joining the military, to when they’re deployed, and even beyond when they retire from their service.

The Salvation Army, the YMCA and YWCA, Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board all chipped in to help found the organization. The six organizations combined resources to start USO, making troops fighting in World War II the first to benefit from it.

Since the USO is not part of the federal government, it relies on the generosity of donations from individuals, organizations and corporations, and heavily relies on the services of its more than 30,000 volunteers around the world.

Some of the more notable services the USO provides is bringing in celebrities, whether they’re comedians or singers, to perform shows for troops across the world.

One of the first that USO brought in was the legendary comedian Bob Hope in May 1941. He performed his first show for the USO at March Field in California, beginning his five-decade-long partnership with the organization.

“He wanted to enlist, but President Roosevelt said, ‘Nuh-uh, you’re more valuable doing what you do,'” recalled Bob Hope’s daughter, Linda Hope. “So he took that as a kind of mandate to get out there and bring some laughter to the troops.”

Robin Williams also had a long-standing partnership with USO. The comedian went on six separate tours for them from 2002 to 2013.

One of the best parts about Williams’ service with USO was he didn’t just perform stand-up comedy and leave right away; he stuck around to talk to troops, according to USO VP of Entertainment Rachel Tischler.

“What was great about him on tour was that he always took the time to sit down and talk to people about what they were going through, what life on the base was like, about personal experiences,” Tischler said. “And then he’d get on stage and he’d be telling a joke about Mexican Night in the [dining facility].”

Recently, the USO helped the troops in the Immediate Response Force of the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C., who was deployed to the Middle East, by providing morale-boosting entertainment to the service members and their families.

“We are actively serving our service members with our Mobile Center providing morale-boosting goodness. Our donors have stepped up by providing fast donations in response to our request,” said Brian Knight, Sandhills Area Director of USO of North Carolina.