As if putting their lives on the line weren’t a great enough sacrifice, service men and women also frequently have to forgo spending holidays with their families. But the USO (United Service Organizations) does plenty to make the armed forces as comfortable as possible — particularly around the holidays — providing entertainment and recreation, as well as helping them maintain contact with their families.
In this scene, taken at a Christmas party on Dec. 23, 1944, smiling service people take their minds off World War II momentarily as they pose with presents at the Detroit USO club at Cass and Lafayette, in downtown Detroit. Clubs served as a home away from home for GIs, providing dances, movies, libraries, food and refreshment, and sometimes lodging.
During World War II, entertainers came out in full force at USO camp shows near bases, with Betty Grable, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Humphrey Bogart among the notables. But there was no bigger booster than comedian Bob Hope, who continued to entertain troops for decades.
The USO was formed in 1941 by the cooperation of six nonprofit groups: the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Salvation Army, the National Catholic Community Service, the Traveler’s Aid Association, as well as the YMCA and YWCA.
Although the sitting U.S. president serves as its honorary chairman, the USO isn’t federally funded; private and corporate donations keep the organization afloat.
The USO continues its good work today, operating more than 130 centers around the globe. A popular service is Operation Phone Home, which provides prepaid phone cards to the armed forces, as well as “cyber canteens,” which offer Internet access.