Home away from Home, United Service Organizations

Contributor: Yongsan Legacy

“For two hours, the men could forget they were soldiers at war. After the show, they returned to the fighting in the hills. Some in that audience never made it back.”
USO, to provide morale and recreation services to U.S. uniformed military personnel

Topic: community, Entertainment, People, Recreation, Yongsan Legacy
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The USO (United Service Organizations) was founded in ‎February 4, 1941 in Arlington, Virginia, by Mary Ingraham in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide morale and recreation services to U.S. uniformed military personnel. Roosevelt said he wanted “these private organizations to handle the on-leave recreation of the men in the armed forces.”

USO Gate, Yongsan, Seoul. 1969. Photo credit Rich Kent

By 1947, with the war (WWII) over, the USO`s public support declined and  the USO was disbanded. In 1951, when the United States entered the Korean War, Secretary of Defense George Marshall and Secretary of the Navy Francis P. Matthews requested that the USO be reactivated “to provide support for the men and women of the armed forces with help of the American people.” According to war historian Paul Edwards, Between 1952 and 1953, not a day went by without the USO providing services somewhere in Korea. At home or overseas, in 1952 it was serving 3.5 million in the armed forces using much the same methods of operation as it did in World War II.

Many stars, both well-known and new, came to perform to South Korea,  Bob Hope, Errol Flynn, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Piper Laurie, Jane Russell, Paul Douglas, Terry Moore, Marylin Monroe, Danny Kaye, Rory Calhoun, Mickey Rooney, Jayne Mansfield,  Al Jolson and many others. The Hispanic-American soldiers  were entertained by artists such as Perez Prado’s Show featuring Evita Muñoz as his invited mambo dancer. Al Jolson was the first to volunteer to perform in September 17th 1950, but due to lack of USO funds traveled to Korea at his own expense (he was also the first to entertain troops during World War II).

Al Jolson performing in Korea in September 17th 1950. Source: book “The World of Al Jolson” by Barrie Anderton (1975)

Veterans have recalled many of the USOs events, sometimes in vivid detail:

On that cold, overcast day, there were more than five thousand troops in the audience. They sat on the ground or up on the hillside. When everyone was settled, Danny Kaye opened the show by going to the microphone, looking at his large audience, and shouting, “Who’s holding back the enemy?” The GIs roared with laughter. We were thrilled to have Kaye and his entertainers in our area. We especially liked the young women in the show. Danny was okay, with his stories and jokes, but after all, we knew what American men looked like.

Author Linda Granfield in describing the show, writes, “For two hours, the men could forget they were soldiers at war. After the show, they returned to the fighting in the hills. Some in that audience never made it back.” By the end of the war, over 113,000 American USO volunteers were working at 294 centers at home and abroad. And 126 units had given 5,422 performances to servicemen in Korea and the wounded in Japan.

 

Source:

USO home page, https://www.uso.org/

USo official blog: https://theuso.wordpress.com/tag/bob-hope/