Entertaining the troops

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The United Service Organizations Inc. (USO) is a nonprofit organization that provides live entertainment, such as comedians and musicians, and other programs to members of the United States Armed Forces and their families. Since 1941, it has worked in partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), relying heavily on private contributions and on funds, goods, and services from various corporate and individual donors. Although it is congressionally-chartered, it is not a government agency.

During World War II, the USO became the GI’s “home away from home” and began a tradition of entertaining the troops that continues today.

The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes line the pier as they get ready to board a ship and depart New York City for a U.S.O. tour. July 14, 1945

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Comedian Joe Brown cuts it up in his act for soldiers during a U.S.O. show in Italy. 1944.

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USO tours were dangerous. Thirty-seven USO entertainers died during World War II. The most famous entertainer who didn’t make it back was legendary big band leader and then-Army Major Glenn Miller, whose plane disappeared over the English Channel on the way to France.

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Bob Hope USO show, 1944

USO show, 1944

Stars of the stage and screen weren’t just entertainers back in the 1940s. They’d also bring you coffee and a donut. At New York City’s famed USO Stage Door Canteen, troops could meet the stars of the day, watch them perform and even be waited on by them. At the USO Hollywood Canteen, some stars worked shifts in the anonymity of the kitchen.

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