This cartoon identifies several major generational differences present in our society today. At the same time it captures the essence of a major component of our war effort in WWII and to this day. Fr. Ernesto’s post on OrthoCuban includes the cartoon panels, and is a fine tribute to those who served in this way then and up to the present day. As a soldier in the late 1950’s, I visited a number of USO facilities, and my sister was also involved in Germany.
The USO (United Service Organizations) was begun in 1941. The USO supplies social, recreational, welfare, and spiritual facilities to members of the armed services. It is congressionally chartered, but is not a government agency, and it subsists on private donations.
During World War II, the USO became the G.I.’s “home away from home,” and began a tradition of entertaining the troops that continues today. Involvement in the USO was one of the many ways in which the nation had come together to support the war effort, with nearly 1.5 million Americans having volunteered their services in some way. After it was disbanded in 1947, it was revived in 1950 for the Korean War, after which it also provided peacetime services. During the Vietnam War, USOs were sometimes located in combat zones.
The organization became particularly famous for its live performances called Camp Shows, through which the entertainment industry helped boost the morale of its servicemen and women. Hollywood in general was eager to show its patriotism, and lots of big names joined the ranks of USO entertainers. They entertained in military bases both at home and overseas, often placing their own lives in danger by traveling or performing under hazardous conditions – some losing their lives.
When we look back at the World War II generation, there are many people to honor. But, among the least mentioned are the many young women, from juniors and seniors in high school on up who volunteered at the many USO chapters in this country. They had rules of decorum and had to stay within the confines of the USO building, but they provided a much needed morale service. They danced with servicemen night after night. For almost all of them, they would never see that serviceman again. They would never know whether that serviceman had lived or died. And, they would know, they must have known, that at least some of the servicemen with whom they danced were never going to come back. Like the woman in the cartoon above, they knew they were sending them off to die. But, they kept their smiles fixed on their faces; they kept their modesty but dressed attractively; they, too, served.
And, then, there were the women, like the one listed above, who went on USO camp shows. No, they were not the Betty Grables, etc. Like the woman in the comic above, they were pretty, they could sing, and they were bits of sanity for the men whom they went to entertain. They were like the memories of the Shire that Frodo had as they were at the doors of Mordor. They kept the men sane.
And, so, this is a small post to honor those women. They, too, were an important part of the war effort.