The USO has been entertaining American troops for more than 60 years. A museum in Hollywood looks at the group's legacy, and at the stars who have supported the troops through the organization.
For men and women in the military, the USO has offered a home away from home, with a warm welcome, a cup of coffee, and a sandwich. Jan-Christopher Horak, curator of the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, says President Franklin Roosevelt started the USO when he asked for help from volunteer groups with the wartime military. "The United Service Organizations were founded to set up clubs and lounges. Even today, you can go to most international airports, most railway stations, and there will be lounges there for American servicemen and women," he says.
Early in the USO's history, Hollywood stars volunteered to entertain the troops. At the famous Hollywood canteen, famous actresses served coffee and danced with the young GIs who were getting ready to go overseas. Singer Dinah Shore described the atmosphere in a World War II newsreel.
During the Second World War, millions of troops passed through canteens and USO centers like this one.
Some Hollywood stars took their shows on the road to entertain the troops close to the front lines. Those shows are documented in a series of photographs of famous singers and actors.
"We go from World War II, where we see people like Bing Crosby and Ann Sheridan and Marlena Dietrich and Dinah Shore entertaining the troops, to Korea, and there we have Danny Kaye and Errol Flynn and Marilyn Monroe. I love this," says Mr. Horak. "This is a fabulous photo of Marilynn Monroe in Korea, where she was in 1954, with her then-husband Joe DiMaggio."
In the 1960s, USO entertainers included cowboy star Roy Rogers, movie great John Wayne, and singers Sammy Davis Junior and Nancy Sinatra. More recently, musicians Sheryl Crow and Billy Joel, comedian Jay Leno and the actor Sinbad have been to the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan to entertain the troops there.
Longtime USO supporters include comedian Bobe Hope, whose shows at overseas bases became a Christmas tradition.
Mementos from comedian and those who appeared with him are displayed in the exhibit. "Uniforms from Bob Hope, when he was in Vietnam, Martha Ray, who like Bob Hope was very heavily involved in the USO over a period of decades, and Johnny Grant," says Mr. Horak. Johnny Grant, known as the honorary mayor of Hollywood, has taken part in USO shows each year for 60 years.
The exhibit also recalls the role of Hollywood stars in making training films, like one from World War II, produced for the army air corps.
It features a young actor, Ronald Reagan. The young lieutenant, played by the future U.S. President, is taught to distinguish Japanese fighters, called "Zeros," from their U.S. counterparts. It was a crucial lesson for U.S. combat pilots.
Ronald Reagan and John Wayne did their part for the war effort right here in Hollywood. Others, says Jan-Christopher Horak, served overseas. "You have people like Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart and Clark Gable and Douglas Fairbanks Junior, who were well known actors, and nevertheless enlisted and served in combat.," says Mr. Horak.
And some, like Douglas Fairbanks, Junior, earned medals for valor.
The story of the USO and its Hollywood supporters will be on display at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum through September 1. Museum officials say, in the USO tradition, active-duty members of the U.S. military will be admitted free.