Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Wartime Wednesday: Troop Morale and the USO

Wartime Wednesday: Troop Morale and the USO 

What do you think of when you hear “USO?” For most people, the United Service Organization is synonymous with Bob Hope, the Andrews Sisters, Jack Benny, and other big-name stars of the 1930s. But did you know the USO had a huge contingent of volunteers and staff who performed myriad tasks and activities to boost Armed Forces morale.

With over 3,000 clubs worldwide, the USO provided locations where outgoing and incoming soldiers, sailors, and airmen could “let down their hair.” Staffed by junior hostesses who would dance with the men, write letters for them, sew on their buttons and/or insignia, or simply converse with the guys, the clubs were a popular destination for service members. Guests of the New York City and Hollywood clubs were sometimes lucky enough to be served by a celebrity, as many of the day’s stars volunteered.

Some of the clubs offered the opportunity to record messages on a cardboard disc that was sent home. Others had boxing rings. Activities included barn dances, ping pong tournaments, crafts, fishing,  shuffleboard, just to name a few. When things “got serious,” senior hostesses, who were married women age 35 or older, would intervene with the men. Snacks and cigarettes were available, but the clubs were liquor-free. The other item not allowed was slacks. The hostesses all wore semi-formal attire (thought to be important to boost morale).

In 1942, mobile clubs were put into service in the lower 48 states. Trucks equipped with projectors, screens, PA system, turntables (record players for you young people!) and records, sports equipment, board games, books, and snacks.

More than thirty-three million dollars was raised during the war for the USO, equating to over $433 million today. Traveling overseas with the USO was dangerous, and thirty-seven entertainers were killed, with Glenn Miller being the most famous when his plane disappeared over the English Channel on its way to France.

With over 7,000 entertainers and tens of thousands of volunteers, the USO was one of the major service organizations during WWII.

May 1942: Geneva Alexander flees Philadelphia and joins the USO to escape the engagement her parents have arranged for her, only to wind up as the number one suspect in her betrothed’s murder investigation. Diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, she must find the real killer before she loses her sight…or is convicted for a crime she didn’t commit.

Set in the early days of America’s entry into WWII and featuring cameo appearances from Hollywood stars, Murder of Convenience is a tribute to individuals who served on the home front, especially those who did so in spite of personal difficulties, reminding us that service always comes as a result of sacrifice. Betrayal, blackmail, and a barrage of unanswered questions… Murder of Convenience is the first in the exciting new “Women of Courage” series.

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