Numerous individual service organizations, charities and clubs began providing services as well as morale boosting events for the men and women in uniform during World War II. Among those were the United Service Organization. Over time, USO became a generic term for any organization that provided such services.
The USO also became the GI’s "home away from home" and began a tradition of entertaining the troops that continues today. Although there are not many USO items in it, the Museum of Veterans and Military History in Vilonia recognizes the importance of the USO.
Many soldiers have shared vivid stories regarding USO camp shows in combat zones. For a couple of hours, those soldiers could put in the back of their mind they were at war. There was comedians, musicians and pretty girls.
Perhaps the most famous performer was Bob Hope. He has been referred as a one-man "morale machine." His contribution to the USO began in 1941 and ended with Operation Desert Shield in 1991, spending 48 Christmases overseas with American service personnel. He was always treated as "an asset to the U.S. Government with his willingness to entertain whenever they needed him." After World War II was declared over, the USO had sent out an "impassioned bulletin" asking entertainers not to abandon the GIs now that the war was over. Hope was among the first to say yes. Inside the museum is a revered photo of Bob Hope. No one knows if it is an original or reproduction. No one really seems to care. Yet, many express their gratitude for the show they saw in combat compliments of the man.
At 1 p.m., Oct. 14, the Conway Women’s Chorus will take the stage at the museum. The familiar red, white and blue USO banner may not be behind them. But, they will be providing entertainment reminiscent of the USO tours that may have been held in WWII. There is no charge to attend. A recognition of World War II veterans will follow.
Located at 53 N. Mt. Olive in Vilonia, the museum is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays and 1 p.m. until 4 p.m., the first Sunday of the month. Also, special tours are available by appointment. No charge to tour. For information, call 501-796-8181.