Bob Hope appeared in and hosted almost 200 USO performances for 35 consecutive years.
Written by Temple Kinyon
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt the winds of WWII on the horizon in early 1941, he knew it was almost certain the U.S. would have to join their allies. American servicemen would give themselves to the fight in Europe, and later the Pacific, taking them away from home and family. Roosevelt knew that giving emotional and recreational support to troops would be paramount to keeping their spirits lifted. By tapping six national charitable organizations to pool their resources, he established and chartered the United Services Organizations (USO).
Possibly best known for its “camp shows,” the USO coordinated worldwide appearances of entertainers to provide entertainment to troops around the world. Three months after Roosevelt created the USO, Bob Hope and other celebrities started performing for troops. From WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, to the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan conflicts, dozens of celebrities have visited the many USO sites over the years, offering their talent to help boost troop morale, including Joe E. Brown, Marilyn Monroe, Fred Astaire, Debbie Reynolds, and Wayne Newton, who currently serves as USO Celebrity Circle Chairman.
But the USO provides more than just entertainment for troop morale. It has evolved into a powerhouse organization by also offering a variety of events and services for military and their families at their 160 world-wide locations.
USO Las Vegas is one such location, with lounges nestled in donated space from McCarran International Airport in Terminals 1 and 3. The center prides itself on providing a safe, comfortable environment in the two lounges. Internet, computer, and cable usage, along with other amenities like phone cards, activities for children, food, beverages, a movie/sleep lounge, and even a wake-up call service to ensure no one misses a connecting flight, are all vital programs and free of charge for active military.
Lindsay West, spouse of a USAF staff sergeant, explained their military family has been stationed at two bases over the past seven years, and she’s visited three USO centers, including the Terminal 1 lounge in Las Vegas.
“We were in-between flights, so we went into the USO in Vegas,” West explained. “I had my two-year-old son, and he was getting irritable. A USO volunteer brought him ice cream. He had a pretty good time after that. The volunteers were so friendly and helpful.”
USO Las Vegas boasts 249 volunteers, who logged 35,676 service hours in 2014, the equivalent to 18.5 full-time employees.
”I volunteer for USO Las Vegas for personal satisfaction of helping our service men and women by providing a little bit of Las Vegas hospitality and some relaxation and companionship to those a long way from home,” shared Dr. Leonard Franklin. “I go home from the USO each week with an internal happiness that I was able to help.”
USO Las Vegas also creates a sense of community for troops and their families through their events and programs throughout the Valley.
“We have a good understanding of the pulse of the Las Vegas-area military, what programs and services are needed, and what gaps we can fill,” said Tim Mullin, USO Center Director.
Every year, TellUSO surveys all active-duty military. Based off those results, Las Vegas has won the Top USO Center Overall award in both 2013 and 2014 and the Top Medium Stateside Center in 2014. These awards are a testament to USO Las Vegas’s constant commitment to both visitors to the lounges and the Las Vegas military community.
“I truly believe the awards come from the dedication the volunteers put in,” Mullin said. “A lot of the survey asks how we’re treating our military community.”
USO Las Vegas reached over 26,000 local military families last year by coordinating dozens of monthly events that included Serving Heroes Family Dinners, Freedom Friday Concert Series, USO Holiday Feast, and Wounded Warrior Program. Most recently, Operation That’s My Dress, gave military women and spouses a complimentary dress and hair and make-up services. The fun culminated in a runway fashion show.
One soldier declared, “This event was incredible. As an active duty female, I was blown away at the generosity, the volunteers, the amazing dresses, hair stylists, [and] make-up artists. This event was definitely a nice change from my uniform and combat boots!”
“It’s a joint effort,” explained Fred Katen, USO Las Vegas volunteer. “Tim Mullin and Kate Slawski are the only two employees at the center. They’re the ones who coordinate with community partners for donations to support events and the lounges. The volunteers help provide the services.”
USO Las Vegas and their community partners have donated items like show and movie tickets, care packages, and dinners for active duty troops, National Guard, Reservists, and their families based in Southern Nevada.
One military spouse shared, “USO [Las Vegas] made all the difference in the world for me and my family while my husband was away. The dinners and entertainment were a blessing. I can’t find enough words to express our gratitude.”
USO Las Vegas also welcomed home or helped deploy more than 2,500 troops through their lounges in 2014. By coordinating with TSA and McCarran to obtain gate passes, USO volunteers offered Welcome Home reunions in which loved ones were able to greet their family member returning from duty.
“Our volunteers are the first people soldiers see when they enter the airport or USO lounges,” Mullin said. “Our volunteers are our front line, always offering a smile, greeting, water, food, and snacks, and ready to answer questions.”
Interested in volunteering or donating to USO Las Vegas? Contact Tim Mullin or Kate Slawski at 702.261.6590 or https://www.uso.org/centers/united-states and scroll down to the Nevada section.