Video by Eric Brandner and Chad Stewart

HATTIESBURG, Mississippi—“It was like heaven.”

The words of World War II-era USO volunteer Vermell Jackson echo the sentiments of the photos and encased artifacts at the African American Military History Museum here. The museum – once the home of a rare segregated USO – still displays many happy memories from what was an otherwise trying time in America.

The USO was established on a policy of inclusion during a time of racial tension. Still, there were some areas of the country where having an inclusive center was deemed too much of a risk. That’s why the USO established a Blacks-only center in Hattiesburg on March 22, 1942, providing a community hub for African American service members stationed at nearby Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

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There, Black service members – many of whom were preparing to deploy – could get the same USO programs and services as their white counterparts without having to deal with the issues that could arise in downtown Hattiesburg.

“[The service members were] elated to have a place to call a home away from home,” Jackson said. “And that was a big thing in my life.”

You can send a message of support and thanks directly to service members via the USO’s Campaign to Connect. Your messages will appear on screens at USO locations around the world.