By Sandi Gohn and Mike Case
The USO center on Camp Pendleton might be new, but when it comes to being there for our Marines, USO staff and volunteers are seasoned pros. Thanks to generous financial contributions from supporters like you, the USO team has been able to bring a slice of home to Marines stationed around the world since 1941.
You can help ensure that our military members, including our Marines, get the USO support they deserve. Take action, donate today.
In honor of the official opening of USO Camp Pendleton, we dove into the archives and dug up nine vintage photos that celebrate some of the many times the USO has been by the side of America’s Devil Dogs. Take a look:
1. 1966 – Da Nang, Vietnam
During the Vietnam war, roughly 500,000 Marines fought in Vietnam and at the peak of the conflict, the USO operated 17 centers across the country. According to our records, the Da Nag center seen in this photograph of a Marine was “in an extreme forward area (one of three South Viet Nam locations attacked by North Vietnamese guerillas in February of ). [It] offer[ed] its service visitors such facilities as a snack bar, social hall, library, photographic darkroom and rooftop patio to use in their infrequent off-duty hours.”
2. 1945 – Honolulu, Hawaii
The USO center pictured in the photo above (which was taken on VJ-Day and features a rare – at the time – female Marine, second from the left) was the busiest USO center on Hawaii during World War II. The USO Army & Navy Club, as it was officially known, was housed in the YMCA’s building in Honolulu and served over six million military members during the war. Throughout WWII, the USO responded quickly in the Pacific, opening 48 centers across Hawaii alone.
3. 2016 - Camp Wilson, California
Even when Marines are far from a brick-and-mortar center, the USO is always by their side. In 2016, according to a USO.org article, “the Bob Hope USO-Palm Springs center orchestrated one of the larger Super Bowl parties in America that no one knew about … when they brought a satellite receiver and large inflatable screen out to the chow hall at Camp Wilson on Marine Corps Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms. The center’s actions meant 1,870 Marines who attended got to watch the Super Bowl.“
4. 1993 - Mogadishu, Somalia
The USO operated a location in Mogadishu, Somalia from December 1992 (just days after U.S. Marines arrived in-country) to April 1993. During this time, several entertainers, including TV star Gerald McRaney and country music artists Larry Gatlin and Garth Brooks, passed through the country on USO tours, while a rotating cast of USO staffers ran the temporary location so service members could enjoy a daily touch of home. A former Marine, featured on the USO blog in 2010, best summed up the USO’s impact during Operation Restore Hope, saying that it was an awful place to be stationed, but thanks to the USO, he was able to get “the best Coke [he] ever had.”
5. 1950s – Unknown Location, Worldwide
Although the USO decreased its operations after WWII, the organization expanded in 1951 at the start of the Korean War. The organization quickly expanded, both stateside and abroad, from 122 locations in 1951 to 294 locations in 1952. During this time, centers provided service members, like the Marine featured in this image, with classic USO amenities like comfy chairs, board games, coffee and a home-like atmosphere.
6. 2015 – Okinawa, Japan
Since the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, U.S. Marines have maintained a steady presence on the tiny Japanese island of Okinawa, and consequently, so has the USO. In 1954, during the Korean War, the USO was asked by the Department of Defense to build its presence in Okinawa and opened its first location on the island in 1959. Since then, the USO has built centers on five of the Marine Corps bases on the island, where over 19,000 Marines call home. In addition to operating traditional brick-and-mortar centers, USO staff often provides expeditionary support to Marine units training throughout the larger Pacific region by providing Mobile Entertainment Gaming Systems (MEGS) – like you see in the 2015 photo above – USO2GO kits, care packages and more.
7. 1983 - Jacksonville, North Carolina
The USO in Jacksonville, North Carolina, located outside the gates of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, is the oldest continually operating USO location in the world. Originally opened in 1942, the center serves the roughly 170,000 military members (which are mostly Marines) who call the base home. From providing cozy chairs to relax in, or a free holiday meal to those who can’t make it home, as seen in this 1983 photo, the Jacksonville USO is committed to serving U.S. Marines whenever they need it most.
8. 1970s - Los Angeles, California
Throughout the 1970s, the USO remained open to serve Marines, like the one in the photo above, and other service members at home and abroad. In 1971 there were 171 USO locations, with 60 of those serving U.S. military members overseas. While each center location boasted its own unique programming, popular USO services at the time included telephones, recreational team sports and assistance with information about the local community.
9. 1980s - Location Unknown, USA
During the 1980s, the USO offered a variety of family and social service-type programming to Marines and other service members. According to a 1983 information pamphlet, these offerings included things like providing informal counseling, coordinating donations of food and furniture, sending welcome wagons to new arrivals’ homes and more. Fun fact: As a nonprofit, the USO relies on generous donations from corporate donors and supporters like you. In the 1980s, the organization received support from the United Way (although that has not been the case for several decades), hence the United Way logo in the back of this photo of a Marine with his family.
BONUS: 2018 – Camp Pendleton, California
Even before opening its doors today, the USO Camp Pendleton team has been on the ground for over a year hosting events, providing USO services and helping enrich the community on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Prior to 2018, the last time the Camp Pendleton community had a permanent USO presence was back in the WWII era.
The USO is a not-for-profit organization and not part of the Department of Defense (DoD). The appearance of DoD visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.
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