By Sandi Gohn
Independence Day. July 4. America’s Birthday.
Since the American Revolution, July 4 has been a special summertime holiday often marked by cookouts, parties with family and friends and evenings spent watching community fireworks displays.
However, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions, this year’s Independence Day celebrations at USO locations on July 4 might look a little different than in years before. While there’s no doubt that USO staffers around the world will offer up a slew of creative (and safe) ways for service members to mark the national holiday, here’s a look back at a handful of USO Fourth of July events from the past:
1 & 2 - July 1943: Bob Hope Performs for Troops in England
From his first show for service members at March Air Field in May 1941 to his final USO tour to the Middle East in the 1990s, Bob Hope paved the way for dozens of USO entertainers to continue his legacy of entertaining troops around the world.
While the USO can’t officially confirm that Bob Hope was performing precisely on July 4, 1943, we can confirm he performed for service members in the United Kingdom in July.
In early July 1943, Hope was in Molesworth, England, entertaining thousands of American G.I.s. In this first image, taken by Air Force photographer Peter Park in July 1943, a large crowd can be seen enjoying Hope perform.
In this second image, Hope performs for a crowd that braved the rain in July 1943 in Cornwall, England, near Victoria Barracks. The Bodmin Keep website says this show was on July 15, 1943, although we haven’t been able to officially confirm the exact date outside of this source.
3 - July 4, 2003 (est.): Gary Sinise on USO Tour in Italy
While the USO can’t confirm the exact day in July that this photo was taken, we can confirm that it was taken on a USO tour to Italy that took place from July 2-9, 2003, and featured entertainer Gary Sinise. Gary himself wrote about spending time with the military community in Italy on July 4, 2003, in his book, “Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service”:
“On July 4, 2003, the USO held a big outdoor celebration at Carney Park, a recreation center for U.S. troops near Naples, Italy. I shook hands there. We watched Mustang Sally, the all-girl band from Nashville entertain the troops … Two days later we visited troops at La Maddalena, Sardina, and toured the USS Emory S. Land, a U.S. Navy submarine tender.”
From there, Sinise went on to visit service members in Sigonella on the same USO tour. Fun fact: this was on one of Sinise’s first (but not his actual first) USO tours, before he truly established his reputation as one of the USO’s most enthusiastic supporters.
4 - July 4, 2003: USO Kaiserslautern Independence Day Barbecue
While entertainment is core to the mission of the USO, truth be told, the majority of July 4 celebrations at USO locations around the world are centered around the simple joys of community gathering, group games and - like much of the nation on Independence Day - grilling.
This photo from 2003, taken at USO Kaiserslautern event in the Vogelweh Commissary parking lot, is just one of the dozens of July 4 USO cookout photos we have in the USO historical archives.
5 - July 4, 2014: 4th of July Festival in USO Kandahar, Afghanistan
Speaking of food, fun and celebrating in the sun - in 2014, deployed service members in Kandahar, Afghanistan, got a much-needed break from the heat at a special July 4 celebration.
The event, which was held outside, included water balloons, corn hole, darts and other games. In addition to playing games (and winning prizes!), service members donned patriotic costumes to take photos in, enjoyed snacks and spent a few moments celebrating the nation’s birthday. This photo from six years ago shows service members, USO volunteers and staff enjoying the festivities.
6 - July 4, 2018: Independence Day Cookout for Troops in Camp Casey, South Korea
Even in remote locations, the USO finds creative ways to bring Independence Day festivities to service members around the world.
In 2018, USO Camp Casey supported a 4th of July celebration for soldiers that were manning a remote site on the East Coast of South Korea by sending barbecue grills, chips, soda and more to their location.
7 - July 4, 2019: Chairman of the National Guard 2019 USO Tour Stops in Kosovo
Just last year, Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, hosted a USO Tour, visiting troops in six countries in three combatant commands. On July 4, 2019, while at Camp Bondsteel, Lengyel took a moment to pause and mark the holiday by cutting a 4th of July cake during a troop visit.
Entertainers on the trip included Mayim Bialik of the “Big Bang Theory,” all-round entertainer Laura Bryna, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, former NFL cheerleader and comedian Anjelah Johnson, singer Cassadee Pope, MMA fighter and actor Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Toni Trucks of CBS’ “SEAL Team.”
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