By Joseph Andrew Lee

The USO has a special place in Enoch Woodhouse’s heart.

It’s not because of anything material the organization gave him, but for the immaterial reception, compassion and understanding its volunteers and staff provided during a challenging time.

The then-17-year-old Tuskegee Airman experienced the USO for the first time in 1944. Now an 88-year-old retired lieutenant colonel, Woodhouse has plenty to say about his 71-year history with the organization.

As Black History Month comes to a close, take a trip back with us to hear the former Army Air Corps soldier’s stories about the USO in the 1940s, when the U.S. was fighting the German Reich abroad and struggling with racism and segregation at home.

“Every young man, Black or white or whatever — you volunteered to serve America,” said Woodhouse, who signed up for the Army in 1944, just two days after graduating high school. “We were concerned not only with victory against fascism abroad, but we wanted to eliminate — we wanted to defeat — racism at home in America.”

Woodhouse says the USO centers of World War II were some of the few places with no segregation.

“It was America: Black [and] white mixed,” he said. “If you were in uniform … you were welcomed.”

Watch Woodhouse’s story about his USO experiences, and hear what happened the day a cultural tour was derailed by racist actions of an outside group, and how one USO staff member’s response changed his life forever.