USO Celebrates 80th Anniversary After Humble Beginnings During World War II

Greg Hanlon
·2 min read

Courtesy USO Diahann Carroll and Bob Hope

The United Service Organizations — the military support organization better known as the USO — is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, even as it adjusts its morale-boosting programming amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The non-profit was founded in 1941 when six civilian organizations pooled their resources to entertain the troops during World War II. Bob Hope performances became a staple, and since then the organization has grown and evolved into an unwavering source of support for deployed service members.

"We are honored to have such a rich history serving America's military community," J.D. Crouch II, the USO CEO and president, said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE. "The sacrifice of service members and their families requires that we rise to the challenge as we have done for the past 80 years and will continue to do for years to come."

Courtesy USO Marilyn Monroe

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According to a press release from the USO, 40 million Americans have been served by the USO in some fashion, from entertainment to care packages. Last month, the USO helped feed National Guard troops stationed in Washington, D.C., for Joe Biden's inauguration. During the pandemic, it has hosted Zoom performances and even virtual baby showers for service members and their families.

Courtesy USO Jon Stewart on a USO tour in 2018

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To commemorate its 80th anniversary, the USO named singer Kellie Pickler and actor Wilmer Valderrama as global ambassadors.

Both are USO tour veterans: Pickler's first USO tour was to Iraq in 2007 and she has since gone on 12 tours. Valderrama went to Germany in 2007 for his first USO tour and has since gone on eight tours.

Courtesy USO Kellie Pickler

Courtesy USO Wilmer Valderrama

Pickler said in a USO release that being a global ambassador enables her to "help shine a light on something that matters," which is letting troops "know we don't take them for granted."

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Valderrama said, "Touring with the USO has been one of the proudest moments of my career because it has given me the chance to pay my respect and personally express my gratitude to our servicemen and women."