By Mark Ambrogi
During World War II, Korea or Vietnam, the USO was best known for its highly visible role in entertaining the troops.
Comedian Bob Hope led 57 entertainment tours for the USO between 1941 and 1991. The USO, which stands for United Service Organizations, faces a tougher challenge these days letting people know what it is and how it serves others.
“The mission statement is to strengthen America’s military by keeping them connected to family, home, country during their service to the nation,” said Charles Ridings, USO of Indiana executive director and a Zionsville resident.
The USO of Indiana (called USO of Indianapolis until 2007) was the sixth charter formed and is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2016.
Carmel resident Bob Legacy, a former USO of Indiana board member who is now on the emeritus council, said many people don’t know it’s not a government organization but is a civilian group, predominantly made up of volunteers. It was formed in February 1941 prior to the United States entering World War II.
“There were troops wandering around all over towns with nothing to do, nowhere to go and very little money and a tremendous amount of testosterone, so President (Franklin) Roosevelt recognized there was a need for some organization to serve the military,” Legacy said. “He asked six organizations to come together to form (the USO). Its mission has morphed through the years, depending on the United States being in and out of war and peace time.”
Celebrities still travel all over to entertain troops, but that’s just about 20 percent of what the organization does, Legacy said.
There are two full-time hospitality centers, one at Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh and the other at Indianapolis International Airport. There are satellite centers in Fort Wayne, Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in North Vernon and Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence Township in Indianapolis.
USO gala set for Sept. 17
The USO of Indiana Five Star Gala is set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 17 at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis. Former Sen. Richard Lugar will be honored. Tickets are $150, $100 with military discount. There also will be a silent auction.
Michael Hanlon, USO of Indiana director of development and a Zionsville resident, is in charge of the gala. Hanlon said the attendance goal is 300, and he hopes to raise more than $100,000 through the event.
Legacy said the national USO doesn’t provide any funding, “So it’s critical that we’re always working with companies and benefactors to try to fund-raise.”
For more, visit us.uso.org/indiana/.