The USO was founded in 1941 by Mary Ingraham in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide morale and recreation services to U.S. uniformed military personnel. Roosevelt was elected as its honorary chairman. This request brought together six civilian organizations: the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), National Catholic Community Service, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board. They were brought together under one umbrella to support U.S. troops. Roosevelt said he wanted “these private organizations to handle the on-leave recreation of the men in the armed forces.” According to historian Emily Yellin, “The government was to build the buildings and the USO was to raise private funds to carry out its main mission: boosting the morale of the military.”
The first national campaign chairman was Thomas Dewey, who raised $16 million in the first year. The second chairman was future senator Prescott Bush. The USO was incorporated in New York on February 4, with the first facility erected in DeRidder, Louisiana,1941. More USO centers and clubs opened around the world as a “Home Away from Home” for GIs. The USO club was a place to go for dances and social events, for movies and music, for a quiet place to talk or write a letter home, or for a free cup of coffee and an egg.