War is the greatest of all immoralities and leads always to sexual license. —Unidentified Writer, English Review, 1916
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s concern with the morale among the troops and the negative impact the mobilization of thousands, then millions of young men was having on local communities propelled him to summon the leaders of the fledgling United Service Organizations (USO) to Wash- ington, D.C., in January 1941, to meet with military chiefs and the direc- tor of the Federal Security Agency. The president’s objective was clear: to solidify plans for a nationwide USO that would keep young soldiers in touch with the civilian life they had so abruptly left behind. When a stale- mate developed over what areas would fall under civilian or military con- trol, Roosevelt broke the deadlock with a pointed directive: “This is the way I want it done! I want these private organizations to handle the on-leave rec- reation of the men in the armed forces. The government should put up the buildings and some name common to the organization should appear on the outside.” Roosevelt’s photo appeared on some of the first USO posters, urging “every individual citizen” to support the organization. His direct involvement and the efforts of USO National Campaign chairman Thomas Dewey (who later ran as the Republican candidate for president and lost to Roosevelt in 1944) helped raise more than $16 million by the end of 1941. USO cen- ters first operated in railroad sleeping cars, barns, museums, and churches.
On November 28, 1941, the first permanent government-built USO center opened in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for the soldiers at nearby Fort Bragg. Seemingly overnight, USO centers sprang up in cities and towns across the country and, eventually, overseas. By June 1942, Time magazine referred to the USO, with its 507 clubs and the 2 million men who visited every month, as the “biggest chain dance-hall operator in the world.” Yet even with the large number of clubs, “stag lines” were almost always too long. “Dancing in- volves more than just space and music: USO usually has to provide the girls, too. This means searching homes, schools, clubs and businesses for dancing partners. When the girls have been found, they all must be carefully checked, then their interests, talents and characters inquired into. Then at the dance itself they must be carefully chaperoned.”1
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