Guest Post – There’ll Be A Hot Time… by GPCox

In this Final-final Guest Post, GPCox explores the world of entertainment for the troops at home and away.  

USO Dance, Washington

USO Dance, Washington

 

Entertainment for troops at home also provided sources for a social life to the civilians and gave the war drive efforts an available stage.  The USO is usually the organization that comes to mind for most of us.  They had 59 companies going abroad to entertain, but they also provided amusement for those in the U.S.  Just about every city had a USO center for dancing, conversation, food and getting the opportunity to see celebrities.  The Red Cross would usually set themselves up in these centers and supply baskets of goodies free of charge to the troops.  They strove to become a home away from home for the men.  Today, in the Midwest, a group of volunteers re-enact the USO and WW2 era in parades, ceremonies and living history displays.

Washington D.C., San Francisco and NYC had a Pepsi Cola Canteen where anyone in uniform ate for free. They had a game room and showers.  A service center in

USO Center, Miss.

USO Center, Miss.

Georgetown catered to many of the wounded men coming out of Walter Reed and Bethesda Hospitals.  The civilians in the area became very close to the veterans and many kept up their contact years after the war ended.

Being in the National Defense Strategic Railway Route, the Pennsylvania RR depot at Dennison, Ohio doubled as a canteen.  During WWII, over 3,980 volunteers served the troops while the trains were being filled with water.  The Dennison Canteen from 9 March 1942 to 8 April 1946 never closed its doors, ran out of money or food – quite an accomplishment in itself.  The building that distributed meals, treats, magazines and Christmas packages is now a National Historic Landmark.

Outside of the USO centers, I believe the most famous was the Stage Door Canteen.  This was started by the American Theatre Wing in 1942 and ended in 1946.  Situated in

Stage Door Canteen

Stage Door Canteen

the basement of the 44th Street Theater in New York City, caterers and local merchants provided food and drinks while big name performers and service staff took charge of keeping the Canteen in operation, even during black-outs and curfews, for the numerous servicemen that passed through the city.

But, it wasn’t always the women entertaining the men – here in the photo; a sailor is seen enjoying giving Conga lessons at a dance held at the Hamilton Community House in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.  The National Park Ranger Station held dances

Boston Ranger Station

Boston Ranger Station

on the second floor of their building in Boston, Mass. And the Everett Covered Bridge Dance was held each July.  Many a blossoming romance evolved from the dance halls and this was not just true in the U.S.  In Australia they opened the Trocadero, which was a popular dance venue where the American soldiers introduced the locals to the Jitterbug and Jive.  Judy informed me that her father wrote in a letter dated, 23 March 1943: “Last Saturday, the three of us – Vic, Art and Al – went to L.A. to see “The

"This Is The Army"

“This Is The Army”

Rookie.”  It is a ‘scream,’ and we thoroughly enjoyed the whole production.  It is put on by the boys from Fort MacArthur, just south of L.A. proper and they seem to enjoy doing it as well as the audience enjoys seeing it.  It has been running since the latter part of 1942 and the house is still crowded at each performance.  It really is good.”  The Greatest Generation had imagination; “if you can’t entertain us – we’ll entertain ourselves,” seemed to be their motto.

Not everyone wanted to dance or attend church functions.  Neighbors, with their men overseas, created groups to play cards, swap recipes and tell stories.  One such group called themselves the ‘Dumbos,’ in Yankton, South Dakota.  As each man came home, he was required to take the whole group out to dinner.  Thankfully, all their men came home.  They then continued to meet monthly, a tradition that would last for over 35 years.

Special dispensation was given to the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus to ride the rails during the war.  The government felt their travels to numerous cities helped to keep up the civilian morale.  The Thomas Carnival started in Lennox, South Dakota, to provide clean and safe entertainment for the people of that state and ended up providing midway fairs for 15 other states.  The rides, games and food concessions gave home front diversions from their 10-16 hour work days.

Harrisburg

Harrisburg

In Stanford, Texas they remember when the high school band played at the rodeo because the “Cowboy Band” members were mostly in the service.  Some of the women from here sang with Gene Autry when in 1941, NYC’s Madison Square Garden hosted Everett Colburn’s World Series Rodeo.  Soon afterward, Autry not only took over the NYC Garden, but the Boston Garden as well and continued the tradition for decades.

The war had put a damper on traveling, but the era was not all hardship.  Individual parties and family events went on, often as though there was no war at all.  Some were based on the war and would have a military theme whereby bringing a piece of scrap metal was the entry fee to a dance or a war bond was given as a holiday gift.  They did not have televisions, video games or cell phones.  People played games together, played instruments and visited friends and relatives.  They rolled bandages and wrote to their loved ones overseas.  There was always a movie theater in town to watch the newsreels and latest movies.

Children did real homework out of books and on paper.  Kids were seen everywhere playing hopscotch, Red Rover, Statues, RedLight-GreenLight, jacks, jump rope, dolls or they would read or just plain make up their own games.  I’m certain I’ve forgotten a number of the activities that went on – what do you remember?  I realize most of the states were not mentioned and I had very little data for countries outside the U.S., so let’s hear from all of you!  Allow Judy and me to learn your stories and that of your town, state or country.

Last, but definitely not least – the radio.  Big stars like Abbott and Costello continued touring the U.S., making movies and performing their skits for the wireless.

Abbott and Costello

Abbott and Costello

Resources:  Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation”;  USO.org;  Westtexastribune.com;  Thomas Carnival.com; “Let the Good Times Roll” by Paul D. Casolorph; “Americans Remember the Home Front” by Roy Hoopes;  Wikianswers.com;  neohiocontradance.org;  StLaw.edu;  digicoll.library.wisc.edu; npr.org

If you enjoyed these Guest Posts by GPCox, you might also enjoy http://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com , the story of the 11th Airborne written by gpcox. Be sure to check it out. Tomorrow I’ll begin posting letters written in 1942. Lad and Dan are both in Uncle Sam’s service, Ced is in Alaska, Dick and Dave are still in school in Trumbull.

Judy Guion

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36 thoughts on “Guest Post – There’ll Be A Hot Time… by GPCox

  1. Absolutely great informative post, thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    It is amazing just how many entertainers from that era actually donated their time and effort to the entertainment of the troops, and went on to enlist and serve overseas.
    Excellent post.

  2. Onisha Ellis says:

    My mom claimed that she would wear out the soles on a pair of shoes in a single night of dancing.

  3. jfwknifton says:

    A really interesting post, thank you. American leisure habits had an enormous impact on English tastes, especially Glenn Miller, a brave man who I always think does not get the credit for the way he enlisted and came to an active war theatre to entertain the troops and air men.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      jfwknifton – Many entertainers were selfless in sharing their talent with the boys in uniform, both here and abroad. That say’s quite a bit about that generation.

  4. Gypsy Bev says:

    I live fairly close to the Dennison Depot and have been there a few times to get the feel of those war days. There’s also a story about it on my blog.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Gypsy Bev – Thank you for sharing this piece of history. I didn’t know one of these canteens still existed, but Dreamsville, USA is the real deal. Your post was fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      fuzzysdad01 – Thank you for the re-blog. I love sharing this “Slice of Life” with others and you have made it possible to share with a larger audience.

  5. Mrs. P says:

    Great post, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  6. pvcann says:

    My mother, who would have been about 12, talked about the wonderful music that US forces brought to the UK – swing, though it was probably on the radio too.

  7. Karen Evans says:

    Thanks, GP, for restoring great memories of stories from my father and mother during WWII. They met at one of these USO dances in Chicago and he saw her across a crowded room. He was in Officer’s training at the Navy’s Midshipmen’s school at Northwestern and she was an R.N. at a Chicago hospital. She later traveled to New York to see him off and they talked of how the nightclubs wined and dined the troops in patriotic pride and gratitude for their impending service.

  8. When I discovered the movie Stage Door Canteen, I never knew it was an actual place in NYC! I learned that in this post – which I’ve found very interesting. There’s also another film, I believe called Hollywood Canteen which I’ll assume was made from a USO in California. Those were awesome resources for the service guys away from home.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Jeanne – You are absolutely right. The young men serving during WWII needed diversions from their training and the thought that they would be going overseas. Socializing and entertainment centers across the country provided this much needed service.

  9. beetleypete says:

    Although they couldn’t compete with America, the British did a good job of entertaining themselves on the Home Front, throughout the war. My Mum loved to go dancing, so when the troops were home on leave, she would head to a dance hall with her sister and friends, and have a great night, with lots of different dance partners. She was only 16 when that started, but always safe, and respected too.
    She loved it when the Americans arrived in London, as they really knew how to dance. One of the most poignant things about that was when she was close to death, and confused by small strokes. Her last words to me were “Well I have to go now, I have a date to go dancing with an American soldier”. She had a massive secondary stroke the same night, and never spoke to me again.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Pete – What a wonderful testimony to the power of the social connection made in these types of places. If you read my Blog, you will find out that Lad met Marian in the South Pasadena Hospitality Center, in California, in January of 1943 and they were married by November. I would not be here without that place and this blog would not exist. I am truly thankful.

  10. Dan Antion says:

    I think this speaks to the spirit this country showed during the war. I don’t think that spirit could have been defeated.

    • jaggh53163 says:

      Dan – That spirit existed throughout the country because of the principles that were part of the heritage of the Greatest Generation: Responsibility, Duty, Honor, Respect, Loyalty and Perseverance. It was those traits, among the Allies, that won the war.

  11. SCLMRose says:

    Wonderful post. Thoroughly enjoy it. The USO did a good job entertaining the troops.

  12. GP Cox says:

    Reblogged this on Pacific Paratrooper and commented:
    I hope everyone enjoys this post as much as I did while writing it!!

  13. More essential enlightenment about what was going on over the pond. I once had an excellent recording of Ottilie Patterson singing the title song with Chris Barber’s jazz band.

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