For the Memories: Pentagon Dedicates USO Corridor
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6, 2000 The stars have come out to entertain America's troops for nearly six decades. Now, the military has created a lasting tribute to the United Services Organization that makes it all possible.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen opened a corridor exhibit honoring the USO here Nov. 2. He said the nonprofit organization's volunteers serve as "a bridge like no other, connecting the military with America.
Janet Langhart Cohen (left, front), Defense Secretary William S. Cohen, retired Army Gen. John H. Tilelli, president of the United Services Organization, and David O. 'Doc' Cooke, DoD's diorector of administration and management, join two ribbons at a ceremony marking the opening of the USO Corridor in the Pentagon on Nov. 2, 2000. The display commemorates the close relationship between the Defense Department and the USO. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel, DoD.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The USO reconnects "our men and women in uniform with the home we asked them to leave in order that the rest of us remain secure," said Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The exhibit highlights well-known celebrities like Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Henry Fonda and many others, as well as ordinary Americans. These volunteers, Myers noted, "are simply giving something back" to the troops deployed to world trouble spots.
The USO volunteers bring "a needed human touch to war's essential inhumanity," he said. "They show the impact of the USO's efforts on the spirit of our warriors, helping them give in to laughter rather than give way to loneliness and despair.
The exhibit's opening at the Pentagon sparkled like a Hollywood premier. Red carpet led to an Academy-award style stage. Two high-tech, Plexiglas podiums atop circular pedestals formed a portal to the display hidden behind red velvet curtains. Satin ropes held photographers and film crews in line.
Three beauty pageant winners of USO Troupe 2000 performed show tunes and Lee Greenwood's patriotic country classic, "God Bless the USA." Veteran actors Mickey Rooney, Gerald McRaney, NFL star Terry Bradshaw, Hollywood's honorary mayor Johnny Grant and billionaire H. Ross Perot then stepped from the audience to join the ceremony's hosts.
Cohen, his wife Janet Langhart Cohen, and Retired Army Gen. John H. Tilelli, who now serves as the USO's president, "joined" a red and a blue ribbon. The "ribbon joining symbolized the close partnership between the Defense Department and USO. Cohen and Tilelli also signed a memorandum of understanding formally renewing the relationship.
Cohen and Tilelli both thanked Langhart Cohen for initiating and coordinating the exhibit produced by Office of the Secretary of Defense graphic arts specialists. Tilelli welcomed Langhart Cohen's recent decision to join the USO's board of governors and hailed her as "the First Lady of the USO, now and into the future."
The veteran of nearly 40 years military service then spoke of his respect for the volunteers who entertain and support U.S. troops around the globe. Thanking Rooney, Grant and the other celebrities there, Tilelli noted that they "epitomize the thousands of stars -- volunteers all," who go into harm's way, giving of their time and talent to entertain the troops.
"The USO is not about buildings, it's not about stars, it's not about facilities, events and centers," Tilelli said. "It's about America's sons and daughters who serve with character and courage around the world. They deserve all we can give them and more. We do not give them enough for their service to us who benefit from their sacrifice."
The USO, he pledged, will continue to serve "as long as America needs our service, and as long as American men and women are in harm's way, and that's every day they serve, not just during crisis and during war."
Rooney, barely holding back tears, humbly said, "I'm so proud to be here in the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. I wear the Bronze Star and I wear it proudly," he said. Then pausing to regain his composure, in a trembling voice he went on to say, "something that my nation gave to me."
The USO has done wonderful things for America's youth in uniform, said the 79-year-old actor who served three years during World War II as a U.S. Army private. "Yes, they truly are giants, like the men and women in our Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, Coast Guard."
When it was his turn at the podium, Johnny Grant, the honorary mayor of Hollywood and a veteran of 54 overseas USO tours, told the Pentagon audience that actors and performers live on applause. "When you do your first G.I. show," he said, "you're hooked for life."
He told of a letter he got in 1952 from a young soldier in a hospital back home after serving in Korea. Grant said the soldier wrote: "'Dear Johnny, I want to thank you and your USO friends for coming over to Korea. You did as much good over here as us guys with the rifles. Morale is the emotion that tells you how you feel about yourself and you made us feel mighty good.'"
Thanking the Cohens for creating the exhibit, Grant said, "Mr. Secretary, in 50 years, I've heard a lot of promises. You've pulled them through. We're in the morale business. I bring you a message from Hollywood, we're behind you and we're ready to go."
For more information on the USO go to www.uso.org.