by Robert D. Legacy, Vice President USO Indiana
In 1940, America’s military was rapidly growing in response to the increasing threat which preceded entry into World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt challenged six private organizations — the YMCA, YWCA, National Catholic Community Service, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the Traveler’s Aid Association and the Salvation Army — to handle the on-leave recreation needs for members of the Armed Forces. The six organizations pooled their resources and the United Service Organizations — which quickly became known as the USO — was incorporated in New York State on Feb. 4, 1941.
Here in Indianapolis, the first center for uniformed men opened on Wabash Street on May 22, 1941. It was called The Army, Navy, and Marine Service Club and was located in a converted freight house under the auspices of the Indianapolis Parks Board. The Works Project Administration supplied the labor to convert the building and the community donated the furnishings. By Nov. 1, 1941, an average of 2,000 men visited the Club each week.
Soon it was obvious that one center would not be enough. The Union Station Canteen opened on Dec, 22, 1941, followed by the Illinois Street Center on July 8, 1942. The facilities were incorporated into the Indianapolis Service Men’s Centers in late July 1942. Subsequent to this incorporation, the Senate Avenue Center opened. And finally, The Robert Park Center made its debut in the spring of 1943.