A brief history of the USO of Indiana

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.

Union Station Canteen – Indianapolis

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.

Cadettes Regimen 1

In recent times, USO of Indianapolis maintained a center in the Indianapolis Airport but it was sporadically open. USO of Indianapolis leadership regrouped and reorganized. USO of Indianapolis was re-charted by USO headquarters in Arlington, Va., in 2007.  Our name was amended to USO of Indiana to incorporate responsibility throughout the state.

We increased our volunteer base so that the USO Airport Center could be open from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m. 365 days a year. USO of Indiana continued to grow and we opened our second USO center on post at Camp Atterbury, Edinburgh, Ind., in June of 2007.

In December 2010, USO of Indiana opened our third USO center at Muscatatuck Urban Training Center downstate close to North Vernon, Ind. In addition, USO of Indiana launched an Outreach Program to establish relationships and assist with events at military facilities throughout the state, including the Air National Guard facilities in Ft. Wayne and Terre Haute, Grissom Air Force Reserve Base in Peru, and Naval Operation and Marine Reserves at Heslar Naval Armory in Indianapolis.

During 2010, USO of Indiana served over 140,000 troops and conducted more than 100 events. We are a private, non-profit corporation, supported exclusively by donations and contributions made directly to us. USO of Indiana is mostly an all-volunteer organization and with low overhead, 99 percent of all donations go directly to troop support!

If you would like to make a difference and volunteer with USO of Indiana, visit our website to download a volunteer application or send an e-mail to usoindiana@att.net. Search for USO of Indiana on Facebook!

Come to the Indiana State Museum for Swing Out Indiana on Friday, May 20 from 7 to 11 p.m. and meet some of the USO volunteers. Learn how to swing from Naptown Stomp and join in with the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra for a 1940s Swing Dance.

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