I’ll bet you didn’t know that “back in the day” I was a USO Girl.  Well, actually, we were the Bloomington, IL, chapter of the GSO (Girls Service Organization).  We volunteered our time at the Rantoul, IL, USO, hosting functions and putting on dances to help entertain our troops.

I had some friends that were in the GSO and wanted to join.  You can imagine my Dad’s reaction!  His “little girl” around all those “randy servicemen”?  Not in HIS lifetime!!  But, then he talked with a friend whose wife had been in the GSO when she was young.  After visiting……often……with her about the idea and her experiences, he finally relented and let me “try” it for a while.  There was NO turning back!

Working the USO booth at Air ShowMiss Lucy was our USO director and was she ever strict!  We came to the club in groups and we left town immediately after the functions the same way…in a group!  When dancing to a slow song, there had to be 6″ between the dancers……and Miss Lucy was known to “measure”!  We danced with every airman no matter how badly he danced and if one was standing against the wall “just watching”, we were charged with going to him and convincing him to join in the “festivities”!!  No “wall flowers” allowed on Miss Lucy’s watch!

Miss Lucy and CliffOur skirts had to be at least even wtih the knee.  If there was any doubt, you got on the floor on your knees and the dress/skirt had better touch the floor!  No slacks or jeans, either!  We were young “ladies” and we would dress and act the part or we would go home before we ever saw a airman!!  Your whole group left……not just the one with the improper clothing!  Talk about peer pressure!  No one was going home just because a friend wouldn’t obey the rules.

Talking with DennyMiss Lucy was classy and obviously cared deeply for the servicemen, but, she also cared for her girls!  Since we were from out of town, we weren’t supposed to be in Rantoul between functions unless there was a USO-sponsored event or we were with our parents.  But, if it started snowing or the weather turned bad, we weren’t allow to leave either.  Our parents were called, cots were setup in the auditorium, airmen were dispatched to get blankets (oooooh! Sleeping with a blanket smelling of your favorite airman’s aftershave!), and breakfast was served in the USO canteen the next morning before you were sent safely on your way.  By the way, Miss Lucy didn’t go home, either……she didn’t trust us……or the airmen……that much!!

Discussing photography with an airmanWhen we attended the National GSO convention in Rhode Island, our delegation was considered stuffy and old-fashioned. We weren’t allowed to drink, party-hardy, and DEFINITELY not allowed to bring servicemen back to the hotel with us. There was even (gasp!!) roll call to make sure we were all accounted for when we got back to the hotel and again in the morning.  I’m pretty sure Miss Lucy even checked in on us after we went to sleep……just in case one of us thought we could fool her!!  Actually, that was okay with us.  For most of us, this was our first big trip from home without our families.  It was nice to know we were with family……safe and sound in a big town with people that cared about us.

We learned to respect ourselves as much as we respected others.  We learned WHY we were there, and it wasn’t just to meet some cute airmen! It was to give all the service personnel a taste of home……remind them of the girl next door……listen when they needed to talk……help them write letters and maybe even help mend some fences with their families.

Yes, Miss Lucy was strict and waaaaaaaaay behind the times.  But, we respected and loved her.  Our parents appreciated her.  We learned so much about what life should be like from her.  And, because of her and the GSO, we became better people with life-long friends and memories we’ve never forgotten.

7 Responses to GSO and USO

  1. John Wareing says:

    Somewhere I have a picture of me when I used to dj the dances at the Rantoul USO in ’62 and ’63.
    I dj-ed so I wouldn’t have to dance.
    Is that when you were around there?

    John Wareing
    Tucson, Arizona

  2. Judith Loubris Mc Carthy says:

    Hi I was a member of the Charlestown, Ma. branch of the G.S.O. during the late 60’s.

  3. Judith Loubris Mc Carthy says:

    i again. I have a lot of pictures from time. It was a great and safe place to go. Met a lot of nice guys and girls there. my mother didn’t mind me joining and she let me have parties at my house. The guys loved my mother and grandmother. I think it made them feel like they were home again. Lost contact with most of the girls except for a couple who I still hear from.

    • carole says:

      It’s great to hear from another GSO girl (we can still call ourselves girls, right?). I’ve lost touch with all the members of our club. We weren’t a large club and a few marriages and a couple of moves pretty much broke us up.

      Wasn’t it wonderful to have that kind of safe fun place to go? And, we really did help the airman. Like you, I have lots of pictures. Just wish we’d had digital cameras then!  Once my Dad got over his initial response of “no way”, my parents were great about the whole experience. Some of the girls would spend the night and on holidays there were usually “stranded” airmen sitting at our table.

      One of the guys and his family stayed at our house for a few days before leaving for Texas when they got transferred. Then, when we moved to Texas many years later, they were still here and I stayed with their daughter while I looked for a house for our family. So funny to be staying with someone I had only known as a little girl and feeling like there hadn’t been a day we weren’t together.

      Thank you so much for sharing your memories. It’s nice to know there are others out there with some of the same memories.

  4. Larry Girard says:

    I DJ’d a lot of the dances at the Chanute USO in early 1969 – in fact, I even got them to let me “update” the record collection. I still managed to get some dances in with some of the girls.

    When I returned to Chanute for 7 Level school I worked with the USO again – Lucy was still there, but things had changed. No more buses – the girls came in their own vehicles and were known to party after-hours with the troops.

    It was a good time, all around.

  5. Donna Klimowski says:

    It was good reading other’s experience with the GSO. I joined the one in Philadelphia in 1969. Ours was a little different than what I read here. We were stationary in the first floor of the downtown YMCA and open all day, only had dances on Friday and Sunday nights in our facility and went to a local ballroom on Saturday night and the servicemen were bused in from local Navy, Army and Air Force bases in PA, NJ, and DE — we even entertained a visiting French Naval ship during my time there! And our rules were as strict as Miss Lucy’s, including one even more strict…no dating any serviceman. Our servicemen were in Philly as a last stop before Ft Dix and departure to Viet Nam, so it was more of a canteen to sit and talk or play cards with the “girl next door” during their short stay in the evenings when passing through Philly. Oh, we did have a large Naval base not far from downtown and some of the sailors were billeted there while their ships were in repair in the yards, but usually at work during the day. I worked in Philly during the day, so spending a few hours after work with some someone from Wyoming and his buddies talking or listening to the jukebox (and in some cases teaching them a line dance that was so popular at the time) was rewarding and so much fun. I did quit when I met a very persistent sailor who came back for slow dance after slow dance (about every 8th song) and turned him down numerous times for a date — not because he was obnoxious — but because I was attracted to him, too! We’ve been happily married for 44 years and 42 of those was his time with the Navy and mine working at the military bases where we were stationed or lived when he left active duty. I have super great memories of all those I have met and my short time (3 yrs) with the GSO!

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