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!
Miss 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!
Our 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.
Miss 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!!
When 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.