So this weekend my girlfriend and I drove up to Makawao and walked around town. One of our stops was the Makawao History Museum, which is displaying a new exhibit on the old USO [United Services Organizations] Crossroads Club that was housed in what is now Casanova during World War II. It’s a tiny exhibit, but then again, it’s part of a tiny museum, so it all balances out.
The USO operated thousands of clubs around the world during the war–both in the U.S. and at overseas bases. There, service members could relax and take their minds off the war–either what they’d already experienced, or what the future may hold. They could read, listen to music or the radio, play a musical instrument or play ping-pong. Though a yellowed, typewritten list of club rules that’s now part of the museum exhibit shows it wasn’t all fun and games:
• Boys will not be permitted to bring any civilians into the U.S.O. building.
• Absolutely no gambling will be allowed.
• No music, records, magazines or furnishings are to leave the building.
• No food sold or served, except on Managing Committee’s approval.
• No dances, religious services or civilian gatherings of any kind will be held in the building.
Of course, at a time when the U.S. military was rigidly segregated along racial lines, it was nice to see this note posted on that same list of rules:
• Any negro soldier entering the U.S.O. has same privileges as any other soldier or sailor.
To be honest, it was probably the USO hostesses that held the most interest for servicemen visiting the club. Being a combat soldier, sailor, aviator or marine in the American military in the early 1940s was still almost exclusively a male occupation, so female companionship would have been highly prized. The stories of the young women who served as hostesses were as varied as you’d imagine, but in her 2008 book Good Girls, Good Food, Good Fun: The Story of USO Hostesses During World War II, author Meghan K. Winchell quoted Bettelee Zhan, a San Francisco club hostess whose experiences were probably more universal than we’d like to think:
We found it a little uncomfortable when [servicemen] were not as nice as we thought they should be. I [did] not like them if they [gave me] a swat on the rear end… of if their hand [came] too far around to the front [of my body]. There were some things we just didn’t want to have to put up with, [so] after the music was over we could say thank you and say we had to go check in. We would just not be available to dance with them again. [Chaperones] would say we had to help behind tables, but they never confronted [the servicemen] with anything, because the whole idea was for them to have fun, but we felt protected. I thought that was a nice way to do [it]. Some of [the servicemen] would have been crushed if they had been confronted.
If that all seems a tad unfair to the women who worked as hostesses, then you’d be right, as Winchell dryly noted in her book. “The women’s acceptance of this behavior made it possible for male soldiers and sailors to move on to the next hostess, if they chose, and repeat the same offensive behavior,” Winchell wrote. “In sum, both juniors and seniors safeguarded the feelings and masculinity of servicemen who might have been ‘crushed’ if someone questioned their rude conduct. In doing so, junior hostesses sacrificed their own comfort because it would have been unpatriotic and selfish to shame a serviceman.”
Anyway, like all good museum exhibits, the USO Crossroads Club display at the Makawao History Museum forces you to think and use your imagination, and that’s a good thing. The museum is located at 3642 Baldwin Ave. in Makawao. It’s open day from 10am to 5pm, and admission is free. Go to Makawaomuseum.org for more information.
Photo courtesy Makawao History Museum