Home Front Organizations and Services

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Home Front Organizations and Services

During the war years two civilian organizations provided fundamental support for U.S. soldiers and their families: the American Red Cross and the United Service Organizations (USO). These organizations had centers throughout the United States and carried out their activities with the help of millions of volunteers. Each organization also had centers overseas, as near to the U.S. troops as possible. By providing relief and comfort, the Red Cross and the USO bolstered morale on the home front and on the front lines. Responsibility for maintaining the physical health of military personnel and the American public fell to the U.S. Public Health Service. During the war years the Public Health Service concentrated its efforts on treating warrelated diseases and maintaining adequate vaccines for Americans at home.

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross, founded by Clara Barton (18211912) in 1881, established the following goals as its mission: to care for sick and wounded soldiers during wartime, to help U.S. military personnel overseas communicate with their families, and to provide relief during natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and fires. During World War II (193945), the Red Cross was the largest civilian organization providing vital services to military personnel and their families. By 1945, the last year of the war, the Red Cross had 36.7 million adult members, 19.9 million Junior Red Cross members, 7.5 million volunteers, and 24,378 paid staff. Almost every household in the United States participated in some way in Red Cross activities. Between 1941 and 1946, when the average yearly U.S. family income was roughly $3,000, Americans contributed about $785 million to the Red Cross war fund. Each year contributions exceeded goals set by the Red Cross.

American Red Cross Wartime Statistics

The following table comes from the Red Cross Web site at http://www.redcross.org/museum/ww2a.html.

Total contributions received during war years$784,992,995
Greatest number of chapters (1943 and 1944)3,757
Greatest number of adult members (1945)36,645,333
Greatest number of Junior Red Cross members (1945)19,905,400
Greatest number of volunteers (1945)7,500,700
Greatest number of paid staff (1945)24,378
Number of Red Cross certified nurses in service with the military71,000
Number of service personnel receiving Red Cross aid16,113,000
Messages between military personnel and families42,000,000
Families aided by the Home Service1,700,000
Tons of supplies shipped overseas300,460
Pints of blood collected for military use13,400,000
Number of blood donors6,600,000
Number of foreign countries where Red Cross operatedmore than 50
American Red Cross war casualties (deaths)male52
American Red Cross war casualties (deaths)female34

Services to the Armed Forces (SAF)

SAF was a division of the Red Cross that focused on the well-being of military personnel, both in the United States and abroad. SAF assistance was generally delivered by paid staff and was divided into several categories: Camp Service, Home Service, Club Service, and Hospital Service. Through the Camp Service program, the Red Cross sent 3,250 field directors and assistant field directors to live wherever military personnel were based. Camp Service workers maintained mail services on base so military personnel could communicate with their families They also kept soldiers informed of any difficulties their families were encountering, provided counseling, and aided families with grants and loans in cases of emergency.

Home Service staff members were in constant contact with Camp Service personnel to facilitate communication between family members and troops. Like Camp personnel, they provided guidance counseling and emergency financial aid to military families struggling at home. If a family member became gravely ill or died on the home front, Home Service workers were often the ones to deliver the news to the serviceman. They also helped military families and soldiers by explaining health benefits and pensions. In addition, Home Service personnel helped military officials decide when a discharge or furlough (leave of absence from military duty) was necessary. The Red Cross estimates that its Home Service program aided forty-two million (mostly written) communications between military personnel and their families and provided some $38 million in emergency financial aid.

The Club Service of SAF offered rest and recreation to U.S. troops in the European and Pacific war zones. The Club Service operated both large and small clubs. For example, the Rainbow Corner Club in London, England, was open twenty-four hours a day, had overnight facilities, and could serve sixty thousand meals a day. Donut Dugouts were much smaller operations,

providing doughnuts and coffee to U.S. military camps. The Club Service also maintained special clubs for soldiers who were suffering from psychological stress, sometimes called combat fatigue. Soldiers were assigned to these clubs by their military service.

The Hospital Service division of SAF provided social workers and recreational activities at all military hospitals, including veterans hospitals, in the United States and overseas. Hospital Service social workers offered psychiatric assistance, identifying problems related to an injured soldier's recovery, confidentially consulting with families at home concerning their soldier's mental state, and helping medical staff members determine the best course of action for each individual. With the help of many volunteers, the Hospital Service also provided recreational activities for recovering soldiers, from card games to movies to small theatrical productions. These activities speeded recovery and contributed to the well-being of the soldiers.

Volunteer Special Services

Volunteer Special Services, also called the Volunteer Corps, was another division of the Red Cross. It provided home front services with the help of millions of volunteers throughout the country. The Volunteer Corps had eleven different programs to utilize Americans' generosity and desire to help. The largest program by far was the Production Corps. At its peak in 194243, more than three and a half million volunteers repaired pieces of military clothing, wound rolls of bandages for military use, and packed boxes of personal care and comfort items for U.S. and Allied soldiers and civilian war victims. Production Corps members across the country, many of them wives, mothers, and daughters of servicemen, gathered together to work on their assigned tasks. As they worked, they shared stories of how they coped with loved ones being far away and discussed the daily challenges they faced at home, such as food shortages and rationing. Another vital volunteer corps was the Motor Corps. Women made up the bulk of this corps. They drove their own cars more than 61 million miles throughout the United States, transporting supplies, nurses, and volunteers to various posts and moving sick and wounded soldiers to hospitals and home. The Red Cross estimates that forty-five thousand women participated in the Motor Corps. Many of them took courses to learn how to repair and maintain their cars.

Three more large volunteer programs were the Canteen Corps, the Staff Assistance Corps, and the Volunteer Nurses Aide Corps. The Canteen Corps, 105,571 volunteers strong in 194243, served coffee, doughnuts, meals, and snacks to traveling troops at railroad stations, airports, and embarkation posts; they also served personnel at military bases and people donating blood at Red Cross donor centers. On its Web site, www.redcross.org, the Red Cross reports that the Canteen Corps served "163 million cups of coffee, 254 million doughnuts, and 121 million meals" during the World War II years. The Staff Assistance Corps provided office or clerical support at all Red Cross facilities. The Volunteer Nurses Aide Corps provided assistance in twenty-five hundred civilian and military hospitals. Their help was especially valuable because nurses were in short supply on the home front. Members of the Hospital and Recreation Corps served at more than one thousand military and veterans hospitals. They read to patients, helped them write letters home, shopped for personal care items, and staffed recreation facilities.

The three smallest corps under Volunteer Special Services were the Arts and Skills Corps (volunteers who helped rehabilitate wounded soldiers), the Volunteer Dietitians Aide Corps (people who provided assistance in hospital dietary departments), and the Braille Corps (volunteers who copied books and magazines into Braille for the blind); the Braille Corps disbanded in 1942, when more advanced transcription methods came into use. Rounding out the eleven Volunteer Special Services programs were the Administration Corps (volunteers who oversaw and directed all the corps programs) and the Home Service Corps (volunteers working in the SAF Home Service division).

Specialized Wartime Services

Specialized Wartime Services filled specific wartime needs. The two largest programs were the Blood Donor Service and the War Funds campaign. The U.S. military asked the American Red Cross to begin a blood donor service in January 1941. By September 1945 thirty-five donor centers and sixty-three mobile units, operated by paid Red Cross medical personnel, had collected 13.4 million pints of blood. The wartime donor service continued after the war, and at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Red Cross was still the largest blood donor service in the United States.

The War Funds campaign set fundraising goals each year from 1941 through 1946 to support its war programs, and contributions exceeded goals every year. During those years

the total goal was $675 million, but Americans contributed almost $785 million to support the many Red Cross programs.

Another program under Specialized Wartime Services responded to the urgent needs of 1.4 million U.S. and Allied prisoners of war in European camps. Volunteers at centers in Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia,

and St. Louis assembled over twenty-seven million packages, mostly food packages measuring a specific 10 inches by 10 inches by 4.5 inches and weighing 11 pounds. The food packages contained foods that would not spoil, such as dried fruits, canned meats, and dried milk. Unfortunately packages were not utilized in the Pacific war zone, because Japanese authorities refused to cooperate. Civilian War Relief, a similar program in the Specialized Services division, distributed relief goods worth over $152 million to the people of warravaged Europe. At the end of the war when prisoners of war were released, their unused relief packages were included in these civilian distributions.

Other programs of the Specialized Services included Victory Book Campaigns, which collected reading material for soldiers, and Aid to Rescued Seamen and Evacuees, which helped victims whose vessels had sunk at sea and civilian evacuees from other countries. Another program, called War Brides, helped foreign wives of U.S. soldiers adjust to life in the United States; about sixty-five thousand foreign women married American servicemen overseas and came to the United States during World War II. Finally, a service called Civilian War Aid established 49,700 shelters across the country that could feed and house millions of Americans if the U.S. mainland was attacked.

War-Related Services

Some services provided by the Red Cross were related directly to battlefront activities. One of the most important duties of the Red Cross during the war was recruiting and certifying nurses for military service. The Nursing Service provided nurses for the Army Nurse Corps and the Navy Nurse Corps. Approximately 90 percent of military nurses, both on the home front and abroad, came through the Nursing Service.

In the late twentieth century the First Aid and Water Safety program taught millions of American youths how to swim and millions of adults how to administer first aid. During the war years this program was in charge of teaching soldiers, sailors, and airmen how to escape from a sinking ship or plane. Program staff members taught servicemen how to swim carrying full packs and amid burning fuel. Later in the war the program provided rehabilitation swimming activities for wounded soldiers.

Programs for Youth and Young Adults

Still other programs provided means for those too young or otherwise not serving in the military to fully participate in Red Cross activities. By 1945 approximately 75 percent of U.S. schoolchildren were members of the Junior Red Cross. Children and teens were just as eager as adults to do their part for the war effort, and the Red Cross provided an excellent avenue. The Junior Red Cross had local branches that held regular meetings. Members assembled comfort boxes (boxes containing food and other items familiar to the servicemen to remind them of home) for soldiers, gathered metal for scrap drives, and helped adult Red Cross groups with other war-related activities. They also concentrated on helping children in war-torn Europe by sending gift boxes and raising money for the National Children's Fund, an organization providing aid to distressed children worldwide. For college-age youth, 187 colleges and universities offered College Red Cross Units. Students enthusiastically volunteered for various Red Cross

programs and raised money for the War Funds campaign.

In the twenty-first century the Red Cross is primarily recognized as a blood collection agency and a disaster response organization. During World War II, however, it provided daily assistance to civilians and soldiers alike, on the home front and overseas. Red Cross services affected the lives of millions of Americans during the war

years, sustaining them through difficult and dangerous times.

United Service Organizations (USO)

Beginning in 1940 the number of Americans in the military escalated rapidly. Only fifty thousand strong in 1940, U.S. troops numbered twelve million by the end of 1944. Many of the troops were young men who were away from home for the first time. During leave time they needed places to gather for recreation and friendship. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (18821945; served 193345) asked private groups in local communities to provide for the soldiers' needs. Answering the president's call were six well-established civilian organizations: National Catholic Community Services, the National Jewish Welfare Board, the National Travelers Aid Association, the Salvation Army, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA), and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Together they formed a nonprofit, private organization called United Service Organizations (USO). USO was not a government agency and was totally

Four-Legged Recruits

During World War II the U.S. military needed a few good dogs. Actually, the military needed thousands of very good dogs. The U.S. Army and Coast Guard recruited many canines through a New York City organization called Dogs for Defense (DFD). DFD members were patriotic civilian dog lovers ready to enlist their pets for wartime service. Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany. and Japan had been breeding and training dogs in war duties for many years. Germany and Japanenemies of the Allies during the warwere believed to have canine armies totaling at least 150,000 dogs.

In the 1940s about twelve million dogs lived in the United States. Many of their owners filled out official enrollment applications to see if their dogs would be accepted for military service. The application required the owner's signature and the dog's paw print. The Coast Guard accepted only German shepherds. The army accepted various breeds, including Airedales, Afghans, boxers, Dalmatians, Dobermans, Newfoundlands, and German shepherds. Like every soldier, each dog had to pass a physical. Dogs in the best of health were then sent to war dog training camps. One of the largest camps was located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Another was near Philadelphia.

The war dog training camps were rather plush, at least by dog standards. Each canine teamed up with his or her

trainer, an army or Coast Guard soldier. Each day they drilled together, at first learning basic commands and then learning specific skills they would use for their assigned duty. Each dog had his or her own wooden kennel house; trainers returned the dogs to their kennels by late afternoon, when the much-anticipated food wagon rolled through the dog village. Trainers fed, played with, petted, and brushed their dogs. They gave baths and pedicures, and if it was rainy, they carefully rubbed their dogs dry at bedtime. Veterinarians provided the best of care.

Picturing dogs in basic training brought smiles to Americans' faces, but training days at dog camp were as serious and strict as any boot camps for human soldiers. Some of the best trainers early on were naturalized U.S. citizens who had served as dog trainers for European armies during World War I (191418). They shared their extensive knowledge with army and Coast Guard soldiers so the soldiers could serve as dog trainers in the camps. Dogs could be trained for four different duties. On the home front they were usually put on guard duty or patrol duty. Usually drawing night duty and rarely spotted by the general public, guard dogs and their army trainers watched over storage depots, port areas, bridges, and factories. The Coast Guard used patrol dogs extensively to patrol beaches from Maine to Florida, around the Gulf of Mexico, and along the western coastline up to Oregon and Washington. Each patrol dog went out every night with a Coast Guard sentry, the same person who had trained the dog since boot camp. Together they walked the lonely beaches. Guard and patrol dogs were friendly tail-waggers by day, but while they were on duty, they were suspicious of anyone other than their trainers at base camp.

Dogs could also be trained as messengers or as locators, for service on the battlefield. These dogs were taught to be totally loyal to their trainers, who provided food, play, and shelter. At dog war camp they learned to maneuver through and over obstacles, to ignore cats, squirrels, and other live distractions, and to not fear the sound of firing guns and explosions, which they would have to endure on the front lines. They learned to follow trails or scents, leave messages, and return to their trainers.

Messenger dogs wore leather collars fitted with small hollow aluminum tubes that could carry messages. Messages were generally orders from base camps to the front lines; on the return trip, dogs would deliver soldiers' requests to the base camp. Dogs traveled much faster than men, ran silently and low to the ground, and were a much less likely target than a soldier would be.

Locator dogs were sent out to search for wounded soldiers. Each dog had a short stick, known as a "brinsell," attached to his or her collar. If a locator dog found a wounded soldier, the dog would return to base camp with the brinsell in his or her mouth. Seeing this signal, soldiers at base camp would take a stretcher and follow the dog back to the wounded man. Many wounded soldiers returned home ready to tell the story of how they were saved by a canine in the U.S. Army.

funded by gifts from citizens and businesses. However, the president of the United States was its honorary chairman, and the organization would work closely with the military to look after the welfare, spirits, and recreational needs of America's military personnel. The USO billed itself as delivering a "touch of home" for every soldier. Volunteers from local communities located buildings in their towns that could be turned into USO clubs. Church basements, unused houses and stores, existing clubs of all sorts, even museums and barns were turned into USO facilities. Given the strong patriotic unity within the United States at the time, USOs always had plenty of volunteers. Everyone was interested in the welfare of American soldiers. Local young women, carefully screened for their moral character, served as hostesses and dance partners. Like the military, the USO segregated soldiers by race. There were USO facilities for white soldiers and separate USOs for black soldiers.

Air Carrier Contract Personnel

The commercial airline business was still in its infancy at the beginning of World War II (193945). Most ordinary Americans had never been on a commercial flight, but they were excited about the possibility of one day boarding a shiny silver plane and flying across the country. However, the shiny silver commercial airplane all but disappeared from civilian airports by the early 1940s. Most planes had been painted a dull military grey and pressed into military service. The majority of commercial pilots, navigators, radio operators, and maintenance workers had become part of the Air Carrier Contract Personnel of the U.S. Army Air Forces Air Transport Command (all air force duties were carried out by the army at that time; the U.S. Air Force was not established until 1947). The commercial airmen helped the army train pilots and develop a worldwide transport system for troops and supplies. During the war they could be found at home front bases and at Allied bases overseas. Eventually they organized an air transport system larger than the combined U.S. military and U.S. civilian airline systems as they existed prior to the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941.

Soldiers who went to any USO found warmth, smiles, and friendship. Coffee and doughnuts were always on hand at every USO. Besides snacking, soldiers could eat a full meal, read a favorite magazine, see a movie, dance, and socialize. USOs also had quiet areas for letter writing or, if a soldier desired it, religious counseling. By 1944 there were three thousand USOs in communities across the country, usually close to a military base or sometimes actually on the base. The first overseas USO, for American soldiers abroad, was established in Rome, Italy, in 1943. It was known as a "USO Canteen." Soon volunteers set up USOs worldwide, in every outpost where it was feasible. Some USO facilities were large, and some were tiny.

In October 1941 USO established Camp Shows, Inc. Through this program, entertainers volunteered to put on shows for soldiers at USO centers. Between 1941 and 1947 more than seven thousand entertainers performed live for soldiers at USOs in the United States and overseas. Comedian Bob Hope (19032003) made his first overseas USO Camp Show tour in 1942. Hope would continue participating in USO tours for five decades. By 1947 U.S. soldiers worldwide had been treated to an amazing 428,521 USO shows.

At the end of World War II, USO estimated that 1.5 million volunteers had given their time, encouragement, and friendship to soldiers at USO centers. On December 31, 1947, President Harry S. Truman (18841972; served 194553) gave the USO an "honorable discharge," and all its facilities were closed. However, USO reactivated during the Korean War (195053) and continued its mission into the twenty-first century. In 2003 USO operated twenty-one centers worldwide plus five mobile centers. The USO World Headquarters is in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Public Health Service

In 1939 President Roosevelt moved the U.S. Public Health Service under the Federal Security Agency and gave it responsibility for the health of all U.S. military personnel and civilians. The Public Health Service worked closely with the army and navy to control diseases associated with military service. Deployment overseas exposed soldiers to malaria, typhus, and tuberculosis; soldiers also contracted sexually transmitted diseases, on the home front and abroad. The Public Health Service established major research and development programs to study disease control, and many home front scientists and medical personnel labored to find practical prevention and treatment for these diseases. Much of the research was carried out at the National Institutes of Health main campus in Bethesda, Maryland. The Public Health Service also maintained the nation's supply of vaccines for military and civilian use. The Communicable Disease Center, later called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was formed after the war, in 1946, and was an out-growth of Public Health Service studies.

Public Health Service research included studies of illness among American war industry workers. The chemicals and metal materials used in war production factories were highly toxic and led to illness and disease in many workers. Investigations to learn about occupational hazards were part of the industrial health program within the Public Health Service.

The Public Health Service worked closely with many government war agencies to protect workers on the job. For example, it coordinated with the War Production Board (to minimize hazards to workers), the War Manpower Commission (to ensure placement of workers in jobs suitable to their physical abilities), the War Shipping Administration (to monitor conditions aboard crowded oceangoing vessels), and the Office of Civil Defense (to protect civilian lives and property from attack). In fall 1943 the Public Health Service established the Division of Nurse Training to address a critical nationwide shortage of nursing staff. The army and navy were requesting twenty-five hundred additional nurses each month, leaving home front hospitals desperately short on personnel. The nurse training division aimed to recruit sixty-five thousand new cadet nurses and offered refresher courses for those wishing to return to a nursing career.

For More Information


Andrews, Maxene. Over Here, Over There: The Andrews Sisters and the USO Stars in World War II. New York: Kensington Publishing, 1993.

Hurd, Charles. The Compact History of the American Red Cross. New York: Hawthorne Books, 1959.

Warren, James R. The War Years: A Chronicle of Washington State in World War II. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000.


King, Elizabeth W. "Heroes of Wartime Science and Mercy." National Geographic Magazine (December 1943): pp. 715739.

Simpich, Frederick. "Your Dog Joins Up." National Geographic Magazine (January 1943): pp. 93113.

Web Sites

American Red Cross. www.redcross.org (accessed on July 14, 2004).

National Library of Medicine. http://www.nlm.nih.gov (accessed on July 14, 2004).

United Service Organizations. http://www.uso.org (accessed on July 14, 2004).