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American Girls, Beer, and Glenn Miller

GI Morale in World War II

James J. Cooke

Publication Year: 2012

 "Cooke's examination of the Special Services and PX System during World War II, a subject previously overlooked by scholars, shows that these goods and services kept the armed forces' spirits up under the alienating conditions of global war."—Dennis Showalter, author of Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century 



As World War II dawned in Europe, General George C. Marshall, the new Army Chief of Staff, had to acknowledge that American society—and the citizens who would soon become soldiers—had drastically changed in the previous few decades. Almost every home had a radio, movies could talk, and driving in an automobile to the neighborhood soda fountain was part of everyday life. A product of newly created mass consumerism, the soldier of 1940 had expectations of material comfort, even while at war. Historian James J. Cooke presents the first comprehensive look at how Marshall’s efforts to cheer soldiers far from home resulted in the enduring morale services that the Army provides still today.


Marshall understood that civilian soldiers provided particular challenges and wanted to improve the subpar morale services that had been provided to Great War doughboys. Frederick Osborn, a civilian intellectual, was called to head the newly formed morale branch, which quickly became the Special Services Division. Hundreds of on-post movie theaters showing first-run movies at reduced prices, service clubs where GIs could relax, and inexpensive cafeterias were constructed. The Army Exchange System took direction under Brigadier General Joseph Byron, offering comfort items at low prices; the PX sold everything from cigarettes and razor blades to low-alcohol beer in very popular beer halls.


The great civic organizations—the YMCA, the Salvation Army, the Jewish Welfare Board, and others—were brought together to form the United Service Organizations (USO). At USO Camp Shows, admired entertainers like Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Frances Langford brought home-style entertainment to soldiers within the war zones. As the war heightened in intensity, the Special Service Companies grew to over forty in number, each containing more than one hundred enlisted men. Trained in infantry skills, soldiers in the companies at times would have to stop showing movies, pick up their rifles, and fight.


The Special Services Division, PX, and USO were crucial elements in maintaining GI morale, and Cooke’s work makes clear the lasting legacy of these efforts to boost the average soldier’s spirits almost a century ago. The idea that as American soldiers serve abroad, they should have access to at least some of the comforts of home has become a cultural standard.

Published by: University of Missouri Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-13

A half century has passed since the guns of Europe and Asia fell silent, and the number of military veterans and civilian participants slowly shrinks. It has taken five decades for many of those who fought to speak about what they did. Those of us who as children gathered tin cans and newspapers and...

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pp. 1-4

World War II was, of course, the seminal event of the twentieth century. The United States, and indeed the world, would never be the same again. American historians and commentators have written countless volumes describing the campaigns, battles, personalities, and complex allied diplomacy...

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1. The Abnormal Communities

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pp. 5-22

Corporal Elmer W. Sherwood had been in France for almost six months. His unit, the 150th Field Artillery Regiment, formally of the Indiana National Guard, was a part of the artillery brigade that served under the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. His unit, being trained by the French, was near the front to learn the ways of mortal combat...

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2. American Beer and American Girls

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pp. 23-39

Brigadier General Frederick Osborn, a giant of a man at six foot seven, towered over the four small but beautiful young women in his office in Washington. They seemed to be somewhat thinner and a bit more haggard than when he had first seen them. Mitzi Mayfair, Martha Raye, Kay Francis, and Carole Landis had just completed...

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3. 1943: Consolidation

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pp. 40-54

Private Keith Winston from Pennsylvania had been drafted into the army and would go into combat as a medic with the 100th Infantry Division in Europe. While in basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida, he found himself alone on Easter Day 1944. Somewhat homesick, he gravitated to the Service Club, and he wrote...

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4. Picadilly Lilly

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pp. 55-90

With the influx of soldiers into Fort Knox, Kentucky, the citizens of Louisville formed the Recreation Committee of the Louisville Defense Council to offer the new GIs places of wholesome and chaperoned entertainment. The committee published a weekly sheet, the Entertainment News, which indicated where the troops could go...

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5. A One-Man Band

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pp. 91-109

Camp McCain was built in a rural area of Mississippi near the town of Grenada and about a hundred miles from Memphis, Tennessee, over winding, two-lane roads. In the summer the heat and humidity were intense, but Camp McCain had large wooded areas in which to train the men of the 87th Infantry Division. Special Services came to the North Mississippi...

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6. 1944: Invasions and Frustrations

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pp. 110-126

There was no question that Marshall wanted something done about the state of morale activities in the Pacific theater, and General Osborn returned to the area to set a course for morale expansion. Generals fussed and ordered, and colonels scurried about to see that General Marshall or General Osborn did his great work to win...

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7. “Unnecessarily Unsatisfactory”

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pp. 127-141

Bob Hope and Frances Langford were two of the most famous entertainers in the United States, and in 1943 they traveled to England and North Africa to entertain American soldiers and airmen. Their schedule of events had been coordinated by the Special Services officer and his staff in the American Supreme Headquarters and approved...

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8. Movies, Doughnuts, and M1 Rifles

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pp. 142-159

From D-Day, June 6, 1944, and well into the late fall of the year, the Special Services had to react to a fluid situation. Special Services companies could not operate in France until Allied troops had cleared the German army to the Seine River. What the troops did have was the Special Services radio, and often it was the only touch of home...

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9. Aftermath, 1945–48

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pp. 160-178

On February 24, 1945, two enlisted men from the 2nd Special Services Company joined the 112th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division to show movies to the troops resting from heavy combat. The Special Services officer told Technician Fourth Class Backmurski that the troops would welcome movies and the two GIs should find...

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pp. 179-181

The war was over, and GIs marveled at the massive destruction in Germany. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment was sent to Berlin, which was well within the Russian zone of control. There really was not much to do except man checkpoints and try to maintain at least correct relations with the Russians who had taken this...


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pp. 183-194


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pp. 195-199


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pp. 201-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272843
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826219848

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2012