USO a constant for 65 years
April 23,2006

In October 1976, Pvt. Michael Brown walked with three of his buddies from the supply school at Camp Johnson to the United Services Organization building on Tallman Street.

It remains a two-mile walk, but at the time, it was something to do.

“Hey, I just finished boot camp,” shrugged Brown, now a sergeant major.

Almost 30 years later, Brown and a handful of volunteers who celebrated the birthday of what has been a home away from home for Marines, sailors and other service members for the past 65 years.

Sixty five years ago today, 9 Tallman St., opened its doors for the first time. Today, the USO of North Carolina remains the oldest continuously operating USO in the world — only two months younger than the organization itself.

Like Brown, Patsy Langley-Cape can recall the days without Xbox 360s and cyber cafes when the pay phone booths didn’t appear so archaic.

In 1951, the girls bused in from Kinston and New Bern to lead GIs through mambo steps provided most of the entertainment — not pool tables and plasma screen TVs.

But as times have changed, so, too, has the USO, which has adapted to continue serving service members’ needs.

Instead of Friday night socials, the USO now holds quarterly sweethearts dances with sororities from Eastern Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, according to Sharon Malloy, director of operations.

The USO also holds Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and, of course, Super Bowl parties, replete with six TVs and free chow.

“Nobody else offers that in Jacksonville,” said Volunteer Coordinator Teresa Secrest.

Secrest, one of six staff members, oversees 187 volunteers.

Other improvements are forthcoming. On Monday, contractors will begin a monthlong renovation process to repaint, refloor and otherwise refurbish the building.

Still, some things haven’t changed.

Like the 1942 Norman Rockwell painting “Willie Gillis at the USO,” which was recently donated to the Jacksonville USO, the doughnuts, Secrest says, are still free.

And at least once a week, one young Marine or two will follow in Brown’s footsteps — literally.

“You’d be surprised, you still see Marines walk to the USO,” Secrest said.

Contact Daniel McNamara at 353-1171, ext. 237 or at dmcna