Troupes for the Troops – USO Camp Shows
Thursday, August 11, 2016
A new exhibit panel at the National Museum of the Pacific War is a tribute to the USO Camp Shows, which were highly popular staged events for entertaining the troops in World War II. The new panel features a Broadway show that toured the northern New Guinea bases in late 1944, with both actors and dancers.
One of those dancers, Betsy Berkeley, recently donated her Camp Shows scrapbook to the Nimitz Foundation, from which the official cast photo from producer Mike Todd’s Mexican Hayride was chosen for the exhibit. Betsy Berkeley is second from the left, in the front row of the photo.
Today at 96 she is Betsy Robinson, twice widowed but still a feisty trouper. Betsy retired to Seguin, Texas, where she had been a high school student before the war. She was delighted to see the new USO Camp Shows exhibit in Fredericksburg.
The USO (United Service Organizations) was formed during the war at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and still provides support to our active duty service personnel and veterans. The USO was tasked with two distinct roles, each of which drew many hundreds of volunteer and paid workers. In the rear echelon towns and camps there were USO dance halls and eateries under the “Hospitality” banner, whereas the “Entertainment” banner included lively performances by famous individuals and combos, or occasionally larger troupes such as Broadway show casts, often performing at makeshift outdoor venues. Those creative entertainers delighted thousands of our troops the world over, and were often stressed out by the frantic schedules that they followed, getting from place to place.
An interesting story from Betsy involved her troupe’s visit to the Halmahera Islands, west of New Guinea and north of the Celebes. During the show’s intermission she noticed a familiar face in the audience, which turned out to be Navy Lieutenant Clarence Saegert, a former classmate from Seguin High School! Of course, Saegert and his crew took Betsy for a spin in their PT Boat, which they officially named The Betsy in a solemn ceremony, for which Betsy still has the certificate, signed by the whole crew. ‡
Betsy’s USO career spanned nearly a year in WWII, but she returned again to the Pacific Theater (no pun) for four more years during the Japanese Occupation.
The Mexican Hayride USO panel can be viewed in the section of the Museum called “Serving Those Who Fight”. Museum opening hours and many interesting topics about World War II are shown on its website http://www.pacificwarmuseum.org/
An interesting comment on PT Boat Betsy in the Halmaheras is that its official number was PT-105, which had earlier served off Guadalcanal with the same squadron as future president John F. Kennedy’s unlucky PT-109. At that time, PT-105 was skippered by Navy Lt. Dick Keresey, who refrained from publishing his intriguing story until 1996, not long before he passed away.
[Article by Antwyn Price, July 7, 2016 (author of Paradise in Ruins, a Novel (View) of the Pacific War) http://www.amazon.com/Antwyn-Price/e/B01E1X6EFQ and http://www.antwynpricebooks.com/]