Language Arts, Social Studies
North Africa American Cemetery
“ I teach an elective drama class where drama students engage in a unit on historical reenactment with a focus on historical research skills. It is my hope that this lesson can be used in drama or social studies classes to learn about the role of entertainers in World War II. ”
Through examining accounts by soldiers and war correspondents, as well as footage from USO Camps Shows, students will analyze the role of USO Camp Shows, Inc. in the war effort and create a script for a student-produced USO Camp Show.
Activity Download Activity
Created in 1941, the United Service Organizations, or USO, was tasked by President Franklin D. Roosevelt with keeping the morale high for troops serving in World War II. The USO provided both recreational and aid service to troops overseas and on the homefront. USO Camp Shows, Inc., a division of the USO, was formed just six months after the creation of the USO. Hollywood actors and entertainers agreed to waive pay to perform for the troops. By 1942, USO Camp Shows, Inc. was the largest booking agency in the world and carried out over 270,000 performances from 1941 to 1945, featuring entertainers such as Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, John Wayne, and Lucille Ball. Acts ranged from singing, dancing, and comedy, to wrestling matches and providing portraits for soldiers. Around 7,000 performers traveled overseas to entertain the troops during World War II.
At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to
- Explain why entertainers traveled overseas into combat zones to perform for the troops;
- Analyze the role of USO Camp Shows, Inc. performers on the war effort; and
- Produce a script for a USO Camp Shows, Inc. performance.
Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.3 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.8.3.B Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, and reflection, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.12.6-8. Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to identify further areas of inquiry and additional sources.
D3.1.6-8. Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.
- Make one copy of the USO Camp Show, Inc. Production Guide packet for each student.
- Make copies of the USO Performers Handouts for each group of students.
- Divide class into three groups for Activity One.
- Set up classroom technology.
- Test all online resources before class.
Activity One: USO Camp Shows, Inc. (45 minutes)
- Hand out the USO Camp Shows, Inc. Production Guide. If able, project the photographs of the headstones of Clinton W. Butefish and Lester Chapman.
- Ask the students to identify similarities and differences between the headstones. Ask students:
- What is the difference between Corporal Butefish’s headstone listing his service branch and Chapman’s headstone listing USO Camp Shows Inc.?
- Why would a professional wrestler be buried in an American military cemetery?
- Teacher Tip: Lester I. Chapman was on a flight of USO performers flying from England to Paris which crashed on March 3, 1945. Five of the 16 people killed were professional wrestlers traveling to an upcoming show. The families of Chapman and another professional wrestler on the flight, Gaius W. Young, chose to have their sons interred in Epinal American Cemetery in France.
- Record answers in the Production Guide, on the Headstone Comparison page.
- Show students the video clip USO Wherever They Go. Play the video from the start until the 9:45 mark.
- Ask students to answer the guided questions in Production Guide.
- Divide the class into three groups and distribute one article to each group:
- “USO Shows In Prose”
- “Thanks for the Memories: Fred Astaire”
- “Thanks for the Memories: Judy Garland”
- After reading the articles, each group should report about their assigned performer on the Cast List page of the USO Camp Show, Inc. Production Guide.
- Ask students, How would having famous actors and entertainers raise the morale of soldiers?
- Collect the USO Camp Shows, Inc. Production Guide.
Activity Two: Role of the USO (45 minutes)
- Redistribute the USO Camp Shows, Inc. Production Guide. Ask students to read the excerpt from Ernie Pyle’s Brave Men in the Production Guide, under the subtitle The Role of the USO.
- Ask, Should the United States government have sent famous entertainers overseas to perform for soldiers?
- Ask, After reading about Bob Hope’s narrow escape and reading the article about the plane crash that resulted in the death of USO wrestlers, was raising morale enough justification to send performers near the front line?
- Record answers in the USO Camp Shows, Inc. Production Guide and discuss as a class.
- Analyze the importance of keeping morale high for soldiers. Show the video clips Strictly GI and Entertaining the Troops: American Entertainers from the beginning to 11:08.
- Direct students to observe the different ways the entertainers perform.
- Direct students to describe each act that is shown in the video clips on the Performances page of the USO Camp Show, Inc. Production Guide.
- Assign the final piece of the lesson from the Production Guide, the USO Camp Shows, Inc. Script Activity.
- Include parts for at least four performers with one acting as the show’s host;
- Incorporate jokes appropriate for troops stationed overseas during World War II;
- Include a cast comprised of historical figures from the World War II era; and
- create a script that is two to three pages in length.
- The Production Assessment Rubric can be used to score the script.
- After writing the script, students in a theatre or drama class can stage the production as an added activity. Students could also do more in depth research on USO Camp Shows, Inc. performers to learn more about them, or if they are doing the performance option, to help them get into character.
- Teachers can adapt for more advanced learners by searching different primary documents on Bob Hope. Students could find and use these sources in the creation of their script for their performance.
- Teachers can modify the lesson for students that are English Language Learners. Many of the reading activities can be shortened, with more emphasis placed on watching the video clips about USO Camp Shows, Inc. Instead of writing the full script for the final assessment, students could create an outline of their production and then perform it for the class.