Friday, April 11, 2014

War Letters: The Yankyettes

When I find letters at estate sales, they are almost always personal letters, to and from friends or family members.   Yesterday, however, I found a letter that Loretta had saved from the head of the Local Services Committee of the USO.  

It's dated August 1, 1942:

If you're not familiar with the United Service Organizations, you're probably not old enough to be reading this blog.  :)  Here's a little history for you youngsters, from the USO website:

Supporting America’s troops was the first mission of the USO. In 1941, as it became clear that the nation was heading into World War II, several organizations mobilized to support the growing U.S. military: the Salvation Army, Young Men’s Christian Association, Young Women’s Christian Association, National Catholic Community Services, National Travelers Aid Association and the National Jewish Welfare Board.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt created synergy among these agencies by forming the United Service Organizations, with the objective of providing the emotional support the troops needed.

The letterhead is interesting because Dr. A.H. Giannini was the Chairman of the LA Area USO Board.  Giannini was one of the founders of Bank of America, known as the "angel" of the early Hollywood film industry, approving millions of dollars in loans to producers when other banks refused to.   He died less than a year after this letter was written by the Chair of the Local Service Committee, the Rev. James E. Dolan.

The address, 941 South Figueroa Street, Los Angeles, was built as a YWCA in the 1920s.  It was the location of one of several USOs in Southern California.  

Norman Rockwell illustrated the importance of the USO to the stateside soldier
in this Saturday Evening Post cover

Before you get your reading glasses out, I'll enlarge the paragraphs one by one.  Loretta Golino and the Yankyettes had been singled out for "special acknowledgement" by the U.S.O.:

"Dances at the Y.W.C.A. always afford a real treat to the men who are fortunately enough to be invited..."

Loretta and  the other Yankyettes gave "splendid assistance" to the "all-important morale-building effort" of the USO in 1942.

I wasn't able to find anything about the Yankeyettes on the Internet.   And -- for good reason -- the downtown LA USO was overshadowed by the USO branch in nearby Hollywood.  It seems the Yankyettes were just a small part of the stateside war effort.  But an important part.

A veteran named Chuck Hinman did write his memories of the USO in Southern California, for Columbia Magazine:

USO canteens quickly found

'Soldier boys' in large cities such as Los Angeles quickly found the very popular USO canteens. I was no different. I 'lived' at the canteen in my free time and developed many heart-throbs! And of course, I became a noted (not) pool shark and skilled ping-pong player! I cut my teeth, so to speak, on the dance floor at the canteen but no one mistook me for Gene Kelly or Fred Astaire. There was little resemblance!

The canteens were ALWAYS staffed with pretty, nice girls to the delight of us service-men. A very popular song of the day made popular by Sammy Kaye was" I Left My Heart at the Stage Door Canteen" by Irving Berlin: This Stage Door Canteen was the subject of the very popular Broadway play of the same name.

Marlene Dietrich at the Hollywood Canteen

During my short two-months stay in Southern California, I discovered the Hollywood Canteen. On a visit there one Sunday afternoon, I had the pleasure of being served refreshments by the glamorous Marlene Dietrich! Of course, everyone crowded to have their picture taken with the famous German movie star! I also heard the famous singer Peggy Lee do her rendition of the song "Fever" for which she became noted. Movie stars and starlets were a dime a dozen on this Sunday afternoon! After all, I was treated to being a guest in their backyard, so to speak.

As you can understand, I am rapidly beginning to be spoiled by this 'new life'!

Overwhelmed by outings

And that's not to mention being invited to a super-glamorous home in Hollywood on Thanksgiving Day along with my roommate and a couple of buddies who had signed up at the Los Angeles USO canteen for such an outing. What opulence and down right genuine hospitality! Our country has a wonderful history of its citizens pouring it on for its soldier boys!

(I wonder if he ever met the Yankyettes?)  



I'm going to donate this to the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University.

Here's an ABC News documentary on the "home front" during World War II.  About 21:30 in, is some footage of USO dances:

Here's an article on the building which housed the YWCA at 941 South Figueroa:

A short history of the USO during World War II, with lots of pictures, is available online:

You can do a search for photos (there are about half a dozen) relating to the USO in Los Angeles, at the Los Angeles Public Library website:

And here's a link to the history of the USO:

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