I recall the first time I walked into the room to attend a meeting arranged by the local USO chapter formed for the purpose to recruit volunteers. I was 18 years old and just graduated from high school. This was 1968. My mother encouraged me to attend because she was a member of the USO during World War II and believed I would follow in her foot steps.

She was right. I needed a purpose at that time of my life and what better purpose was to support our troops on their way to fight in a war that was highly protested against in 1968.

Anyway, what did I know? I was young and unimpressive. I felt a sense of belonging, however, knowing somehow the experience would change me in ways I could never imagine.

The bus would pick us up at the center each Friday and take a group of us to Fort Dix Army Base, about a 40 minute drive from Philadelphia to New Jersey. A dance was organized each Friday for the troops and we were their guests to either dance with or give them an opportunity to relax and enjoy the company of a young girl for the evening. It was well chaperoned and I had no fear; just wanted to keep them occupied, away from the fears they all felt.

Occasionally I would meet a young man and spend the evening with him, dancing and talking. He would walk me to the bus and I would receive an appreciative kiss and hug goodbye.

Through the years I often wondered if any of the young men I met ever returned home safe. I feared some were wounded, killed or were missing in action. When I visited the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., I left a flower at the wall as a symbolic gesture of my support as a USO girl.

I dedicate this blog post to all military who sacrificed their lives to keep our shores safe from harm. May you all rest in peace and God bless those who returned home.

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