One of the York USO hostesses shares memories
I’m still getting responses to my recent York Sunday News column and related blog posts on the York World War II USO facilities and activities. Local artist Jean Fix shared that Margaret Sarah Lewis was her elementary art teacher. Lewis painted the murals that I understand are still visible in the building that was the USO canteen. As art supervisor for York City Schools, Lewis traveled from one school to another to present her lessons.
I also talked to my former neighbor, Muriel Smith. Muriel, now in her early 90s, worked in the office of the National Biscuit Company in York when she signed up with a good friend to be a USO hostess. Together they entertained servicemen, including serving food, at the York USO. Breakfasts included the few cereals they had to choose from at that time, just bran flakes, corn flakes and shredded wheat. Other food was simple but familiar, such as chicken salad, ham salad, egg salad and Lebanon bologna sandwiches, as well as hot dogs and fresh fruit.
The rules were strict, but the young women really enjoyed their time with the USO. Duties included attending dances at bases at Mechanicsburg, Carlisle, Indiantown Gap and even Ft. Meade, Md. Muriel said they sometimes wore evening gowns. The York USO newsletters at the York County Heritage Trust Library/Archives say that the servicemen requested that the hostesses wear evening dresses, which at first had been seen as being too frivolous for wartime. The hostesses were transported to the dances by bus, and everyone had to be careful to be back home by 11 p.m. Saturday evenings because of the blackouts.
Muriel had other stories to tell about the World War II era. She indirectly met her husband through another soldier she met at the USO, who invited her to Indiantown Gap Officers Dinner Club. When she and her friend got there, Sam, her future husband, and another soldier got to them first.
The two young women also volunteered to climb the observation towers, such as the one still seen outside Red Lion, to identify airplanes. They were armed with charts, binoculars and a walkie-talkie. They called in a suspicious plane only once, and it did turn out to be non-threatening.
The friends also took an occasional train trip to New York, and Muriel tells me that she was in Times Square on August 14, 1945 when the famous V-J Day kiss was photographed.
Then there was the foreign soldier that she didn’t really believe was a Swedish prince…