Sackets Harbor‘s role in the War of 1812 began a long relationship between the community and the military that continues today. During that war, the massive influx of forces challenged all aspects of daily life. After the war, the village accepted the Army’s decision to create a new home Madison Barracks.
Today, with the Army’s nearby Ft. Drum military reservation, soldiers and civilian employees continue to call the village and surrounding town their home.
During World War I, a local musician Mrs. Charles (Grace) Ward, sponsored one of the first hostess houses, or “Hospitality House,” in the country. She and volunteers welcomed soldiers for song fests. After World War I, military leaders realized off-duty young soldiers needed positive moral support. As the second world war loomed, on February 4, 1941 the United Service Organization (USO) began under civilian efforts. In many references to the organization’s mission, the word “wholesome” describes the volunteers, recreation offered, food served, or religious aspects. That war time mission also intentionally sought to cultivate a “wholesome” post-war citizenship conduct.
In the Sackets Harbor Village Minutes Book, June 6, 1941, it says: “R.C. Graves and William Osborn called on the Board to acquaint its members with the latest developments in the United Service Organization’s appeal for a recreation center in the village.”
By July, New York City’s National Catholic Community Service, one of six national participating agencies, approved a Sackets Harbor club run by the village’s Defense Recreation Committee and priest Rev. Francis Maguire. The community showed its patriotic duty, establishing one of the first USO centers in the North Country, located in the Odd Fellows Hall (I.O.O.F.), a fraternal organization’s headquarters on Main Street. With Madison Barracks in operation through the war, plenty of soldiers and civilians frequented the center.
The Sackets Harbor USO excelled in its Home Front mission. “Wholesome” entertainment included dances, musical shows, a talent contest, dinners, box socials, and newsreels. A parade of 200 soldiers led by the 258th Field Artillery band drew 500 citizens to the first USO program in August 1941.
In December, another dedication featured an “all-star aggregation of radio stars” in a nation-wide broadcast dedicating the Sackets Harbor “wired radio station,” the first of more than 100 similar stations installed as part of the Club’s “Star Spangled Network.” By wiring the Sackets Harbor USO Club’s broadcasting booth to Madison Barracks a quarter of a mile away, a radio signal aired the nightly one-hour entertainment broadcasts originated by soldiers from the club on Main Street.
Newspaper articles about the USO Club celebrated the community’s cordial enthusiasm for such events as a July 1942 soldiers and civilians softball match. That day’s celebration carried on with a pie eating contest, motion pictures, entertainment including an Austrian refugee performing magic acts, a community sing, ending with a wiener (or frankfurter) roast. Private Solomon Katz won the pie eating contest that day. In February 1943, 400 troops from Madison Barracks braved the temperature of sixteen degrees below zero to attended a St. Valentine’s dance. That spring a USO Mother’s Club formed to publish a “mimeographed” newsletter for deployed servicemen.
The Sackets Harbor club events drew together service men and civilians through the war years. Today’s USO continues at nearby Ft. Drum as an integral part of service personnel’s off-duty lives.
From the 1808 Embargo Act days to the present, Sackets Harbor’s unique heritage evolved as residents found ways to balance the social and economic impact of a strong military presence in their village, thus creating a successful coexistence in this lake-side community.
Photos from above: Odd Fellows Hall, and USO Poster.