Stage Door Canteen: One Last Dance

  • Published
  • By Airman First Class William Winston and Master Sgt. Elizabeth Holliker
  • Public Affairs
The purpose of a holiday is to remember events that shaped our way of life. This past Armed Forces Day, May 21, the 180th Fighter Wing along with Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio, hosted the Stage Door Canteen NW Ohio: For those who served. This event was intended to be a blast from the past for World War II veterans and a celebration of their service and sacrifice.

The Stage Door Canteen began five years ago as Master Sgt. Timothy McCormick, 180th Fighter Wing Security Forces, developed his dream, a plan to honor the unsung heroes of World War II. He understands that the veterans of WWII are leaving us at an unprecedented rate. "In ten years we may not be able to host an event like this," said McCormick, "It would be nothing more than a costume party. Let's not wait till there's only one left." Two years ago, McCormick spoke with Brig. Gen. Mark Bartman, 180th Wing Commander at the time, and as they say, the rest is history.

The original stage door canteens took place across the United States and Europe during World War II. They offered servicemen nights of dancing, entertainment, food and non-alcoholic drinks, and opportunities to rub elbows with celebrities.

To make this dream a reality, Master Sgt. McCormick teamed up with the Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, who worked on getting sponsorships and volunteers for the grand event. Companies throughout the Toledo area stepped up to the plate, donating time and money to make it happen. Lincoln Boyle of Savage and Associates and former member of the 180th Security Forces Squadron, helped with the sponsorships and Kevin Caesar of Thread Marketing, donated their time for marketing. Multiple other companies donated money towards this great event, including Loma Linda's, contributing $12,000. Even actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita committed $5,000 to the event.

The goal was to raise enough money to pay for the event in its entirety, to include the tickets for each vet and their guest. The cost to the veteran and a guest was nothing. All additional money raised will go to the Honor Flight Northwest Ohio, to help sponsor other vets to visit the WWII Memorial in Washington D.C.

The Boy Scouts of America volunteered as wait staff, serving dinner on WWII style chow hall trays. Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps drill teams from Springfield High School, OH, along with the Manhattan Dancers, the 338th Army Band and several other groups were on hand to provide entertainment throughout the evening. Countless other individuals and groups, too many to list, were on hand to recreate the original stage door canteen feel. These volunteers are who made this night such an enormous success.

The vets were brought into a scene of military artifacts, including a WWII tank, Army jeeps, aircraft and memorabilia booths full of weapons used during that era. The jeeps brought back special memories for Louis Petris, a member of the Air Corp., who told stories of his unit commandeering the jeeps when he was in France to go to Marce.

As the vets meandered through the memorabilia to the entrance of the Canteen, they were greeted with refreshments and an escort who would take them to their seats.

"It's the Red Carpet treatment all the way for this one," McCormick said. And he meant it! When the veterans arrived to this event they were driven to the flight line, where a red carpet awaited them!

Many of the veterans were seated with others who served in similar locations and branches of service, which generated a great deal of conversation and retelling of memories. Inside the hanger were decorations, reminders of their service, such as major newspapers with headlines concerning events from WWII, battle uniforms and model battleships.

McCormick wanted to make the vets felt like they did when they were 19, at the stage door canteen with their girl. And that's just what happened! In the background the vets heard the 338th Army band play popular songs that they may have heard while on base or when they returned home. Several couples put on a show and danced to the songs, which gave everyone a taste of the popular dances of that era. Additionally, female volunteers dressed as cigarette girls, in clothing styles from those days, serving soft drinks and sweets.

If the evening wasn't exciting enough, there was a very loud, but special appearance made by a P-51 Mustang and B-25 bomber.

After two years of planning, the effort was well worth it. The event not only celebrated the WWII vets but also allowed a younger generation of service members and volunteers to connect to the veterans' past experiences. For those at the event it gave them a greater appreciation of the impact of their dedication and service.

For years to come, this event will be remembered because everyone was able to take a piece of history with them. Whether you listened to the veterans telling their stories or observed their dignity and patriotism, the stories of these veterans were being relived and retold to wider audience. The history of these veterans can now be told by a generation that may not have known anyone who served throughout the greatest generation. Most importantly the story of these individuals will live on, not just in a text book, but in the experiences of those who attended the Stage Door Canteen.

As for what is next, Master Sgt. McCormick believes that this event should be a stepping stone. Other bases around the United States and Europe should strive to have an event like this for WWII vets in their communities. The hard work is done, now they can hold one even bigger!

The organizers and volunteers did an excellent job in designing a scene that would bring back memories from a time when these veterans served our country. If only we could have viewed this event through their eyes.

I guess you could say "This is their last dance."
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