Alexandria has built an industry on stepping back in history. This time it's only 60-plus years. But it might as well have been a millennium. It was a time that virtually changed every aspect of American culture.
On the weekend of July 16-18, Alexandria reenters the years of World War II with a tribute to the organization that served as the emotional bridge between the horror of war and anguish on the home front. It will be the city's "USO Weekend."
As the kickoff to Alexandria's "100 Day Celebration," marking not only the 60th anniversary of D-Day but also the dedication of the World War II Memorial and a series of events that marked the city's and nation's socially altering journey through the years 1941-1945, USO Weekend is packed with nostalgia.
It begins on the very day the world was introduced to the weapon that would end history's most encompassing global conflict. On July 16, 1945, the atomic bomb was tested in the New Mexico desert. Twenty nine days later Japan surrendered and, to paraphrase a popular song of that era, "the lights came on again all over the world."
But throughout those years of darkness, one organization epitomized the American "Can Do" spirit and kept the lights burning within that spirit — United Service Organizations or USO. During September 1944 alone, nearly 15,000 military service personnel were entertained by the USO.
Central USO entertainment and their slogan of "Keep'm Smiling" was music — jazz, jitterbug, ballads, love songs and, above all else, words and music of a tough, unflinching nation rising to the call of leadership. It will all come back to life in mid-July.
KICKING OFF the festivities will be a true blast from the past — today's revitalization of one of the most recognized entertainment groups of World War II, The Andrews Sisters, now portrayed by The Liberty Belles.
Portraying yesteryear's singing trio are Victoria Reed, Jenifer Jones and Linda Sue Moshier. Originally formed as a show troupe in New York City, the USO decided to make them a national troupe several years ago, according to Karen Preston, USO Corporate Marketing.
"They have performed at military bases worldwide as well as at VA and military hospitals. They were on the [National] Mall for the dedication of the World War II Memorial and at the D-Day Memorial for the 60th anniversary," Preston said. "Prior to coming to Alexandria they will be in Philadelphia on July 4, for the presentation ceremonies of the Freedom Medal."
Starting at 5 p.m. on July 16, The Liberty Belles will perform at Stella's Restaurant courtyard with such memory jolts as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,' "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree," and "I'll Be Seeing You." There will be other outdoor concerts by the troupe on Saturday at noon and 5 p.m. at Market Square.
They will also join the Tom Cunningham Orchestra as the featured entertainment during the USO Swing Dance on Friday from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Torpedo Center Arts Center. This event will serve as a fundraiser for the USO of Metropolitan Washington. Admission is $20 per person with all proceeds going to the USO, according to Laura Overstreet, vice president, Communications, Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association. "This makes it a tax deductible minimum donation," she explained.
IN ADDITION TO great dance music of the era, there will be a swing dance demonstration by Tom and Debra. Tickets, which include a free dessert buffet, can be purchased through the Ramsey House Visitors Center, 221 King St., or on line at www.FunSide.com or www.USOMetroDC, org. There will also be a cash bar available.
Saturday, July 17, will feature non-stop entertainment emceed by the Ultimate Abbott and Costello from noon to 5 p.m. at Alexandria's Market Square, 300 King Street. This entertainment package will be initiated by opening ceremonies at noon.
That will be followed by excerpts from a stage performance entitled "Letters from the Front." The full production will be presented at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial on July 16 and 17 starting at 8 p.m. There will be a matinee on Sunday, July 18 at 2 p.m.
"In the fall of 1990, during the Gulf War, the husband and wife team of Robert Rector and Marsha Roberts began to develop a play about personal letters written by soldiers and their loved ones throughout American history. The best of these are now interwoven in a compelling picture of America," according to publicity about the three act production.
"One of the main things we've done over the years is entertain our troops throughout the world," Marsha Roberts said. "Our actors, Bobbi Kravis and Bob Curren, from the New York stage, have been with us for three and four years. But the show has been touring for 14 years."
Ticket prices differ per performance and are not applicable to seating location, according to ACVA. Per person prices are: Friday - $26; Saturday - $30; Sunday - $22.50. they are available online at www.Tickets.com or by calling 703-218-6500 or 800-955-5566. Additional information can be found at www.letter-from-the-front.com.
"Letters from the Front" excerpts will be followed at Market Square on Saturday afternoon by:
*12:45 - USO Liberty Belles
*1:30 - The Ultimate Abbott and Costello Tribute Show
*1:45 - Victordance Swing Dance Demonstration
*2:15 - Heritage Harmony Singers
*2:45 - The Ultimate Abbott and Costello Tribute Show
*3:00 - USO Liberty Belles (second performance)
*4:00 - U.S.Army Chorale - USO Show
FOR MUSIC LOVING non-dancers Radio King Orchestra and Flying Feet Enterprises will bring a musical journey of the Greatest Generation era to the Old Town Theatre on Friday night, with a repeat performance on Saturday night. It will include "sultry vocals, virtuoso arrangements, and hot rhythms," according to ACVA.
Performances begin at 8 p.m. with doors opening an hour earlier. Ticket are $22 and available online at www.oldtowntheatre.com or by calling 703-683-8888.
From 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. July 17 a Military Band Concert will be highlighted at the King Street Gardens, King Street and Diagonal Road. Admission is free. A final one-hour performance of The Liberty Belles is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Sunday, July 18, at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center, 2701 Commonwealth Ave.
"Alexandria Salutes! A USO Weekend" will conclude with a half hour World War II Remembrance Memorial Service on Market Square in front of City Hall, 301 King Street, beginning at 1:30 p.m. It will be hosted by American Legion Post 24.
There will be an opportunity to send USO Care Packages and free video emails to deployed troops worldwide. Market Square will host exhibits by the USO, Calvert Marine Museum, the American Red Cross, as well as an array of World War II military vehicles.
Free shuttle buses sponsored by the Alexandria Hotel Association will leave Market Square at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to take visitors to the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. Returning buses will depart the Mall at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.
"We are excited to be working with the USO of Metropolitan Washington to make this special weekend possible," said Jo Anne Mitchell, ACVA executive director.