Helen's Polka Dots: The USO Recognizes Helen (Trocki) Krol on her 100th Birthday

Recently, the USO, along the rest of the Nation honored heroes from World War II on the anniversary of D-Day. In remembrance, WWII veterans made their way back to the Normandy beaches they first saw 80 years ago. While the USO is known for serving those who are currently in the military, during our 85+ years supporting our service members, we have recognized that the well-being of the people who serve starts at home. In 1944, Helen (Trocki) Krol also knew this to be true. The USO is proud to spotlight Helen, and her all female band that played a variety of music as she toured different military instillations during the Second World War.

As we’ve seen many times throughout history, when eligible men were drafted or enlisted during wartime, it was up to everyone at home to fill the void of their departure. Right out of high school, Helen had started a job, but her life quickly changed due to the war. She decided to start a band. In 1942, at age 18, Helen formed the all-female band named Helen’s Polka Dots. The women were at various stages in their lives of working, graduating from high school or going to college, but one thing they all had in common was a love of music. The band originated in her parent’s residence in Chelsea, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. The group was made up of six regular members who played the accordion, piano, trumpet, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone and drums, with Helen who also played tenor saxophone, piano and directed the band.

Helen Trocki poses for her portrait.

“The women were predominantly the ones handling so many of the duty’s left, my mother decided to create this band and give everyone an opportunity to hear something other than the sounds of wartime,” stated Helen’s son, John.

John recalls one of the many stories his mother shared with him.

“There was a USO hall that was right next door to a local hospital. The USO asked them to play for the service members who were in the hospital. They went and provided comfort for those injured men. That’s when they became known to the USO and from there, the USO would reach out. Various Army and Navy bases would ask them to come and play. It was really through the USO that these arrangements were made,” recalled John.

Fast forward about a year to 1943, Helen recollects for the Jacksonville Journal-Courier in 2017 the exact moment her band got the phone call from the Army requesting Helen’s Polka Dots to play at Fort Devens. A new adventure started for the women even before they arrived at the base.

“There was a gas shortage, so the band met outside my parents’ home and the Army came with a big truck and loaded us and the instruments in the back of the truck. Our accordion player played the Army song and the other military service songs on the way to the Fort. Once we played for the Army, the other branches of the service wanted us to play,” said Helen.

The concert at Fort Devens was the first of many concerts they would perform for the military and Helen continued to coordinate these concerts through the USO. Each time the military vehicle would pick them up and each time they would sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and then sing the official song of whichever branch of military was escorting them to the base. Sometimes, these concerts would have to be cut short so the women could catch the last streetcar home. As you can imagine, this was no small feat given the size and weight of the instruments!

“She grew up in one of the most difficult times in our history, to have a place of refuge like the USO was extremely important,” said her son, John.

Even with a war raging on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, life managed to move forward. Helen’s Polka Dots continued to perform at various venues for service members and for those in the community.

“My dad met my mother at one of the dances, my dad wanted to go to the dance and talked three other sailors into attending, but by the time they got there, there were six of them total. As they entered the dance hall, and looked around, they realized everyone in attendance beside themselves were women!” John exclaimed, laughing.

A young Stanley Krol poses for his portrait.

“The women were buying [the six service members in attendance] tickets for food and refreshment. That night, they were well fed, and the entertainment was provided by my mother and the band.”

That night, in South Boston in 1944, Stanley Krol, a sailor from Chicago, Illinois, met Helen Trocki and never looked back. The war ended in 1945 and they got married in 1946. That same year the band disbanded. Helen still thinks about her band-playing days and entertaining the service members.

Helen and her husband, Stanley, moved to the Midwest right away and were married in Chicago, Illinois. They lived in multiple areas in the state of Illinois and had a family of their own.

John still speaks with his mother nearly every day and she never tires talking about her time in the band.

“The USO was a big part in providing that comfort and security and just plain fun. My father would dance with her mother as Helen played in the band, and that’s where it all started,” said John.

Helen (Trocki) Krol before her 100th birthday.

At the end of the war, Helen was awarded a certificate from the USO acknowledging something intangible her and her band gave the service members in a time of uncertainty: the gift of joy. Between moving multiple times and the businesses of everyday life, the certificate from the USO was misplaced and hasn’t been seen in many years. The presence of a certificate does not change what Helen and her band gave the service members 80 years ago. But, on June 18th, 2024, on her 100th birthday, the USO will present Helen with a new token of gratitude for standing alongside those who serve and volunteering her time and musical talents to give service members a moment of reprieve. From all of us at the USO, thank you!

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