North Platte Canteen
WWII impacted the small towns of Nebraska in a big way. North Platte, an isolated town with a big heart in the middle of the state, sat all alone in the remote Nebraska Sandhills. Their only connection to anywhere was the Union Pacific railroad. The trains rolled through North Platte day and night carrying the most precious cargo our country had to offer, our boys headed to battle. It's here the North Platte Canteen was born.
It all started in December of 1941 when a rumor was flying around that a group of Nebraska soldiers would be passing through North Platte. Everyone hoped that their sons or husbands would be aboard, so they gathered around and waited for the train with gifts and food. However, when the train arrived it carried a group of soldiers from Kansas. Their first response was disappointment, but it soon turned to pleasure, as they handed over their goodies to the boys from Kansas.
The residents of North Platte were delighted at the reactions from the troops and decided that all soldiers needed a little cheering up before they went away to war. Soon, the railroad depot on Front Street was turned into the North Platte Canteen. They welcomed thousands of soldiers each day, using their own rations and money to bake for the homesick men that passed through their town. They contributed everything they could possibly live without to those soldiers they didn't even know. Soon, as many as 125 other small communities joined the effort, using their gas rations to drive their baked goods to North Platte. Some of these towns were so small you can't even find them on a map today, but they had big hearts. Over 55,000 volunteers came to help in the Canteen from Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas.
The Canteen was open every day of the year for every train that came through, day or night. They served as many as twenty three trains a day carrying three thousand to five thousand soldiers, spending as much as $225 a week. The soldiers could only stop for ten to fifteen minutes, yet they were delighted when they reached the North Platte Canteen. The North Platte Canteen was unique because it was first come, first served, and there was no segregation. Black or white, male or female, Private or Captain—they were all treated with the same kindness and respect.
The Canteen was not government funded or paid for with public money. The only money they had came from private donations and the only federal funding they received was one five dollar bill from President Roosevelt. All the food, services, and hours of work were donated by regular citizens and local businesses and it was all free to the boys. Over the course of the five years the Canteen was in operation they spent over $150,000, which would be well over a million dollars today. However, it wasn't about the dollar amount, it was about the smiles on those boys faces as they left the Canteen.
The North Platte Canteen continued to operate throughout the war. Amazingly, the pioneer town of 12,000 residents had served about six million men, impacting their lives forever with kindness.
For years to come, the women who ran the Canteen received thank you letters from servicemen across the country. Without being asked, they had seen a need and had taken action. They never received any government gratitude for what they did, yet they were happy to do it anyway.
These heroic women who served in the North Platte Canteen gave money, time, and effort all for soldiers they'd never met. They gave up everything they could live without to help these men. They sacrificed so much and yet never received the gratitude they deserved. Today, it's my goal to recognize and remember them for what they did for our country, our state, and for our boys so long ago.