Sunday, October 17, 2010

North Platte Canteen :: Nebraska

A story worth telling

The first few days of our recent trip were spent getting many miles under our belts on our way to Mt. Rushmore. However, we made a couple of stops at some interesting places along the way. One of those was North Platte, Nebraska.

I had only heard of North Platte because Grammy had talked about a wonderful heartwarming book she had read called, Once Upon a Town.

It sounded like such a great story, but I hadn't had the chance to read the book. So...we just went there to see for ourselves!

North Platte was made famous by its accidental hospitality during WWII when a bunch of women went to the train station on Christmas Day to bring care packages to their sons coming through town on their way to the war. When the train came in, they realized their sons were not on board. They were other people's sons from a different state.

Most certainly a little disappointed, Rae Wilson was the first who decided to open her heart and give her son's special package to that train of scared young men headed for war--strangers. All the other women followed and welcomed those young men with their goodies.

All the women realized they filled a need--to make those troops going off to war feel one last bit of home and show 'em some love.

The North Platte Canteen was born.

In 51 months (December 25, 1941 - April 1, 1946), Rae Wilson and her organized group of women served 6 million service men and women on their brief 10-minute stops. They hosted 20+ trains a day.

Each DAY, they went through:

160-175 loaves of bread
100 lbs of meat
15 lbs of cheese
45 lbs coffee
40 quarts cream
500 bottles of milk
25 dozen rolls

This was a time when food was rationed. Individuals just kept scraping up what they could and giving to the troops--oftentimes coming from hundreds of miles away to bring their food. One boy frequently auctioned off "the shirt off his back" to raise money for the Canteen's supplies. Little kids even gave their birthday cakes to the troops! How sweet is that?

Here's a snippet from one of the soldier's thank you notes:

"To think that you people, to whom we all were strangers, would do all you did for us. I can tell you there weren't many dry eyes in those cars when we left, and do you know why? Because you people, such a small part of our country, had really brought home back to us. You showed us that this was the real America; this was what we had fought and worked for and wanted to come back to....

We know you call us 'your boys' but I wonder if you realize whom we saw in you? We saw our mothers, our wives, our sisters and daughters and sweethearts--but above all this, we saw--America."

This is a pretty good video that tells the story.

An encounter between character and circumstance. Just lovely.

It's amazing the number of these service people who still remembered their 10-minute stop in North Platte 40, 50, 60 years later. Mentioning North Platte could even bring dementia-stricken people into lucidity. Those types of situations that sear such a lasting impression on you for the rest of your life are indeed extraordinary. One 10-minute stop. Six million people.

Makes me feel kinda small for not doing more for others.

I'm so glad we stopped in North Platte. So happy I know about its story!

* * * * * * *

Another part of the story I remember was about one young lady who put her name and address in a popcorn ball she made and found a soldier to give it to on his way through town. They wrote many letters to each other and ended up getting married.

How many people can claim to have found their spouse in a popcorn ball?!

I found mine in a car ride home from college for Thanksgiving. And he was polite enough to ask if I'd like any of his potato chips. Maybe it was really the next time I saw him...across campus with his head all wrapped up in gauze. Yeah, that's what must have done it! Poor thing--bad, bad rugby accident.

Rather than a war-ready-soldier-popcorn-ball story, I've got my injured-rugby-player-potato-chip story.

(And it's our 14th anniversary this week!)

What's your story?

No comments: