In addition to the video below, there are websites that tell the story of the North Platte Canteen.
- nebraskastudies.org (here) provides more details about how the canteen got its start and how it operated.
- NPR interviews an author who recounts North Platte’s War Effort.
- Congressman Adrian Smith recounts the story on his website (here) and its relevance to today.
- The NSEA offers this profile of the lady who started the canteen, Rae Wilson Sleight.
- In the archives of rootweb, we have a snippet from Charles Kuralt’s book Dateline America.
Between Christmas 1941 and April 1, 1946, more than six million servicemen and women who traveled through Nebraska during World War II experienced the gratitude and support (and home-cooking) of the good people of America’s Heartland as they road the Union Pacific RR Line. You can read more about this subject in James J. REISDORFF’s book, “North Platte Canteen,” South Platte Press, now in its fifth printing, and there are several websites dedicated to this marvelous story. (One invites you to help identify individuals in old photographs and canteen postcards). Learn about William F. JEFFERS, UPR President 1937-1941 a North Platte native who worked himself up through various jobs beginning as a call boy in 1890, and Rae WILSON the canteen originator. North Platte, in Lincoln Co., is also home to Buffalo Bill CODY.
Charles KURALT, late CBS news correspondent wrote in his book, “Dateline America,” (1979), about North Platte, Nebraska. “A letter came from Mrs. Conrad GREEN of Nantucket, Massachusetts. ‘In 1944,, she wrote, ‘my husband and I were crossing the U. S. in a troop train. He was going out on a navy carrier from San Francisco as damage control officer. We boarded the train in Miami, Florida, and were three days with cold box lunches, not even coffee for breakfast, when we came to a stop and the conductor told us to get off. We went into the train shed, which was a big canteen with hot coffee and all kinds of hot food. When we tried to pay, they said no, it is our war work…. Imagine, two or three trains a day in each direction filled with three hundred or so servicemen and their dependents… I shall always remember the people of North Platte, Nebraska, with tremendous gratitude.'” Fascinated by her letter, Mr. KURALT stopped by North Platte and found Rose LONCAR, an original organizer of the North Platte Canteen. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘we served up to ten thousand a day, and never one serviceman or woman paid for a thing. It wasn’t just the city of North Platte, either – it was people for two hundred miles around who brought hot food, home cooked, and we never ran out of it. It was almost like the Bible, feeding so many with a few loaves of bread.’ The original idea, Mrs. LONCAR said, was coffee and cookies at the station, and from there it just grew. Sandwiches started coming in, and homemade pies, and then fried pheasants in season and sides of barbecued beef and birthday cakes. No U.S.O. funds or government money, just people from the farms and ranches and towns couldn’t stand the idea of so many young American men and women passing by on the train on the way to war and nobody to tell them a warm good-bye. ‘I guess,’ Mrs. LONCAR said, ‘that we hoped maybe somebody, somewhere, would treat the boys who had left our town the same way.’ Mr. KURALT said the railroad had knocked the depot down, and Rose said a lot of memories went with it. KURALT didn’t think the North Platte Canteen should be forgotten, and it evidently has not been — please read more about it at the websites. (from here)
How did America win World War II? There was a time most people would have answered that question by talking about military strategy, economic power, or geopolitical alliances. Now I suspect a great many would consider the commitment of the People much more important. Where did America’s commitment to win World War II come from? Here perhaps is a clue.