Christmas Day North Platte Canteen 1941

Dec 24, 2017 by

It’s Christmas Day. As we’re ripping open presents with loved ones, celebrating God’s great gift to us, I’m reminded of the women of North Platte, Nebraska, who on this day in 1941 organized a great gift of their own.

Today we remember the North Platte Canteen, a hospitality initiative that reached more than 6 million troops on their way to war.

The story of the North Platte Canteen is a miracle.

North Platte was a major stop for the Union Pacific Railroad. During World War II, trains full of troops would wait in the station for 10 minutes to re-lubricate wheels and fill their water tanks.

In 1941, folks in the city heard that the boys of the 134th Nebraska National Guard Unit, a local unit, would be rolling through North Platte on Dec 17. Rae Wilson, a 26-year-old drugstore sales girl and sister of the unit’s captain, joined more than 300 people at the station to see their brothers and sons for the 10-minute station stop.

Two trains of servicemen came through, but the boys of the 134th weren’t on board.

“Well, I’m not taking my cookies home with me,” Rae announced. As she stepped forward, the whole crowd followed, handing up Christmas presents, candy and cigarettes to total strangers.

That night, Rae wrote a letter to the North Platte Daily Bulletin:

“An officer told me it was the first time anyone had met their train and that North Platte had helped the boys keep up their spirits… Let’s do something and do it in a hurry! We can help this way when we can’t help any other way.”

She launched the North Platte Canteen that week, and on this day in 1941, the first group of volunteers met the 11 p.m. train, bringing candy, fruit, and encouragement.

Later they found out the soldiers on board became POWs in the Philippines. Who knows how much the kindness of those women at the canteen meant to them.

The North Platte Canteen grew quickly, from a few girls with baskets, to a fully-stocked waiting room with sandwiches, coffee, cakes, and dancing.

Rae said the canteen was the town’s war effort and duty: “North Platte hasn’t any big war industries. I guess you could say we’ve started our own: Exporting morale.”

Exporting morale was definitely an effort – during the war, thousands of volunteers staffed the North Platte Canteen and many more donated food and money.

In one month, the canteen received more than 40,000 cookies, 30,000 hard-boiled eggs, 6,900 birthday cakes, and 2,800 pounds of sandwich meat. Those numbers are even more staggering considering the small towns and farmers were in the midst of war-time rationing.

During World War II, more than 6 million troops came through that station, sometimes as many as 5,000 a day.

For 10 minutes at a time, the women of North Platte loved on those boys. It’s not surprising that so many troops remembered the canteen long after the war.

Today, we remember the Christmas miracle that was the North Platte Canteen. We honor and admire the women who welcomed our heroes at all hours. May their example inspire us to be generous with our own gifts this season.

Merry Christmas.

( attributed to Bob Greene)

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