It’s funny how things can come about. We don’t believe in chance or luck; we do believe in a loving God who is in control. There are times when we can see love around us that gives us just a tiny, imperfect glimpse of the tremendous, perfect love of our heavenly father. The North Platte Canteen is an example of that kind of unselfish love that knows no bounds.
It all began on December 17, 1941 in the town of North Platte, Nebraska. The town was filled to the brim with bustle! There were mothers preparing snacks and gifts, sweethearts primping to see their beaus, and family members swelling with pride and anticipation. This town was about to see “their boys” and right before Christmas! A train was coming through the station in North Platte, and it brought Company D – North Platte’s very own National Guard unit. And there it was, pulling in to the crowded station. It was met by the full anticipation of the townspeople, ready to see “their boys”, as they passed through. As the mothers and fathers, friends and sweethearts looked on; something was wrong. They didn’t recognize the faces on the train. Who were these boys?
It turned out to be Company D of the Kansas National Guard. The townspeople’s anticipation was met with strangers. Then, Rae Wilson stepped forward with courage, and handed the cookies she had made to one of the boys. It didn’t take long for the rest of the townspeople to follow her lead.
The very next day, Rae Wilson wrote to the local paper to start raising support for a North Platte canteen that would meet the troop trains that came through North Platte. They were building the idea off of their grandmother’s efforts during WWI. There were other canteens, but North Platte would be one of the most famous.
From its somewhat awkward beginnings, the North Platte canteen grew to serve 3,000-5,000 servicemen on an average day. It operated every day for 51 continuous months and served an estimated 6 million servicemen and women. It offered free sandwiches, coffee, milk, cookies, cigarettes, etc. All the work was done by volunteers and all of the supplies were donated. They were very proud that not a single penny came from the government to run the canteen.
Along with the snacks, smiles and genuine caring were freely given. The townspeople changed the definition a little, but they found “their boys”.
A wounded servicemen published his thoughts on the canteen’s impact when he wrote, “…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…above all this, we saw America…”
The above information was taken from the Golden Spike and the Lincoln County Historical Museum. You can learn more about the canteen from them. This was just one of the good stories we have come across in our travels that we were not looking for, or even aware of. Hope you enjoyed learning about it as much as we did.