Christmas Day, 1941: a troop train filled with young, scared, and lonely soldiers made a brief, late evening stop in the small town of North Platte, Nebraska – and witnessed a miracle.
The miracle was the North Platte Canteen: a place where soldiers could get off the train and enjoy free food, magazines, music, dancing, and most of all, the smiles and gratitude of the folks in North Platte and other small towns. Tired and grimy from days spent in a train, the soldiers not only were overwhelmed with friendly faces offering sandwiches, fried chicken, home-baked goodies – even birthday cake! – but also with the sincere appreciation and love of the townspeople. The stop might have been brief, but the fleeting minutes spent in the North Platte canteen were moments many soldiers never forgot.
In Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen, author Bob Greene pays homage to the small town with a big heart, a town of only 12,000 which, despite food shortages and rationing, managed to greet, feed, and thank the six million soldiers that passed through their town. In interviews with surviving Canteen workers and soldiers, Greene affectingly conveys the sacrifice and dedication of a town where young soldiers were treated like heroes. As one grateful veteran put it sixty years later, “Just tell [the residents of North Platte] that I still thank them from the bottom of my heart. And that if they ever ask themselves whether what they did really mattered, that the answer, to put it bluntly, is: Hell, yes.”