Friday, September 2, 2011

Canteen Memories

Seventy years ago and for six more years, over six million servicemen and women traveled through Nebraska by train on their way to camps and bases or for deployment.  Some returned from World War II and others did not.  As the trains pulled into North Platte, Nebraska, they were met by volunteers who had made sandwiches, cookies, cakes and coffee for them.  Some were given birthday cakes or apples and words of encouragement and support.  Those who returned from the war would always remember North Platte, Nebraska.  Through the years stories have been told, reunions held and books written about the North Platte Canteen.

North Platte and surrounding communities were caught up in the canteen spirit.  Donations were accepted, baking was non-stop and volunteers cheerfully showed up to meet the trains.  Young girls were known to have flirted with soldiers and established a correspondence that endured throughout the war.  It was a time when tensions ran high, but spirits were higher.

During North Platte's annual Rail Fest this month, there will be events celebrating the Canteen.  The annual Rail Fest celebrates the bond between North Platte and the Union Pacific Railroad, with a celebration being held September 16, 17 and 18, 2011.  A film "Canteen Spirit" will be presented in the North Platte Community Playhouse at the Neville Center for the Performing Arts in downtown North Platte.  There will also be a panel discussion with former canteen volunteers and soldiers, along with an authentic Canteen meal.  This event will be on Friday, September 16th at 1 pm and 4 pm, Saturday, September 17th at 4 pm and Sunday, September 18th at 2 p.m.  Contact phone numbers are 308-532-8559 or 308-530-2233.

Canteen Memories is the title of this year's cemetery tour that is hosted by the North Platte Public Library Foundation.  Tribute will be paid to the World War II soldiers and the women who volunteered to help with the Canteen effort.  As people walk through the North Platte Cemetery they will find local actors and actresses portraying a soldier buried in the cemetery, as well as people involved in the Canteen effort.  The tours begin at the cemetery on Rodeo Road on Friday, September 16th from 4 pm to 8 pm.  Saturday, September 17th, tours will be held at the cemetery from 1 pm to 5 pm.  On Tuesday, September 20th, there will be a non-walking presentation at the North Platte Community College Theater, South Campus.  It begins at 7 pm that evening.  Advance tour tickets are $10 at the North Platte Public Library, 120 West 4th,  or $15 at the door or gate of the cemetery.

This is a time to rekindle the spirit of the Canteen by participating in Rail Fest activities.  When finished with the presentations, I encourage you to visit the Lincoln County Historical Museum located at 2403 N. Buffalo Bill Ave. in North Platte.  They have an extensive collection memorabilia from the World War II Canteen.  Just for the record ... over six and half million servicemen and women were served during the Canteen era.

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