Saturday, March 14, 2015

"I'm not keeping my cookies!"

Rewind to the beginning of WWII. Ten days after the attack of Pearl Harbor, a train filled with Nebraska National Guard was expected to pass through North Platte en route to war. North Platte was a tender point for steam trains, where they paused ten minutes to top off water levels and lubricate wheels. Hundreds of relatives and friends of local servicemen showed up to meet the train with gifts of food, but when the train arrived, it carried soldiers from another state. Folks on the platform weren't sure what to do, until 26-year-old Rae Wilson shouted, "I'M NOT KEEPING MY COOKIES!" and passed them up to a soldier on the train.

Others followed her lead, but this was only the beginning. The next day, Rae wrote to the local newspaper suggesting army and navy mothers meet every troop train with food and love. She offered to run the project for free, and the railroad gave her the station restaurant, which became the North Platte Canteen. President Roosevelt sent a personal check for $5.00, but no other federal funds were used. Canteen costs averaged $225/week, all donated from over 200 Nebraska farm communities. If hospital trains carried wounded veterans who were immobile, women would walk up and down the aisles distributing food. The canteen was open from 5 a.m. until midnight every day until the war ended, serving six million soldiers and sometimes meeting 32 trains per day.

If you have a few spare minutes, enjoy this video about the canteen. At the very end, a young woman calls her grandpa who she knows served in WWII. Did he ever go through North Platte? He lives in a nursing home and has dementia. He often forgets her name. What happens next may cost you a tear.

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