Thursday, July 17, 2008

Once Upon a Town

Title: Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen
Author: Bob Greene
Genre: Historical Non-Fiction
Date Finished: 5 July 2008
My Rating: 3 Stars

The miracle of the North Platte Canteen started on Christmas day 1941, just a few weeks after Pearl Harbor. A rumor had circulated through North Platte that a troop train would be coming through North Platte carrying members of the Nebraska National Guard's Company D. About 500 townspeople showed up at the train station with food and gifts to give to the local troops that would be on the train heading west. When the train arrived it turned out that the soldiers were not from Nebraska's Company D but from Kansas' Company D. Even though these were not the boys the townspeople were expecting they stepped forward and started passing out their gifts to the Kansas soldiers.
What happened next is a moving and miraculous story. The train station in North Platte was turned into the North Platte Canteen and every day for the duration of the war-from 5 A.M. until after midnight every troop train was met with baskets of food, drinks and treats as well as friendly faces and welcoming smiles. Only about 12 thousand people lived in North Platte but 6 million soldiers passed through the town during the war and were greeted by volunteers at the Canteen. All of the food and hours of work required to run the Canteen were voluntarily given by the local residents.

Author, Bob Greene interviewed Lawrence W. Jones, a tail gunner in the Army Air Corps who had passed through the Canteen during the war. "There were probably five hundred military people on that train-field artillery, infantry, air corps. And after that long trip across the country, at five-thirty one afternoon we pulled into this place none of us knew anything about. We looked out the windows, and there were these women talking to us, passing us sandwiches and everything. They said 'Are you going to get off the train?' We said, 'We don't know if we're allowed.' They said. 'We've got it fixed-you can get off the train.' There were these plank tables, loaded down with every kind of food you could imagine. Homemade cakes, pies, sandwiches, Coca-Cola...We could not get over it...this was like a miracle. And they did it day after day after day. We were there so few minutes, and then it was 'All right, load up the cookies, get back on the train.' Puff, puff, and we were gone. Those people spent all that time and donated all that money-to get sugar and all that stuff. They gave up their own ration stamps. They were using their ration stamps for us." (171-172)

Imagine tables and tables of food. Sandwiches, coffee, cakes, candy and soda. Then think about all the rationing that occurred during WWII. These people sacrificed and used their sugar rations to bake for the soldiers. Soldiers they did not know and that would only be stopping in their town for a few brief moments. They never missed a train.
The story of the North Platte Canteen is a wonderful story about amazing people. I just wish it could have been written by someone other than Bob Greene. This book only gets 3 stars because Greene's writing turned this wonderful story into a kinda boring story. The interviews with the soldiers and people of North Platte are what made this story. When Greene started sharing his own thoughts things got slow and boring. With that said, I still think you should read this book to learn about this miraculous story. You will just have to endure Greene's writing.


Natasha @ Maw Books said...

Reading your post about these wonderful people touched me. It's so great to know that people take the time to serve those that they don't even know. Is this book long? I'd love to read it but don't feel in the mood for a lengthy non-fiction at the moment.

Jeanette said...

Natasha-the book is 264 pages but it a small book with fairly large font and lots of spacing. I think it is one of those times it the publisher was trying to make the book appear longer, more substantial than it is. If it had been better written I probably could have read it in about 1 day.