Once Upon a Town


Once Upon a Town

“The only federal funding for the North Platte Canteen was a five-dollar bill that President Roosevelt sent from the White House because he had heard about what was taking place in North Platte, and he wanted to help.”

Bob Green, Once Upon a Town

One of my favourite quotes (and by now, most of you know that I am a “quote hoarder”) is Margaret Mead’s famous, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  While it is a heartening thought, the complexities and realities of life seem to temper the underlying enthusiasm imbedded within that oft-spoken phrase.  We want it to be true, but doubt remains.

“Once Upon a Town” dispels this reservation.

North Platte, Nebraska, situated along Interstate 80, where the North and South Platte Rivers meet, was established in 1868 with the coming of the Union Pacific Railroad.  It is a railroad town, an important dynamic in the story that would unfold almost 75 years later.

I remember visiting North Platte, Nebraska as a child with my parents.  Little did I know then that between Christmas Day 1941 to April 1, 1946, this town hosted thousands of servicemen on their way to war.

It all began when a 26-year-old woman named Rae Wilson had an idea to meet all trains that came through North Platte.  She believed their community should give soldiers a proper send-off.   As a designated tender point for steam trains, North Platte was the ideal spot to open a canteen.  What began as a small idea energized into a mammoth undertaking of servicing a thousand men per day.   Over 125 communities donated their time to work in the canteen. Supported by the kindness of strangers, the canteen thrived and became known across the United States as the Service Men’s Canteen, in the Union Pacific Railroad station at North Platte.

The canteen closed on April 1, 1946.  Over six million servicemen and women had been served over those 5 years.

Why is this story so important to me?  My father was one of those servicemen that went through North Platte.  My mother was one of those women who helped in the effort.  They met many years later, but for a moment, without either knowing, they shared a miracle.

Life has interesting twists and turns.  But one thing is certain, the generosity and kindness of strangers gives hope to those who face a difficult journey. The North Platte Canteen came together because people cared deeply for each other during challenging times. May we never doubt that a small group of people can change the world

“It might have been a dream – but it wasn’t. Six million soldiers who passed through that little town, six million of our fathers, before we were born.  And every single train was greeted; every man was welcomed.  It was a love story – a love story between a country and its sons.”

Bob Green, Once Upon a Town

Published by Rebecca Budd

Blogger, Visual Storyteller, Podcaster, Traveler and Life-long Learner

10 thoughts on “Once Upon a Town

  1. What a fantastic story, reinforcing that universal truth that small individual acts of kindness and support add up into something wonderful. Thanks for highlighting and I look forward to reading the book. Hugs! 🙂 xxx

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    1. I agree – the sheer number is overwhelming considering that the volunteers had very little wherewithal to supply the food. They shared what they had… But what was most telling through the chapters of this book, was the act of kindness. That was what was remembered. May we be as kindly remembered by those who follow us…


    1. I didn’t know about the North Platte Canteen until just recently. We think that we know the stories that come from our parents, and yet, there is so much that is lost UNLESS we listen to the past. Looking forward to celebrating World Kindness Day! Hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, this was an unusual experience. I remember it well. As I remember it, I believe Sunbeam and I were too young to really get out among the soldiers, that was left of the older women. But, we didn’t miss seeing many soldiers of every part of the great military. One woman remarked that our group should give our sandwiches and goodies first because there was lots of food from the day before in the back room that had not been used. There was LOTS of food. What a great memory!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a wonderful book. I loved how the stories from the past were weaved with the present. So many connections were made simply because of the North Platte Canteen. Remembering this time gives inspiration to engage in random acts of kindness.

      Liked by 1 person

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