Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen is a charming, true story of a little town in Nebraska that, during World War II, took it upon itself to meet every trainload of soldiers that stopped at the railroad depot (dubbed the “canteen” for the duration of the war). The stops were brief, usually only ten minutes or so, but in that time, the soldiers enjoyed coffee, homecooked food, and freshly baked cookies and cakes; danced and flirted with female teenage volunteers; and received small gifts as tokens of appreciation for their service to their country.
Much of Once Upon a Town is compiled from Bob Greene’s interviews with not only Nebraska residents who had volunteered at the canteen in their youth, but also with former soldiers all over the United States, who fondly recalled passing through North Platte. Many of the military veterans were overcome with emotion as they described the love, warmth, and encouragement they felt in North Platte. For some, the brief stop was life-changing (quite a few marriages ultimately resulted from those ten-minute stops!).
You will have to read the book to fully appreciate the magnitude of the canteen project and the generosity of the people of North Platte and surrounding communities. It is very touching to realize that all this happened in the days of food rationing. Many families gave up their own shares of sugar and other rationed goods to provide food for soldiers whom they had never met and would probably never see again.
Once Upon a Town is a feel-good book that is bittersweet only in that it makes me nostalgic for the pre-digital age.
I am marking Once Upon a Town off as “a book about a country or city” for the #VTReadingChallenge. I guess it’s technically about a town, but it’s close enough for me.