Small Nebraska Town Serves as Nation's Largest Volunteer Effort of World War II

| 6/17/2015 12:40:00 PM

Tags: World War II, North Platte, Nebraska, Rationing, Volunteers, US Military Troops, Community Efforts, Rural America, Trains, Americana, Marie Bartlett, Onceawriter,

Marie BartlettIt was only 10 days after Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and many of the generous folks of North Platte, Nebraska, had arrived at the train station to hand off Christmas presents to their loved ones who had volunteered for the Nebraska National Guard. But when the rail cars pulled in, none of the men from Company D were there. Instead, it was the Kansas National Guard.

Undeterred, one person stepped up and offered her gifts to the troops. Her name was Rae Wilson, a local store clerk, and it was her idea to begin what would soon evolve into the country’s largest and most unique volunteer war effort of its time.


North Platte Canteen
Welcome sign at the entrance to the North Platte Canteen, a replicated site at the Lincoln County Historical Museum.

By Christmas Day 1941, dozens of community volunteers, spearheaded by Wilson, were handing out baskets filled with cookies, fruits, cigarettes and magazines through the train windows. Due to security, the men were not allowed off the train as yet. But before long, with more and more trains coming through filled with troops heading east and west to their respective military bases, they were allowed to  disembark for a much needed break so a larger site was needed to provide the warm welcome and refreshments. Wilson contacted the head of the Union Pacific Railroad, North Platte resident William “Bill” Jeffers, and asked if her volunteers – who would soon represent 125 different communities – could use the depot’s vacant lunchroom.

Jeffers said yes and the North Platte Canteen was born.

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