Library re-creates WWII-era canteen

November 12, 2002|BY DAVE McMILLION

CHARLESTOWN - The actual site of the North Platte Canteen is about 1,400 miles to the west, but with a little imagination Monday, it could have been in Charles Town just the same.

After all, no detail was passed over in the Old Charles Town Library's work to re-create the World War II canteen for Veterans Day.

Veterans reached down into an ice-filled chest for a bottle of Coca-Cola while they listened to a barbershop quartet sing favorite songs from the World War II era.


Red, white and blue cloths covered tables offering doughnuts and coffee. Above the tables was a lineup of war-related books, including Bob Greene's "Once Upon a Town."

The library showed special collections of military garb donated by local veterans, and young men were dressed in period military clothing to give the place a feel of authenticity.

About the only thing missing was the cigarettes that veterans used to get at the real North Platte Canteen.

Born in the throes of World War II, the North Platte Canteen was established in North Platte, Neb., after Pearl Harbor was attacked.

According to the Web site, a rumor had spread through the community of North Platte that members of the Nebraska National Guard would be traveling through the town on their way to fight the war. Eager to show their patriotism, scores of North Platte citizens crowded at the town depot on Dec. 17, 1941, to meet the soldiers and give them food, coffee and cigarettes.

The train arrived but citizens discovered that the solders were in fact from another state.

Not about to have their patriotism dampened, the group showered the arriving troops with the goodies they collected.

Because of the positive effect it had on soldiers, it was decided to keep the canteen open during the war to greet soldiers as they passed through the town on their way to war. For more than four years, 50,000 people contributed time, food and money to run the North Platte Canteen. The canteen served more than 6 million troops, according to the Web site.

Library director Barbara Tinker said she became intrigued about North Platte after reading Greene's book about the canteen.

Tinker knew there were a lot of World War II veterans who visited the library regularly so she started putting up signs in the library that read "North Platte Canteen, Were You There?"

A number of veterans told library staff they had been to the canteen.

Library officials sent open invitations to local veterans groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Martinsburg, W.Va., to welcome veterans to the event.

Among those who showed up Monday was Jefferson County resident Fred Barnette, who remembers stopping at the North Platte Canteen in the spring of 1944.

Barnette, a U.S. Army soldier, was on his way to Camp Carson, Colo., when his train stopped in North Platte to allow the soldiers to enjoy the canteen.

When the trains were rolling, the blinds on the windows were drawn because soldiers were not supposed to know where they were going, Barnette said.

When the train stopped in North Platte, the blinds went up and Barnette saw a bunch of women waiting to give them sandwiches, hot chocolate, coffee and doughnuts.

"We got off the train just long enough to get the supplies from the ladies. We just had a limited amount of time," said Barnette, who lives south of Shepherdstown, W.Va., in the community of Glen Haven.

It was common for soldiers to travel by train, and although not all the veterans at the library stopped at the North Platte Canteen, there were similar stops in other parts of the country.

Edward L. Pine, member of the 12th U.S. Army Group, was traveling east by train after receiving his military training in Abilene, Texas. Pine, of Charles Town, remembers stopping in Chicago to enjoy a canteen that was set up for soldiers.

"In fact, I saw Mickey Rooney while I was there," Pine said. "Of course, the canteen in New York City was a nice place, too."

Long-time Jefferson County resident and former Jefferson County Commissioner Garland Moore vividly remembered traveling by train with his comrades after receiving their military training in 1942.

"We were all young, gung-ho and ready to go," Moore said.

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