Thursday, August 21, 2014
Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene
Published May 2002 by HarperCollins Publisher
Source: purchased this book for my Nook to read with the Omaha Bookworms
During World War II, American soldiers from every city and walk of life rolled through North Platte, Nebraska, on troop trains en route to their ultimate destinations in Europe and the Pacific. The tiny town, wanting to offer the servicemen warmth and support, transformed its modest railroad depot into the North Platte Canteen.
Every day of the year, every day of the war, the Canteen—staffed and funded entirely by local volunteers—was open from five a.m. until the last troop train of the day pulled away after midnight. Astonishingly, this remote plains community of only 12,000 people provided welcoming words, friendship, and baskets of food and treats to more than six million GIs by the time the war ended.
In this poignant and heartwarming eyewitness history, based on interviews with North Platte residents and the soldiers who once passed through, Bob Greene tells a classic, lost-in-the-mists-of-time American story of a grateful country honoring its brave and dedicated sons.
Every year Nebraska chooses (as I suspect many, if not most, other states do as well) one book to read as a state by an author with Nebraska ties or about the state. This year that book is Once Upon A Town. My book club decided to join in the fun although I don't know that any of us will actually make it to any of the planned events to discuss the book with anyone but each other. It would have been fun to see if those events included anyone who remembered the Canteen.
As for the book, I wanted, as we bloggers so often do, to love this book. It's about a wonderful thing that happened in my beloved state and is written by an award-winning author. I'm never sure if that means I go into books with an unrealistically high expectation or if I'm more prone to forgive shortcomings because I want to overlook them. Here I think it was something of the former. I was really looking to hear the story about the canteen - how it started, how they managed to keep it running for so long with such a small group of people to draw from, and how they managed to organize all of those people.
I suppose I thought it went without saying that the young men who made their way through North Platte during the war appreciated the town's generosity. I was surprised to read that almost without exception, the men Greene spoke with about their experience cried as they recalled the ten-minute sign of love they found in North Platte. It was interesting to learn how the word got out about what a treat the men (boys, really) were in for and how they carried that time with them as they battled in Europe and the Pacific theater.
It wasn't just North Platte that manned the Canteen; 125 communities within a 100 mile radius helped to feed and entertain the troops as they made their way across the country. Thousands of people who donated time and precious food to give each of those men something bright in their long journey. They made sandwiches, cookies, and cakes; donated magazines, cigarettes, Coca-cola, apples. They made long trips in often bad weather on rural highways using up their rations for gasoline and food to give to others. As a book club, we could hardly imagine a time when so many would pull together to do so much. As a person who has organized PTO's and swim teams, I couldn't imagine the work that went into making sure there were people to work and food to give for every single train. And that's where I felt like this book fell short. How ever in the world did they accomplish that? I would have liked less detail about what has become of North Platte since the war and the demise of passenger trains and more detail about the organizers managed to do this. Because you know it fell to a few women.
Although the book sometimes dragged for me and I wanted more about that time in history and less about North Platte now, I'm glad I read this book. It's a wonderful reminder about how much people can accomplish if they really have the desire and about how much something as small as a sandwich and a cup of coffee can mean to someone.