‘Dear Editor–Let’s Do Something!’

By DANNY MINTON

One of the beautiful stories to come out of World War II is the story of the North Platte Canteen of North Platte, Nebraska. One day in late 1941, the North Platte Bulletin received a letter from a 26-year-old woman, Rae Wilson. She spoke of how the mothers of the boys in World War I set up canteens along the railways for the troops as they traveled across the country. On December 22, 1941, the businessmen and civic leaders of North Platte, Nebraska, met and said, “why can’t we do the same?” The town selected a committee, and on December 25, 1941, the North Platte Canteen opened its doors.

For the remainder of the war, people from 125 communities in the North Platte area sacrificed their time and talents to provide snacks, magazines, small gifts, and entertainment to the troops as they crossed the country by train on their way to camp or service. Some days, as many as 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers received the welcomed treatment of the ladies with love and hospitality at the North Platte Canteen.

Soldiers heard about the canteen through the grapevine, and every train load looked forward to that stop. If there were no time to get off the train, the townspeople would board the train and pass out the gifts. If it were a birthday, the soldier would get a homemade cake from one of the ladies. The people of North Platte and the surrounding area became mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters to the soldiers on their way to war.

The people of North Platte met every train from December 25, 1941, through April of 1946 with cookies, coffee, snacks, magazines but most of all, love. In those years, they served more than 6 million soldiers. North Platte became a  whistle-stop that every American soldier would never forget. “Have you been to North Platte?” would be part of many conversations between soldiers.

To honestly care for someone means more than just saying thanks or using mere words to express our feelings. To honestly care means to take action. The world is full of “gonna doers”  people with good intentions. But the actual people who care are the ones who say, “why can’t I do that” and then go out and do it.

Opportunities to serve are everywhere. Look around your home church family, and you’ll find chances to serve God and man. Our communities house many organizations and groups dedicated to helping people. Places like CASA, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and Global Samaritan are a few that come to my mind. And don’t forget your neighbors. There are many ways to help people if we all make an effort. 

We too often fail to achieve great things because we think too small. The small town of North Platte and its band of ladies show us that nothing is impossible if we have the desire, will, and determination to achieve it. Jesus chose a small band of men and told them to share the “Good News” with the world. He didn’t say share it with only your family, and he didn’t say share it with only Jerusalem or even Palestine. He told them to “Go into all the world.” 

Rae Wilson sculpture

The dream of the North Platte Canteen started with a letter from on young woman who challenged the people of her town to act. Our challenge is not just to sit around complaining and griping or saying, “something needs to be done.” For the world to be a better place, we must get up and take action, and together we can make a difference.

Rae Wilson ended her letter with the words, “Let’s do something and do it in a hurry! We can help this way when we can’t help any other way.” Just think how much we could accomplish for the Lord, people, and our communities if we developed this attitude.

(For a more detailed look into the North Platte Canteen story, check out Bob Greene’s “Once Upon a Town,” or check out the story online.)

Danny Minton is an Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ

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