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Once upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen Paperback – Large Print, June 4, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: WmMorrow; Lrg edition (June 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060093870
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060093877
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (129 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,513,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Millions of American soldiers, many of whom had never left their hometowns before, crossed the nation by rail during the years of World War II on their way to training camps and distant theaters of battle. In a little town in Nebraska, countless thousands of them met with extraordinary hospitality--the "miracle" of veteran journalist Bob Greene's title. "The best America there ever was. Or at least, whatever might be left of it." So Greene writes of North Platte, now a quiet town along the interstate, its main street all but dead. It was a quiet town then, too, at the outbreak of the war, but still a hive of activity as its citizens gathered to provide, at their own expense, coffee, sandwiches, books, playing cards, and time to the scared young men who rolled through by the trainload, "telling them that their country cared about them." Greene's pages are full of the voices of those who were there, soldiers and townspeople alike, who took part in what amounted to small acts of heroism, given the shortages and rationing of the time. Greene, generous in his praise if rather disheartened by the modern world, against which he contrasts the past, turns in a remarkable account of the home front. It deserves the widest audience. ---Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Chicago Tribune columnist Greene (Duty) provides a moving, detailed remembrance of North Platte, Neb., and its residents' selfless contribution to the war effort during WWII. The town, located in the middle of the middle of the country, was situated on the rail line to western military bases. Ignited by a letter printed in a local newspaper, the town's residents organized a canteen for soldiers headed for the front lines, bringing food, cigarettes and magazines. Greene interviews locals, war veterans and former residents, offering a genuine but unsentimental glimpse of Americana. LaVon Fairley Kemper remembers one volunteer who learned that her son had been killed in combat, yet said, I can't help my son, but I can help someone else's son. For the soldiers, Greene writes, the canteen and the townspeople's welcome was indicative of the nation's sacrifice, a point driven home in several memorable anecdotes. The young soldiers saw the brief stop in North Platte as one last chance to be carefree, an opportunity to jitterbug and flirt with the fresh-faced teenaged girls for a safe, fleeting moment. Beyond the wartime recollections, Greene reflects on his travels in the region, skillfully chronicling its citizens, evolution and love for its past, using the intimate, engaging writing style familiar to readers of his syndicated column. Those intrigued with WWII lore will find this well-crafted book an entertaining snapshot of a simpler, kinder America. Greene's skill makes this homage not just a time capsule but a work that will strike a resonating chord in those seeking to remember the generosity and selflessness of many when faced with adversity and peril.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

The book is well researched and well written and rates every one of the five stars.
Annie Bannannie
It is good to be reminded of a time when people did something for someone else because they thought it was the right thing to do.
Ron Hunka
Bob Greene masterfully shares the wonderful gift of the ladies at the North Platte Canteen during World War II with his readers.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Crack Reviewer on August 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Once Upon a Town" is a book that badly needed to be written. My parents who both served in World War II, years ago,told me the story about the North Platte Canteen. This canteen, organized in a little town in Nebraska, made a point of serving food and drink at no charge to every serviceman and servicewoman who passed through town on troop trains during World War II (1941-1945).
Soldiers and sailors all over the country spoke in awe about the wonderful food and treatment they got from the townspeople of North Platte, Nebraska. Many soldiers struck up penpal correspondence with townspeople they met. A number of women in the North Platte area ended up marrying soldiers when they returned from the war.
Bob Greene takes a "Studs Terkel approach" to this subject and much of the book consists of narratives of older people who were present at the time. One thing that really stands out is the unbelievable effort that the people in North Platte (and surrounding areas) made to run the canteen. Only a few thousand people lived in the area. Yet, millions of soldiers passed through the town. Nevertheless, very soldier was served food and drink. Many people contributed their ration coupons, personal savings, and a huge amount of unpaid labor to see that the canteen was always running. These people will forever remain in the hearts of the soldiers and sailors who received their warm hospitality
Greene also relates the changes that have come to North Platte since the war. Sadly, many have not been for the good. A town that used to see 32 passenger trains a day pass through it, now sees none at all. The railroad station and area where the canteen operated was torn down by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1973.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A.Trendl HungarianBookstore.com TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 7, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Bob Greene, like his fellow Chicagoan, Studs Turkel, knows how to write about people. In "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen" Greene brings out the humanity of a small, almost forgotten town in the flats of Nebraska.
Across the world, America was fighting in a war, and in America, men were kissing girlfriends and hugging parents good-bye. Some didn't live to come back. In between the tragedy of war, and the sadness of leaving home was North Platte, a town which just happened to be where trains full of soldiers stopped briefly to reload supplies. In WWII the town was booming with commerce, as much as any small town might boom with anything.
Merely being a significant stop might be a story enough, but Greene goes deeper than the train stop, and into the core heart of the town. He discovers the great strides the community made to welcome the soldiers. The soldiers came from places just like North Platte, and most would've given anything to stay home. Duty called them to the war, and North Platte did everything they could to help them get there.
Whether is was the food and kind words, or just the friendship offered, the hospitality North Platte provided extended well beyond the expectations of the usual train stop.
Bob Greene describes the town with color and excitement, and brings us back 60 years. As now, with America again sending young men and women to the front of a complex, violent war, Greene's testimonial of the goodness of one community might spur us on to do likewise, in the context in which we live.
I fully recommend "Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen" by Bob Greene.
Anthony Trendl
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By "somebodyelse" on June 1, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Got it yesterday, finished it TODAY! Quite possibly the best "feel good" book on the planet. Bob Greene masterfully shares the wonderful gift of the ladies at the North Platte Canteen during World War II with his readers. He takes you along with many of the ladies as they prepare for the troop trains passing through during World War II, with their heavily laden tables of homemade goods and cold milk and grateful appreciation, greeting every single train for 5 years. The emotional reactions of soldiers at the mention of the North Platte Canteen today is very moving, and the reader cannot escape the fact that the canteen workers gained as much from this experience as the 6 million soldiers passing through. They were, after all, doing it for their country. Bob Green captures well a patriotism based upon sacrifice, something that is viewed so differently today. Come to think of it, I don't think one of them used the word sacrifice in describing what they did. It will give you pause but it will also give you a tremendous sense of pride in what Bob Greene rightly calls "the best America there ever was." Kudos to the author for preserving such a wonderful part of our nation's history. Don't miss it!
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By BeachReader on September 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
From "Be True to Your School" to "Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Dreams" to this, his most recent ode to American, Bob Greene's topics never fail to appeal to me.
In "Once Upon a Town", Greene visits the now-bypassed town of North Platte, Nebraska to write about the North Plate Canteen, operated from 1941-45 by volunteers who staffed and stocked the train station to offer food and comfort to American soldiers passing through on the troop trains.
Greene writes of an amazing series of events, started by a letter to the local newspaper asking why the townspeople could not use the short stop of the troop trains in North Platte to cheer the soldiers up and show support for what they were doing. Within days, women from all over the state arrived with provisions to make sandwiches, and with cakes, cookies, magazines, playing cards, coffee, fruit and cigarettes. The first night the volunteers provided these things to the soldiers was Christmas night, 1941--I can only imagine how surprised these soldiers must have been to be greeted, in the middle of nowhere, by women with fruit, coffee, and sandwiches!
In a time of restriction, shortages, and rationing, this incredible volunteer effort continued every single day, from dawn until midnight, for four years. Most days, they gave out twenty bushel baskets of sandwiches a day....sometimes egg salad, sometimes pheasant!
Word was passed as a train approached North Platte and the GIs were ready to debark as soon as the train pulled in, looking forward to the hospitality of the citizenry. Soldiers would often play on a piano that was in the train station and those inside sang along.
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