Lincoln County Museum Director Jim Griffin announced a fund drive Thursday to build a bigger Canteen replica at the museum.
The aim is to give visitors a taste of the original WWII Canteen, replicating the look, feel and taste of the enduring testament to generosity in times of need, Griffin said.
Griffin announced the fund drive just before a showing of a documentary film Thursday evening at the downtown Fox Theater. The film depicted North Platte’s 2018 Canteen, which fed 700 Arkansas soldiers who were on their way home from three-weeks of exhaustive training.
But the film was mostly about Canteen spirit.
The Army contacted the Visitors Bureau on Tuesday, June 12, requesting a recommendation for a food stop.Organizers had about a week to figure out how to feed busloads of the soldiers — the 142nd Arkansas Field Artillery Brigade and the 153rd Arkansas Infantry Regiment — who were traveling home after three weeks of training in Wyoming.
At the urging of Amanda Connick, the visitor’s bureau worker who took the call, the staff decided to try to reenact the spirit of the WWII Canteen.
Executive Director Lisa Burke authorized a confidential email to Chamber of Commerce members, asking for help. The email cautioned not to broadcast the situation widely, so the troop movement would remain secure.
People jumped all over the idea.
President Tad Haneborg offered the D & N Event Center for the two days. He said it would be a privilege.
When construction company owner Scott Steele heard about it, he insisted that rib eye steak sandwiches be served. Josh Harms of Nebraskaland Bank helped convince organizers, Steele said.
John Hales of the chamber of commerce said businesses and civic groups donated food and money. The Wal-Mart Distribution Center was a big supplier, and the list of helpers goes on and on.
When the first two buses arrived around 12:30 p.m. June 18, the parking lot on the south side of the D&N Center was filled with residents who cheered and applauded. Many held signs and shouted out, “Thank you. God bless you. We love you.”
To commemorate the 2018 Canteen revival, the visitors bureau commissioned a documentary film about the event and the original World War II Canteen. The film premiered Thursday night at the Fox Theater.
That spirit and the legacy of the WWII Canteen truly sets North Platte apart, Griffin said.
The Arkansas soldiers felt the same way. They returned later to North Platte to praise, thank and present a symbolic artillery shell as a gift, representing the impact of the generosity on the soldier’s spirits.
Griffin said the WWII Canteen story lives on, and descendents of the 6 million soldiers who stopped in North Platte from 1941-46 now find their way to the museum to learn more. A corner of the main building is dedicated to the Canteen, but people have long thought that it ought to be expanded.
Griffin said a WWII veteran might not have talked much to his loved ones about the war after the fighting ended, but surely talked about the 10 minutes he spent in North Platte.
“They wanted to talk about the little place in central Nebraska that said ‘you matter,’” Griffin said. “It wasn’t necessarily the food, or even the hospitality – it was the love for strangers that the Canteen showed. We want to hang on to that.”
Griffin said the replica will be a scale version of the real Canteen, with the sounds and smells of food that will show descendents of soldiers and descendants of the Canteen’s 55,000 volunteers what it was like to be there.