The way to a soldier's stomach

Monday, August 26, 2002

"The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach." The girls and women working at the McCook Canteen Service during World War II could attest as to the truth in that statement. The June 6, 1942, McCook Daily Gazette described what happens ... "When a train pulls in, the boys are somewhat bashful and wary of what may happen with so many local people on station platform.

But the minute baskets containing apples, oranges, cigarets and candy come into view they seem to open up and be just what everybody expects them to be-a bunch of happy lads ready to make friends at a minute's notice."

Each and every soldier was taken care of by a Canteen worker on duty. If the men couldn't get off the train, the food and treats went to them and up through the windows.

Ida Grace Smith Menoher told me that when they did get off the train, workers would funnel them though the south depot doors, past the counters where they would have the magazines, fruit and candy, then they could stop and get a cup of Kool-aid which was mixed up in cream cans on their way out the west depot door and back onto the train.

Her mother Eunice Smith, and Mrs. Callie Moss got the ball rolling on the Canteen and spent many hours on the phone "begging for foodstuffs (oranges, apples, candy, etc.) cigarettes, matches, and whatever she thought the 'boys' would want and could use, as everything was donated and volunteered."

These train movements were secret for security reasons and Mrs. Smith and the railroad men worked out some kind of a signal code to let her know the time of arrival of a train without coming right out and saying it.

Her Mom would get a call from her informants at the depot that a troop train was due in shortly. Her mother then would get on the phone, many times in the middle of the night, to round up a Canteen Service crew.

If her mother couldn't get enough women, Ida Grace would be rousted out of bed to be one of the servers. Ida Grace was employed full time but still would help out regularly on weekends and evenings too.

She said her Mom was also her babysitter so if a train came through during the day, Mrs. Smith would take her granddaughter along to the depot. Little Sondra would be perched on one of the long tables and would hand out candy. Her Mom said that many of the boys would stop and chat with Sondra with tears in their eyes as they thought of their own little ones at home.

A story in the June 9, 1942, McCook Gazette tells of one particular postcard that came into the McCook post office addressed to "President, Navy Mothers Club, McCook, Nebr." I've mentioned before that Mrs. Smith was president of the Navy Mothers and had written the national song for them. The postcard was mailed at Chicago by one of the men aboard a Navy troop train which passed through McCook with sailors en route east for active duty.

The card read: "Dear Mothers: We have had a grand trip, but nowhere in the east have we found such hospitality as you folks in McCook gave us during our short stop. We wish especially to extend our thanks and good wishes to the lady who wrote the Navy Mother's song."

The card was from "Colorado boys who stopped 8 p.m. June 5." It happened that the Navy Mothers of McCook were on duty at the newly established canteen at the depot here the evening the Colorado group paused here. After issuing treats to the sailors, the Navy Mothers sang the official club song written and composed by Mrs. Smith.

Another letter thanking the Canteen ladies came on June 12, 1942 and was unusual in that it contained the signatures of 90 men based with a Quartermasters Motor Base in Texas. The letter read, "For bringing us a pleasant interlude and supplying us with articles that made the balance of our journey more pleasant, we sincerely thank you." Another letter in the same envelope said, "I want to express my sincere appreciation as chaplain of this group ... for your kindness to these men as they passed through your city. I was visiting the men in their barracks last night and they told me of your kindness and had prepared their note of thanks. God bless all of you. Keep the good work going. Charley B. Robinson, Chaplain"

These soldiers who went through McCook so many years ago are still trying to say thank you to all the girls and women who were there or provided anything for the McCook Canteen Service. If you were involved at all, please let me know your name and address.

There is a Navy group who went through here who will soon be holding their last formal reunion and they want to say thanks ... and I'd love to hear your stories and see your pictures.

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