Wartime Christmas takes on special meaning

Monday, December 23, 2002

The interdenominational chapel at the McCook Army Air Base, shown at right in 1943, is still in use as the Lutheran Church in Haigler.

After the base was closed down, some of the air base buildings were being sold.

Dale Cotton of the McCook Army Air Base Historical Society told me that they had this chapel building all loaded on the truck and were heading out the main gates when the truck just couldn't pull it anymore. The crew ended up having to dismantle the building, number the pieces and reconstruct the building when all the parts and pieces were delivered to Haigler.

"DeForest, Your Grocer" hated to do it ... holidays or not ... but because of the gas rationing he had to set down some ground rules for the free delivery of groceries in McCook. DeForest suggested that people try to keep a day or two supply of food on hand and to try to order only every other day if possible. "Try and make your orders as large as possible. We suggest $2 minimum." Orders west of Main street were delivered on the 10 o'clock delivery in the morning and east side orders went out on the 3:30 o'clock delivery.

Fred's Market at 202 West 1st Street (old C Mart) wasn't delivering anything. They had beef roasts for 28 cents a pound, hamburger for 25 cents a pound, some mixed nuts and Christmas trees too ... but their ad in the Dec. 18, 1942, Gazette said: "No-We do not deliver. No tires, No gas, Car in bad shape."

Miller's Market at 214 East B had their full stock of Christmas trees marked at 30 cents and up. They were also selling apples ($2.50 basket), oranges (43 cents for 2 doz.), grapefruit (25 cents doz.) and nuts (25 cents lb.) for Christmas basket presents. Anton's Grocery, 107 West 1st (parking lot of LaCocina) had Christmas trees from 25 cents to $1.50.

Miss Millicent Slaby, local librarian, was the "proud recipient of a Douglas fir Christmas tree" in the mail from her niece, Mary Beyrer Buckley who cut it from a forest near Seattle. I wonder how much it would cost to send a tree halfway across the country today?

Max Billesbach and Jim Corcoran of the Junior Chamber of Commerce in the Gazette of Nov. 28, 1942, defended the Christmas decorations in downtown McCook and quoted a Open Forum letter from Hastings that they saw in the Omaha paper: "Lights of Christmas. Your boy, thinking of Christmas will remember, back home there'll be Christmas lights, the streets will be decorated; Santa Claus will be in every store. He likes the idea. Let him know the show goes on till he comes back again."

The McCook Service Canteen workers made sure that the boys coming through McCook knew they were remembered. Some of the providers of the Xmas holiday treats were: Girl Scout Troop 2 (400 popcorn balls), District 8 school (800 popcorn balls), Mrs. Albert Lacy (popcorn balls) and clubs giving money and candy were Riverside Club of Indianola, Palisade Woman's Club and Helping Hand Club, Home Study Club of Palisade, Beverly Ladies' Aid, Happy Hour Club of Lamar, Unionette Club of Imperial and Stratton Club.

The Christmas Eve day crew of Mrs. George Phillips, Mrs. Dale Justis, Mrs. H.B. Hughes and Mrs. Paul Arnell got there at 5 a.m. to greet two coaches of boys from Pennsylvania with Christmas treats and were rewarded with a live rendition of "Jingle Bells" from the boys.

Women on duty on Christmas Day included Mrs. E.C. Sadler, Mrs. W.W. Buterbaugh, Mrs. Herman Budig, Mrs. H.B. Hughes, Mrs. F. McDonald, Lola Lee Buterbaugh, and Bonnie Long. The Dec. 26, 1942, Gazette's account of this holiday story: "Christmas came to a group of soldiers returning from battle areas in the region of Australia and the Philippines when they passed through McCook early yesterday morning. As the train paused in McCook women from the canteen showered the boys with 'surprise' Christmas packages containing everything from cigarets, gum, candy and matches to games and toys. Additionally there were popcorn balls and cookies for all.

"Many of the boys were so overcome with emotion because they were remembered by someone on Christmas that they cried," one of the women in charge at the canteen stated.

Among the group were two Danbury boys. The parents of one of the lads were at the train to meet their son, who was recovering from an eye injury. The soldier was so overcome with gladness at seeing his "folks" and at the hearty welcome extended the group by the canteen ladies that he wept until some of his comrades helped him to a seat in the depot waiting room that he might recover his composure. "This is the nicest Christmas I've ever had," his mother said, "and if I never have another, I can't complain.'

We can't complain either ... A merry and a peaceful holiday to all of you ...

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