In search of "the best America there ever was," bestselling author and syndicated columnist Bob Greene finds it in a small Nebraska town few people pass through today -- a town where Greene discovers the echoes of the most touching love story imaginable: a love story between a country and its sons. North Platte, Nebraska, is as isolated as a small town can be, a solitary outpost in the vast midwestern plains, hours from the state's urban centers of Omaha and Lincoln. But from Christmas Day 1941 to the end of World War II, a miracle happened there. During the war, American soldiers from every city and walk of life rolled through North Platte on troop trains, en route to their ultimate destinations in Europe and the Pacific. The tiny town, wanting to offer the servicemen warmth and support, transformed its modest railroad depot into the North Platte Canteen -- a place where soldiers could enjoy coffee, music, home-cooked food, magazines, and convivial, friendly conversation during a stopover that lasted only a few minutes. It was a haven for a never-ending stream of weary, homesick military personnel that provided them with the encouragement they needed to help them through the difficult times ahead. Every day of the year, every day of the war, the Canteen -- staffed and funded entirely by local volunteers -- was open from 5 A.M. until the last troop train of the day pulled away after midnight. Astonishingly, this remote plains community of only twelve thousand people provided welcoming words, friendship, and baskets of food and treats to more than six million GIs by the time the war ended. In this poignant and heartwarming eyewitness history, based on interviews with North Platte residents and the GIs who once passed through, Bob Greene unearths and reveals a classic, lost-in-the-mists-of-time American story of a grateful country honoring its brave and dedicated sons.
"Greene, who seemingly hasn't liked a single year since 1965, goes back to World War II to recount the story of a canteen in North Platte, Nebraska, where citizens offered food, companionship, and comfort to soldiers who passed through on troop trains. There's no doubt that this slice of home-front Americana is heartwarming. Calling on personal recollections of both the town's citizens and the soldiers who passed through, Greene recounts the sacrifices people made to provide food for the young men and the gratitude felt by the recipients, who have deep and fond memories of the brief time they spent in North Platte. But the story might have worked better as a magazine article; at book length, the memories, sweet as they are, tend to be repetitive, and Greene's prose, in which sweetness soon turns treacly, is best consumed in small doses. Greene believes that the North Platte canteen symbolizes "the best America there ever was," and he hammers the point home by beginning the book in the present, as he drives across Nebraska listening to news about local murders. Greene's implied theme that nothing like the "miracle of North Platte" could happen today is belied by the many stories of human kindness expressed after the tragedy of September 11. --Ilene Cooper"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"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. Agent, Eric Simonoff, Janklow & Nesbit. (June 3) Forecast: With a history of writing bestsellers, Greene will make the best of an extended tour in Nebraska and the Midwest to generate grassroots interest in this feel-good chronicle of wartime America. Faithful readers of his column and books will snatch this up, inspired by the current patriotic mood. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved