The story of the North Platte, Nebraska canteen reads more like a Frank Capra movie rather than an Army film production. As the story goes, a rumor had started that a train carrying troops from Nebraska would be arriving at North Platte on Christmas Day 1941. About five hundred townspeople came to greet the train bearing food and gifts. The troops ended up being from Kansas, but that was the start of a five year endeavor in which the residents of North Platte volunteered their time and money to supply troops stopping at the train station with food and hospitality. By the time the canteen shut down in April of 1946, the people of North Platte had served over six million members of the armed forces, keeping the canteen open from five in the morning to midnight every day.
I first came across the North Platte films when I was searching the index cards of the Army Signal Corps. My mother grew up on a farm in North Bend, Nebraska, and I was interested in finding what the Army might have filmed in the state. I was surprised to discover footage of North Platte, Nebraska shot in August of 1945, during the final days of World War II. I was unaware of the story of the North Platte canteen, but I enjoyed the footage of the Canteen and the street scenes of the small but bustling town. It wasn’t until I read Once Upon a Town by Bob Greene that I learned the full meaning of what the Army had filmed.
In the four reels of film documenting the days leading up to V-J Day, there are heartwarming scenes of locals greeting soldiers and a local boy named Gene Slattery auctioning his shirt to raise money for the canteen. The daily activities of the people of Nebraska were also filmed, from shots of wheat fields and a milking operation to patrons entering local businesses, demonstrating how life goes on even in war time. In addition, Army cameramen recorded the celebrations of what might have been the most patriotic of all small towns as they learned that the war was officially over. The films are unedited, silent, black and white, and have a certain home movie like quality. Over twelve days in August, 1945, in a town called North Platte, Army cameramen created a time capsule of Americana.
111-ADC-6284 August 4-6, 1945.
The first film contains the most footage of the North Platte Canteen and is simply very well-shot. The cameraman clearly planned his shots. Canteen workers offer African American soldiers fruit at the station. There are excellent exterior and interior shots of the canteen. Not only was the canteen filmed, but the cameraman also recorded street scenes and small town American life. This film is not only good for the story it tells of the North Platte Canteen, but also of the typical American main street during WWII.
111-ADC-6286 August 9, 1945.
This film contains scenes of farming and women bringing food to the Canteen. There is also footage of Gene Slattery auctioning off his shirt at 6:21.
111-ADC-6285 August 9-10, 1945
Good shots of the towns of Elsie and North Platte. More footage of Gene Slattery auctioning off his shirt at 7:15.
111-ADC-5123 VJ-Day August 14, 1945
While many of us are familiar with VJ-Day celebrations in Times Square, this film shows how Middle America celebrated the end of the war. There are wholesome scenes of people waving flags and mothers with their children, but the film also shows more high-spirited celebrations as well, such as drinking beer while riding down main street on the front fender of a car.