Friday, November 12, 2010

Supporting Roles

I went to my niece's high school play last night. Of course, to my family, Madi was the star. I'm guessing the family members of the other four cast members saw a different actress in the starring role of Nunsense II ... and that's the way it should be.

(If you live near Pratt, I recommend attending the final performance tonight at 7 at Skyline High School. It's a really cute show)

But there were other "stars" who didn't appear on stage. They were the ones running the lights, adjusting the sound, painting the sets, typing the programs and greeting the audience. It was the accompanist who spent hours at the piano bench and even the high school page turner who made sure the music pages were turned at the right time. It was the director and her assistants who clocked more hours than they will ever get paid for.

It was everyone behind the scenes who were doing the myriad of tasks that make it possible for the "stars" to shine.

On that Veterans Day evening, it made me think about the people in the background. While we rightfully herald our nation's heroes who risk their lives to protect our freedom, there are plenty of people in "supporting" roles who may be forgotten.

Our church bulletin has a list of active servicemen and women with Stafford connections. It's amazing to see how many patriots our little town has produced.

But for every one of those names, there is a family who is also making a sacrifice. There's a Mom who is going to say goodbye to her 19-year-old son next month and send him off with her prayers to Afghanistan. There is a young wife left at home to care for young children ... to effectively become a single parent for the next year. There are grandparents who are stepping into the parent role when a husband and wife are both called to duty.

They don't wear the uniform. There aren't parades in their honor. But their sacrifice is very real. So on this day after Veterans Day, I say thanks to the families.

On our recent trip to Nebraska, I learned about another group who offered a supporting role to troops during World War II. The North Platte (Neb.) Canteen served more than 6 million servicemen and women who traveled through Nebraska from December 25, 1941, to April 1, 1946.
As someone who likes to bake and share, the idea of the North Platte Canteen intrigued me enough that I did more research when we got home.

It started to welcome some of their own. Some civic-minded women heard that a Nebraska troop train was coming into town. So they gathered homemade treats and other goodies and went to the North Platte train station.

But instead of Nebraskan troops, the train was filled with Kansas soldiers.

One young woman - Rae Wilson - recognized those Kansas soldiers needed a glimpse of home just as much as Nebraskans would.

She decided she wasn't going home with the cookies she'd brought. She was going to hand them out to the Kansas guys. And the North Platte Canteen was born.

This was Rae Wilson's letter to the editor of the North Platte Daily Bulletin that launched the Canteen. It is probably hard to read, but it says, in part:

"I don't know just how many people went to meet the trains when the troops went through our city Wednesday, but those who didn't should have. To see the spirits and the high morale among those soldiers should certainly put some of us on our feet and make us realize we are really at war. We should help keep this soldier morale at its highest peak. ... Let's do something and do it in a hurry! We can help this way when we can't help any other way."

Volunteers at North Platte met every troop train during that time. Every. Single. One. They served up homemade cookies and cakes, coffee and sandwiches. But even more importantly, they showed America cared.

Even when it meant giving up a part of their family's war rations, the Canteen continued to serve the troops. An average daily shopping list included 160 to 175 loaves of bread, 100 pounds of meat, 15 pounds of cheese, 2 quarts of peanut butter and sandwich spreads, 45 pounds of coffee, 40 quarts of cream, 500 half-pint bottles of milk and 25 dozen rolls, plus the homemade goodies contributed by cooks across the region.

Pretty remarkable ... It just goes to show how important supporting roles can be - whether we're talking about a high school play or supporting our troops.


  1. Kim, this is so inspiring!! I had never heard about it. Thanks.

    Jane T

  2. Congratulations to Madi. She'll treasure that experience forever. And Kim, would you believe there are several women from Imperial (100 miles from North Platte) who were also involved in that canteen, taking food and support all that way many times! Glad you enjoyed that history. There is some great music by a man with North Platte roots, Rick Kuethe...a song called the Canteen on his album, The Heartland. http://www.peaceandquiet.com/

  3. Marcia - The museum that told most about the canteen was closed for the season, but I did read online that communities from all over Nebraska contributed to the Canteen. It's a really inspiring story. Thanks for the link, too!