Today’s episode is powerful. If the content doesn’t move you, then in all seriousness, I would ask you to take some time and reevaluate what’s important. The title is simple enough, Why Success Starts With Service; however, I’m certain the task of implementing these principles will require a lifetime to master.
This episode releases on Monday, May 27th, 2019. For those of you listening in the U.S., you know that it’s Memorial Day. It’s a three day weekend and I hope that you made the most of your time away from work. On this special day, I remember all of the brave men and women who have put on a military uniform and made their way into the unknown.
In particular, I remember my uncle, Wayne Slemons. He died earlier this year on April 18th. It makes me sad, but also proud. While I have no idea whether his service in the U.S. Navy brought him any significant feeling of personal accomplishment, I know he was always proud of his service and his contribution to our great nation.
And I remember my dad, Larry Slemons. The stories of his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps have held my attention for 50 years. Again, I’m proud of him, his service to our country, and grateful that our time together remains. It would take me hours to tell you how my dad has positively impacted my life.
When we remember the sacrifices of those who serve, we must also remember the sacrifices made by those who stay behind. It’s often the service of those behind the front lines that get overlooked. Today’s episode is a tribute to them. Specifically, today’s episode is a tribute to Rae Wilson and approximately 55,000 other women who served at home during World War II. They are evidence that success starts with service.
You might recall that in last week’s episode that Ginger and I were in Seattle for our daughter-in-law’s graduation. Rachel got her Master’s Degree from Northwest University and we were there to celebrate. Fortunately, we were able to attend the commencement and hear some fantastic speakers. Well what I didn’t tell you was that one of these speakers was Dr. Dick Foth.
You might not recognize his name. He’s an author, speaker, podcaster, mentor, and Pastor who was the President of Bethany University from 1978-1992. And on this day, he was the commencement speaker at Northwest University.
He said many meaningful things on this day, but one topic stood out. I don’t consider myself to be a history buff. Our oldest son, Nehemiah, (Rachel’s husband) fills that category nicely. I’m always amazed at how much he knows about history but World War II was particularly intriguing to him. So Dr. Foth told us a story that he read by a gentleman named Bob Greene.
Bob was a sportswriter and in the early 2000s, took to writing a book that, pardon my pun, was out in left field. But this story captured my attention. That book title is Once Upon A Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. And in that book are stories that will stir your soul.
Dr. Foth mentioned a woman named Rae Wilson. This 26-year-old woman was at the epicenter of what came to be known as the North Platte Canteen. So here’s the story of Rae and the beginning of the North Platte Canteen:
On December 17th, 1941, Rae had heard a rumor that her brother, a company commander in the 134th Infantry Regiment of the Nebraska Army National Guard, was going to pass through North Platte on their way from Camp Joseph T. Robinson near Little Rock, Arkansas. The train was supposedly going to arrive at 11, but by noon it hadn’t shown up. Now, remember, you aren’t allowed to discuss or share troop movement information, so no one knew if this was even accurate.
I expect many people were beginning to question whether the rumor was true, but at least five hundred relatives and friends of local servicemen came to the depot in hopes of getting to see loved ones. When the train finally arrived around 430P, the crowd cheered, but it wasn’t the 134th. It was a National Guard regiment from the same company, Company D, but from Kansas, not Nebraska.
What to do? Well, the crowd gave the soldiers the gifts and the food that was originally meant for their own sons and wished them off. Rae wasn’t satisfied. She thought this was something the community should commit to doing until the troops stopped moving through North Platte. I seriously doubt that Rae was looking for a way to establish the principle that success starts with service.
She did write a letter to the editor of the local paper, The Daily Bulletin and said the following:
I don’t know just how many people went to meet the trains when the troops went thru 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 soldiers morale at its highest peak. We can do our part.
During World War I the army and navy mothers, or should I say the war mothers, had canteens at our own depot. Why can’t we, the people of North Platte and other towns surrounding our community, start a fund and open a Canteen now? I would be more than willing to give my time without charge and run this canteen.
We who met this troop train which arrived about 5 o’clock were expecting Nebraska boys. Naturally we had candy, cigarettes, etc., but we very willingly gave these things to the Kansas boys.
Smiles, tears and laughter followed. Appreciation showed on over 300 faces. An officer told me it was the first time anyone had met their train and that North Platte had helped the boys keep up their spirits.
I say get back of our sons and other mothers’ sons 100 per cent. Let’s do something and do it in a hurry! We can help this way when we can’t help any other way.
-Rae WilsonThe North Platte Telegraph. September 17, 1973
So here a young woman identifies an ability to serve complete strangers. Treating other mother’s sons as if they were their own. And would you like to know just how successful this endeavor was? I thought so!
Success Starts With Service
This little town of 12,000 people opened that canteen. And with the support of approximately 55,000 female volunteers, from 125 surrounding communities as far away as eastern Colorado, a service movement was born.
From December of 1941 until April of 1946, 20-30 trains arrived for their ten minute stop in North Platte. Ten minutes for a serviceman or woman to get a hug and some grub from someone who loved them as much as their mother. Seven days a week for five years, these women served over six million members of our military.
No government funding. Not a cent from the city, county, state, or federal government. 100% of what was served was baked with love and brought from the farms and tables of thousands of homes in the heart of America. And please remember, this was during rationing – something I would bet the majority of listeners today have not and will not experience in their lifetime. You stood in line for sugar, butter, flour, milk. And from this, these people gave, and gave, and gave. Not from their wealth, but from their poverty.
I wonder how many discussions occurred around the dinner table where the family decided to miss a meal so a few soldiers could have one? How many gave up their food for a friend who they would probably never see again? If you want to understand the impact, read some of the interviews Bob Greene had with soldiers in his book. These men saw some of the most brutal war scenes in history. And they were moved to tears by the sincere love and concern of these women in a ten minute stop in North Platte, NE.
You have no idea how much a glass of cold milk, a sandwich, a piece of pie, and a cup of coffee meant to these soldiers. One captain said it was the kindest any of his soldiers had been treated during all of World War II. In ten minutes, these women fed, played with, danced with, and gave gifts to soldiers who would remember their simple acts of kindness for a lifetime.
Bob said, “If you want a guide book on how to be a great American, it happened right there at the North Platte Canteen.” This wasn’t just successful – Bob called it a miracle. And he explained how resistant he is to use that word. That this little town of 12,000 people so dramatically impacted the lives of more than 6,000,000 is, in fact, miraculous.
And so today, with you, I remember through the words and actions of these most honorable women at the North Platte Canteen, through the initiative of a single 26-year-old woman and her letter to the editor starting one of the most powerful volunteer efforts in our history, that my greatest success starts with service.
To all those women and men who have given their lives in service to our country or those who have served or are serving in any branch of the armed forces, I say, “Thank you for your service.”
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
The Leader To Leader Podcast Episode 115: To Be A Great Leader You Must Have This
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