Open Book
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this is on us

North Platte, Nebraska is an isolated town of 24,000. Throughout World War 2 soldiers, sailors and aviators traveling towards combat rode troop trains through North Platte where the Union Pacific Railroad made stops to take on water.

The townspeople (1940’s population 12,000) made those stops special. Starting in December 1941, they welcomed every troop train—up to 23 a day. Volunteers greeted 3,000-5,000 soldiers a day with sandwiches and gifts, music and even dances. Every day of the war, townspeople were at the depot. They never missed a train, never missed a soldier.
By the end of the war the people of North Platte fed six million soldiers without $1 of government money. They did accept a $5 donation from President Roosevelt.

Last month 21 busloads of US Army soldiers of the 142nd Field Artillery based in Arkansas traveled through North Platte after conducting emergency deployment exercises in Wyoming. For three weeks they’d been training and sleeping outdoors, living on MRE’s.

The bus company transporting the 700 soldiers back to Arkansas contacted the North Platte visitors’ bureau: Was there a location in town that could handle a succession of 21 buses and get 700 soldiers in and out for a quick snack?

Word got out that soldiers would be coming back through North Platte. “People started calling our office,” recounted Lisa Burke, the visitors’ bureau director. “Hundreds wanted to help.”

As each bus arrived over a two day period, the soldiers stepped out to be greeted by cheering people holding signs of thanks. They weren’t at a fast-food restaurant: They were at North Platte’s events center, decorated especially for them. The soldiers entered to the aroma of steaks grilling and the sound of music—Justin Timberlake, the Florida Georgia Line as well as Glenn Miller, and the Andrews Sisters. They were served steak sandwiches, ham sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, deviled eggs, salads and fruit; local church groups baked pies, brownies and cookies.

Mayor Dwight Livingston served in Vietnam. He had come home to no words of thanks. Now he shook the hand and welcomed each soldier. “I don’t know whether those moments were more important for them, or for me. I knew I had to be there.”

When it came time to settle up—the Army had budgeted for a snack stop—the 142nd Field Artillery was told: Nope. This is on us. This is on North Platte.

The New Testament book of Hebrews challenges Christ-followers to
show hospitality to strangers. Why? Because hospitality can be more beneficial to the giver than the recipient. And the blessings of being hospitable seemingly benefit even the second and third generations. ~

Dan Nygaard