cover image ONCE UPON A TOWN: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen

ONCE UPON A TOWN: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen

Bob Greene, . . Morrow, $24.50 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-06-009387-7

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.