Opinion > Todays Column

From a mistake, so many stories

Keith Blackledge was the editor of The Telegraph for 25 years. He is now a Telegraph contributing editor and freelance writer.

Published: Sunday, July 6, 2008 4:18 AM CDT
"Life turns on a feather," Frank Nolte said. He was talking about his few minutes at the North Platte Canteen when he was 18 - the few minutes that brought him back bearing gifts when he was 84.

The World War II Canteen does frequently generate unexpected and far-reaching results that continue to fascinate.

Consider:

If the people at the North Platte train station had gone home with their cookies after discovering the train carried Kansas soldiers when a Nebraska unit from North Platte had been expected, the story might have ended there.

If young Rae Wilson had not written a letter to the newspaper, the episode would have been forgotten.

If volunteers from our town and a wide range of surrounding communities had said the idea was too much trouble and too expensive ("and no one would thank us anyway") there would have been no reason for Frank to get off the train.

If the Canteen had folded after a few weeks or months when everyone discovered it was, indeed, a lot of work and much trouble (what with rationing and all), it would never have attracted the interest of storytellers such as Charles Kuralt, Jim Reisdorf, Bob Greene, Nebraska Educational Television and others.

If Martin Steinbeck at North Platte Community College had not, on his own time, designed a Web page to preserve this history in a form not even imagined when the Canteen was born, Frank Nolte might not have renewed his own interest in the Canteen story.

But for the coincidence that Martin is in charge of the med-tech program at the college, and Frank's late wife had spent 47 years working as a medical technician before her death in March, her husband might not have thought of providing scholarships to med-tech students at some college way out in Nebraska.

And because that 84-year-old World War II veteran in Michigan is healthy, vigorous and intensely interested in life, two North Platte students get a tuition break traceable to a December night in 1941 when a mistaken rumor brought several hundred of our townspeople to the wrong place at the wrong time.

As Frank Nolte said last week during a visit to the Canteen exhibit at the Lincoln County Museum, "life turns on a feather."

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