"God Bless, and Save America"

A Brief History of the Servicemen's Free Canteen,

Bellefontaine, Ohio

By Scott D. Trostel

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The Story of the canteen

At Bellefontaine, Ohio, over 275 women operated a track side free canteen for the soldiers in WWII. This town was a major terminal on the New York Central Railroad and a typical town in rural western Ohio. At the station platforms the women provided dedicated service to approximately 702,779 soldiers on all passing trains between 1942 and 1946.  Service men and service women from all parts of America were provided sandwiches, pies, cookies, coffee, magazines and friendly smiles as their trains paused at the New York Central Railroad station.  This was the second canteen to open in Ohio.  It was also the canteen from which most others were modeled in the state. 

From the Canteen hut on the adjacent platform at Columbus Avenue, volunteers made up many sandwiches, desserts, and snacks for each train. In three years they served over 127,000 loaves of bread, 350,000 pounds of meat and spreads, 87,400 pies and 30,000 gallons of coffee.  While trains were stopped for servicing, the ladies served troops on passenger trains, entire troop trains, new recruits, returning veterans and wounded veterans on hospital trains. At this canteen they also served the German and Italian Prisoners-Of-War. Every train was served no matter the hour, in summer's heat and some of the worst winter weather in 100 years.  An entire region of ten counties rallied behind the women, led by Margaret Clingerman.  She could be seen driving the streets of Bellefontaine daily, collecting up the food to be served at the canteen.

This town also had a separate cookie brigade, consisting of neighborhood girls on the west side of town who passed out cookies to east bound troop trains when they were stopped to await entry into the terminal.  These girls had no affiliation with the canteen.  The other Ohio cookie brigade was at Piqua.

When the canteen was started the railroad quickly agreed to provide a site for a small structure and the organizers spied an unused building in a vacant used car lot. It was a scant 13 feet by 13 feet, belonging to H. G. Short. It was rescued and had to be moved to the site north of the passenger station on the west side of the Cleveland mainline. Local business men were solicited for donations of building materials and labor to fix it and move it to the site. Counters were built, shelves and an alcove were added. A donation of a refrigerator, cooler and sink came. The telephone company gave them a telephone and donated service. The City of Bellefontaine provided electric and water service, all free of charge. Some of the railroad men made up a flag pole and a dry goods store provided patriotic bunting fabric. An ice box was provided by Citizens Ice Company and the railroad supplied all the ice free.

The simple building housed the Bellefontaine Canteen and provided food, allowing soldiers to quickly pass through while each train was stopped at the station. Without hesitation the townsí people stepped forward in full support of this gesture of care.

This was not something orchestrated by the government or Red Cross. It was the ladies of the Number 3 Auxiliary Big Four Railway Veterans, who took on this daunting task. All the food, all the services, all the hours of work were volunteered by private citizens and local businesses.

The women of the Auxiliary scraped together a little money for the things they couldnít make in their own kitchens, and set up shop.

Margaret contacted friends, businessmen and civic leaders regarding her idea. At a meeting on December 22, 1941, a canteen committee was organized with Wilson as chairman. The canteen officially started

On a Spring day, May 3, 1942, this oasis opened for the traveling soldiers. Some fifty soldiers were served that first day. They came in on Eastbound Train Number 46 from Indianapolis.

At first they had to explain to the train conductors of each passing train that they were offering free food for the soldiers and begged for him to pass the word.

A few of the conductors were being surly explaining that they did want their train delayed or they didnít want soldiers jumping off the train for a food stop. The New York Central president was so impressed by the gestures of this little operation that all passenger train conductors and brakemen were instructed to inform each boarding soldier of the Bellefontaine Canteen. They were accommodated. Many of the soldiers were teenagers and young men in their early twenties.. This was their first time away from home. Some of them might never come back. They rolled into a train station and were greeted by men, women and children of Bellefontaine.

Ladies all over town and in the rural areas made baked goods, pies, cakes, cookies and cooked food to supply the little white frame structure. The ladies shopping list included loaves of bread, meat, cheese, butter, coffee, milk and rolls or buns. Treats included fresh fruit, pies, cakes, cookies, brownies.

Soon the town was supporting the project in a big way. The local dairies agreed to supply free milk, each dairy obliging itself for one day of the week. The bakeries sold them fresh baked bread at cost, and often donated it. The butchers donated meat and sandwich spread.

The local societies, fraternal organizations, Sunday school classes took up special collections to assist in covering the operating costs. Several times a day someone dropped by with a cake, a batch of fresh baked cookies, a meat loaf, cartons of tobacco and cigarettes, fresh vegetables, fruit, pies or an armload of magazines.

Everything was donated and in turn it was given for free to the soldiers who ventured into this oasis in rural western Ohio. It was a sincere gesture of compassion and care, a community-run hospitality center that provided food and drink to over 250,00 service men and women in its first year of operation. Its first month of operation saw over 5,000 served.

Passenger trains came in and out of the depot and the ladies of Bellefontaine offered brief encounters for homesick young Americans with the home cooked food and perhaps a smile or a kind word. It was a wonderful experience.

Every day from May 3, 1942 to January 16, 1946, soldiers, sailors and Marines traveling cross-country by train were given free coffee, sandwiches, dessert, cigarettes and magazines at the canteen before reboarding the train and moving on. A total of 702,779 service personnel were served, the last one being First Lieutenant Francis Carlson of Jamestown, New York. He was served at just before mid-night on January 16, 1946. During the whistle-stops that averaged less than 10 minutes, experiences were gained and cherished memories created.

On the train platform, young women carried baskets of goodies, handing out sandwiches, fruit or cake, pies and cookies. Soldiers lined up to go through the little white building. For wounded men on the hospital trains who couldnít come outside the cars, volunteers went on the cars and delivered food.

The organization consisted of 138 members, but as high as 200 women volunteered their time. A daily chairman supervised 10 to 20 women daily, volunteers serving one day a week.

In the first year on an average day they served 24 quarts of milk, 20 quarts of orange drink, 150 cups of coffee and 200 to 300 sandwiches, plus pies, cakes, cookies, cigarettes and magazines. It soon became just a small amount of the food needed for the daily demand.

The cracker-box structure was too small by the end of the summer. As word had gone all the way to the New York Central headquarters in New York City, a high ranking official was sent out to investigate and make sure there was no delay to trains or disruptions to tight schedules. Mr. L. A. Champ, Trainmaster at Bellefontaine, was at the platform with the official when a wager was made that the next train would not be delayed when it arrived and the soldiers filed off for food. The soldiers alighted from the cars, filed through the canteen and had reboarded the train before it was ready to pull out.

The official was so impress and having lost the wager, ask Trainmaster Champ what he wanted as the winner.

Mr. Champ requested a larger building for the Canteen. Shortly thereafter came orders for a larger building. With the shortage of building materials Roadmaster C. E. Nichols suggested two small section houses (small one-car sized structures) could be brought in to save new materials. He had extra ones at DeGraff and Huntsville. They were loaded on flat cars and hauled in by the Bridge and Building gang. The two buildings were unloaded and facing walls removed, then butted together to form a 16 foot by 20 foot structure.

The new building was butted up next to the existing canteen to permit a quick change-over. So quick was the process that on October 9, 1942, while the soldiers of a train, the first 50 people were served in the old building and the next eleven were served from the new building, all without any delay to the train.

The first canteen was moved near the Sandusky Division tracks to the west and served soldiers coming in on that line.

Other local organizations and outlying communities joined in this volunteer effort to support the canteen. The Elks held a used clothing sales, rummage sales and periodic auctions of donated goods with funds going to the canteen. Citizens donated everything from used cars to a litter of kittens, which sold for $1 each. The first auction yielded $268.

The Bellefontaine High School Band played concerts, donating the proceeds and also made periodic appearances at the canteen grounds to play for the soldiers. The V F W hosted plays in high school auditorium, proceeds going to the canteen.

So and Sew of Belle Center made a $5 donation. An elderly East Liberty resident made a quilt and raffled it off, giving $26.10 to the canteen. Strangers handed $5 to the canteen ladies

Volunteers from many churches and organizations helped fix sandwiches, bake, cakes and cookies, pour coffee, hand out candy, newspapers and magazines during each trainís brief stop over.

To raise money for the canteen, citizens held scrap drives, collecting and selling metal, paper and rubber. They held benefit dances and pie socials. Businesses donated appliances to help store food.

Over 700,000 soldiers passed through town. Usually the schedule was known far enough out to have food ready for the next train. The ladies would make sure that all the fruit, sandwiches, coffee and cookies were out. As the train stopped the soldiers would come running in. It was a cultural experience of America. There different accents, different uniforms, men in khaki, the sailors in Navy blue, the Marines. And all of this for perhaps ten minutes per train.

What the people of Bellefontaine did was to make the soldiers feel appreciated. They were heading for an infantry division or a battle field, many didnít know where, or returning from duty, perhaps not in the best frame of mind, or wounded and feeling alone. They never forgot the greetings and hospitality on the platform at Columbus Street.

During the years the canteen was in operation, many letters were received by canteen volunteers from soldiers or their families who expressed thanks for the hospitality shown them at Bellefontaine.

The endeavors of the canteen women produced a joy of having brought a moment of happiness to some fellows who were just passing through from one service assignment to another. The ladies and town residents continued the canteen no matter how tired they were, or how many had come through, even in summer heat or winterís worst cold. Several of the volunteers had sons and brothers, husbands or other loved ones serving.

After V-J Day and the end of World War II the Canteen continued on for a while with plenty of work and smiles for returning soldiers. The center operated for another five months with a new mission of providing a welcome to returning veterans. With volunteers pressed to serve the tremendous volume of redeployed and discharged personnel, supporters continued to respond with food and cash. However, by January 1946, canteen workers noted support was waning and, with many veterans already home it was decided to close the canteen.

Margaret Clingerman's efforts did not go without notice.  As a result of her actions six other canteens were started in Ohio, all modeled after the Bellefontaine canteen.  Because of here efforts over 7 million troops were welcomed and fed as they moved across Ohio.  The other canteens included Lima, Marion, Springfield, Galion, Crestline and Bucyrus.  The only other lady whose efforts shown as bright was Rae Wilson of North Platte, Nebraska.

The Bellefontaine Canteen served two separate Divisions on the New York Central Railroad, about a city block apart.  This is the Sandusky Division where the ladies set-up a table and brought baskets of food to meet each train.  The Canteen sat at the Cleveland Division tracks. -- Logan County Historical Society collection.

Troops file through the cracker-box canteen on the Cleveland Division of the New York Central Railroad. -- Logan County Historical Society collection.

Soldiers and sailors alike are gather around the canteen while the train is serviced. This building stood until about 1965, when it was dismantled. The second canteen building at Bellefontaine was built from two section houses hauled in from Huntsville, Ohio.  It was the result of a bet between the vice president of the railroad a local trainmaster. -- Logan County Historical Society collection.

The canteen volunteers were honored for their service at a public testimonial on February 13, 1946. This photo was taken that evening. -- Logan County Historical Society collection.

Identified Canteen Volunteers

Adkins, (Workan) Miss Sharon; Adkins, (Workman) Miss Gaynell; Adkins, Mrs. Evert; Allen, Mrs. Raymond; Auberger, Miss Joan, Bailey, Mrs. Thurman; Beelman, Miss Carolyn; Beelman, Miss Mary Ann; Berry, Mrs. C. F.,  Bickerstaff, Mrs. Eula, Bidwell, Mrs. W. E., Bird, Mrs. H. G., Bivens, Mrs. Paul,  Blue, Mrs. Roger, Bodey, Mrs. W. A., Booze, Mrs. Donald, Bradley, Mrs. E. M., Bradley, Mrs. R. A., Bradley, Mrs. Richard,  Branson, Mrs. Marley, Brennan, Mrs. D. T,. Broshes, Mrs. Lewis, Burk, Miss Patti, Burkett, Mrs. Mary, Burns, Mrs. Earl; Burroughs, Mrs. Alva; Burry, Mrs. Starley; Burton, Mrs. Harold; Burton, Mrs. Roberta; Campbell, Mrs. Robert; Carey, Miss Elaine; Carnes; Mrs. Castle, Mrs. H. A.; Cira, Mrs. Sam (Jennie); Clagg, Mrs. Mabel; Clark, Mrs. George; Clinehens, Loretta; Clinehens, Mary Edna; Clinger, Mrs. Harry; Clingerman, Miss Betty; Clingerman, Miss Jean; Clingerman, Mrs. W. C. (Margaret); Connelly, Mrs. G. E.; Cooper, Mrs. Ada; Copperhaven, Mrs. W. C.; Costin, Mrs. Harry; Coyer, Mrs. Maybelle; Creviston, Mrs. Charles; Creviston, Mrs. Hamer; Curran, Miss Kate; Daring, Mrs. Roy; Davis, Mrs. Evelyn; Debo, Mrs. Roy; Denning, Mrs. Roy; Denny, Mrs. Iva; Denny, Mrs. Naomi; Detrick, Miss Patty; Detrick, Mrs. Emery; Dill, Mrs. Florence; Dow, Mrs. Edwin; Dryja, Mrs. Janet; Dunson, Mrs. Wilson; Easton, Mrs. G. L.; English, Mrs. Enola; Ewart, Mrs. Guy; Fortney, Mrs. Myrtle; Fortney, Mrs. Virginia;  Friend, Mrs. Eleanor; Fryling, Mrs. Charles; Gaugh, Mrs. Goldie; Gilbert, Mrs. Paul; Gilbert, Mrs. W. J.; Gilroy, Mrs. D. L.; Gough, Mrs. W. E.; Groves, Mrs. Marion; Guisinger, Miss Rita; Guisinger, Mrs. John; Haines, Mrs. Harry; Hamilton, Mrs. William; Hatcher, Mrs. Walter; Hendrix, Mrs. Ercelle; Henning, Lula; Hill, Miss Leah; Himes, Mrs. George; Hoey, Miss Eleanore; Horn, Mrs. Goerge; Horning, Mrs. Leo; Howard, Mrs. C. F; Huelsman, Mrs. Velma;.Humbert, Miss Peggy; Humphrey, Mrs. Viola; Hupp, Miss Virginia; Hurtt, Mrs. Lloyd;  Jackson, Mrs. Frankie;  Jackson, Miss;  Jackson, Miss; Jackson, Mrs. Olive;  Johnson, Mrs. Charles;  Kafader, Miss Dorothy; Kafader, Miss Frances; Kafader, Mrs. Harry; Kemp, Mrs. Lila;  Lions, Mrs.; Littlejohn, Miss Betty; Littlejohn, Mrs. B. E.; Littlejohn, Mrs. George; Littlejohn, Kate;  Loehr, Mrs. Andy;  Longbrake, Miss Mary Frances;  Lucas, Mrs. C. E.;  Lynn, Mrs. Richard;  Mathews, Mrs. Rush;  Maxwell, Mrs. Irene;  McCauley, Mrs. Deborah;  McCormick, Mrs. E. W.;  McCrenah, Mrs. Ruth;  McDonald, Miss Margaret;  McMullen, Mrs. John (Florence);  Miller, Mrs. Elmer; Miller, Mrs. Kenyon; Milligan, Mrs. John;  Moore, Mrs. Katherine;  Morris, Mrs. Solomon;  Moulton, Mrs.;  Murphy, Mrs. Vernon;  Nichal, Strelsa;  Nichols, Miss Janey;  Norman, Mrs. R. E.;  Norton, Mrs. Howard;  Nugent, Mrs. Charles;  OíConnor, Mrs. Margaret; O'Dea, Mrs. D. S.;  Ott, Mrs. Earl;  Otten, Mrs. C. F.;  Painter, Mrs. H. C.;  Parker, Mrs. Herbert;  Parker, Mrs. Jessie;  Parrett, Miss Janet;  Parrett, Mrs. Glen;  Patterson, Mrs. O. T.;  Pennock, Mrs. Lee;  Powers, Mrs. Earl;  Pribble, Mrs. M. T.; Pursell, Mrs. Betty;  Pusey, Mrs. Oscar;  Reed, Faye;  Reed, Mrs. E. C.;  Rike, Mrs. Catherine; Robb, Miss Barbara;  Rohrbaugh, Mrs. W. W.;  Rosebrook, Mrs. Grace;  Rosebrook, Mrs. L. Kenneth;  Ross, Mrs. Grace;  Rothert, Mrs. J. W.;  Royer, Mrs. Marie;  Royer, Mrs. Charles;  Royer, Mrs. Avery;  Rumery, Mrs. Arthur;  Ryan, Mrs. J. E. (Anna);  Sabick, Miss Deloris;  Sabick, Mrs. Stanley;  Settlemire, Mrs. Alice;  Shawver, Miss Doris;  Shawver, Mrs. Hattie;  Shawver, Miss Shirley;  Shearer, Mrs. Max;  Sickles, Mrs. Harry;  Slusser, Mrs. Paul;  Smith, Mrs. Wayland;  Sours, Miss Mary;  Southard, Miss Lucille;  Starbuck, Mrs. R. R.;  Stevenson, Mrs. Howard;  Strayer, Mrs. Hershal;  Strayer, Mrs. Leona;  Strayer, Mrs. Willis;  Sugrue, Mrs. William;  Thackery, Mrs. J. F.;  Toohey, Mrs. Ruth;  Trautman, Mrs. F. A.;  Tynan, Mrs. Margaret;  Urton, Mrs. Mianie;  VanNess, Mrs. Paul;  Ward, Mrs. Blanche;  Watkins, Miss Ramone; Weeks, Mrs. W. C., Sr.;  Weeks, Mrs. J. M.; Wellman, Mrs. Gertrude; Westhaver, Mrs. Homer; Williams, Mrs. Rema; Winter, Miss Roberta;  Wood, Mrs. Ralph; Yates, Mrs. William; Zook, Mrs. Dan  

 

ABOUT Margaret Clingerman . . .


The reality of the seemingly impossible and exemplary suggestion that one woman was unafraid to propose and make the inspiring commitment that hundreds of other canteen workers were willing to follow and make, in the face of many obstacles and challenges was and still remains nothing short of a modern day miracle. That her actions influenced other towns in Ohio to open canteens and for tens of thousands of donors to step forward in support of the troops is indeed a powerful legacy of service to mankind.

 

 

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Historical marker to recognize the WW II Canteen and Margaret Clingerman, dedicated August 4, 2007,  at Bellefontaine, Ohio.  It sits opposite the canteen site on Columbus Avenue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KEY NOTE ADDRESS

Bellefontaine Canteen Marker Dedication

August 4, 2007

Scott D. Trostel

Today we honor a group of elite veterans who fought a war of compassion right here. We dedicate for future generations, a permanent reminder of the most compassionate and humanitarian service rendered during WW II.

From a tiny white hut, Bellefontaine's canteen, volunteers, greeted troops with heaping trays of sandwiches, desserts, drinks, magazines and secret weapons; smiles and a friendly word. Over 36,000 trains stopped and every soldier was fed, no matter the hour or the weather, volunteers met over 702,000 soldiers. The good they did in a time of world emergency shall never be forgotten. Many came to realize the significance of such a tiny place and people throughout this town, and a ten county region shown their support.

It made a positive difference to those many and their voice speaks yet today in the hundreds of letters of appreciation concluding with an almost universal phrase, "because of you (or your efforts) we know what we are fighting for." It doesnít get any more concise. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers knew what they were fighting for because of Bellefontaine's canteen and volunteers.

For the volunteers their time was a journey of profound humanitarianism and sincere dedication to make the lives of those many strangers a little better. In every sense it was a spiritual journey. They welcomed the strangers, gave drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. These ladies passed out over 350,000 pounds of food. Theirs too was the story of the loaves and fishes. They didnít provide the food, it all came from the homes and farms of thousands of residents in an ten county region. People sacrificed their rationed food so the volunteers could give it to the many strangers in uniform, all for the common good of troops going to fight and stand in harms way for our freedom.

Margaret Clingerman is the lady who saw so clearly the need to serve others. She took a simple idea to give a few minutes of comfort and distraction to the troops and turned it into inspiring reality. Rallied by her sense of service, and with her faith, she mustered the resources on which a group of women volunteers, the wives and daughters of railroad men, started what became a world recognized oasis and a momentary respite for many.

Margaret went beyond what any other canteen manager in the United States did. She directly influenced the establishment of seven other canteens in Ohio, and the feeding of over seven million troops during WW II. Only one other lady could boast of similar service, Rae Wilson Sleight, of North Platte, Nebraska. Margaret suffered some terrible trials during those four years. Her husband suddenly died, leaving her with seven children, two of whom are here today. Her father died and her eldest son joined the Navy, yet she never faltered in her commitment to serve others, proof of her devotion to purpose.

Soldiers, sailors and marines traveling through on passenger trains, troop trains and hospital trains were greeted on the platform and welcomed. What uniform men and women received in those few moments was so much more than just food. It was the assurance of the people that WE stood behind then.

German and Italian Prisoners-of-war we fed here.. Volunteers felt it their duty to offer compassionate service no matter the uniform, those men were the fathers, sons, husbands or brothers of someone.

Volunteers stood on these hallowed grounds without complaint and served total strangers. This is compassionate service at its best! This is what America is all about!

To the ladies here and those who have passed on, yours is a powerful legacy of service to mankind. You made a difference!

Thank you and God Bless.

 

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Read selected letters from the soldiers who stopped at many of the canteens CLICK HERE

ANGELS AT THE STATION

Scott D. Trostel

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One of the most compelling books of humanitarianism ever!

Stories of many of the canteens and the

volunteers struggles to meet every soldier.

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