"God Bless, and Save America"

A Brief History of the Dennison Servicemen's Canteen, Dennison, Ohio

By Scott D. Trostel

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Next Stop - Dennison!  

Within months of the start of WW II a small group  volunteers came together forming the  Dennison, Ohio canteen to meet the troops passing through town on the Pennsylvania Railroad.  It became the first community based canteen in Ohio during WW II.  Over 1,300,000 troops stopped at Dennison, Ohio canteen.  They were welcomed with bologna and cheese sandwiches, fruit, candy bars and drinks.  It was a profound gesture supported by the citizens of over seven counties. 

ISBN 978-0-925436-54-2 • 136 pages • 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 • Soft cover  $14.95 

On a cold morning, March 7, 1942, people gathered on Pennsylvania Railroad station platform at Dennison, Ohio, as had been the custom. In the distance the distinctive locomotive whistle echoed from the hills. Lucille Nussdorfer was there. It was the second war in which she had stood on the platform, carrying food destined for consumption by soldiers going off to war. She was eight years old when "Our Boys" joined the American Expeditionary Forces to end a terrible war on the Western Front of France on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. Mrs. Eleanor Wilson McCaw had started a Red Cross Canteen at Dennison during WW I. Lucille helped her mother, one of the many volunteers with the job of making the soldiers feel welcome and to get something to eat.

On this day it was another war, and this time the sons of those WW I soldiers were in uniform heading to battlefields where their fathers had fought. This time Lucille was 32 years old, and it was WW II. This time she was spearheading a small volunteer group of local ladies who decided to make food and provide it free to the passing soldiers on the platform. 

A small group of ladies at Dennison, Ohio, all volunteers, were offering free food on the platform of the Pennsylvania Railroad passenger station. It was to benefit the traveling soldiers. It was started just two months after the United States entered WW II.   The menu was simple; sandwiches, home made cookies, doughnuts, hot coffee and warm glowing smiles.

The ladies had determination, dedication, so opened the extraordinary chapter in the Twin Cities; Dennison’s and Uhrichville’s finest hour.

Their first kitchen wasn’t in a large or plush structure, it didn’t even sit at the railroad track, but across the street from the station. It was first opened in a portion of Robinson's Shoe Repair Shop then moved into Charlie Lindsey's Filling Station, which was closed. The ladies prepared some food there. Other food was made at the homes of the women and delivered to the station platform.

Ray Wilson, a reporter for the Canton Repository first referred to the Canteen as "Dreamland," in his article of May 17, 1942. The modified name of "Dreamsville" is attributed to a group of soldiers from Texas, who had been fed by the canteen. The name stuck.

The rush of trains soon overwhelmed the ladies and while they recognized the profound need for their service, they needed help.  On March 19, 1942, the ladies efforts became the Dennison Service Men’s Canteen supervised by the Salvation Army.

As the trains stopped, a number of canteen volunteers boarded coaches on the train, bearing trays of sandwiches, cookies, coffee, fruit, magazines, postcards and booklets containing "The Gospel According to St. John." The ladies presence was a great relief, theirs was a mission of relief for the average soldier.  Most generally the ladies were aware of the whistle signal when the train was about to depart, and quickly made their way to the vestibule of the coach and exited, but not always. A few time a lady or two ended up making the train ride down to the Third Street crossing where the train stopped. At least twice ladies rode west to Newcomerstown or Coshocton or east to Mingo Junction. They had to summon a ride back to Dennison.

Lucille had recognized the diner was a cramped facility with the rapidly escalating number of soldiers being served daily. The facilities of the canteen needed to be at the station platform. She was from a railroad family and had started conversations with John Hildebrand and Linton Chalfont, both PRR employees, who put her in contact with officials in the real estate department of the Pennsylvania Railroad about occupying the unused west portion of the station.  They gave an immediate nod to her proposal.

Individuals and organizations were encouraged to donate cash or food and to come to the Canteen and help. Spring’s Store donated the use of a room to hold contributions. The Gnadenhutten item list for May 1942 included; "$50.60 in cash, 68 1/3 dozen homemade cookies, 11 pound assorted cakes, 16 1/2 dozen doughnuts, 9 5/6 dozen cup cakes and 6 large cakes.

"For sandwiches: 4 quart homemade sandwich filling, 2 quart peanut butter, 3 cans sandwich filling, 1 pound sandwich meat, 2 pounds of cheese, 2 dozen eggs, 2 dozen buns, 14 pounds of coffee, 64 large cans of condensed milk, 7 2/3 dozen oranges, 70 candy bars, 1 pound marshmallows, 17 packages of cigarettes, 98 packages of chewing gum, 2 pounds of sugar, 2 rolls of wax paper."

Soon it became a contest in the local papers to see who had donated the most. New Philadelphia residents would make a sizeable donation of goods, then Port Washington would come forward, their lists were itemized in the newspaper. Villages like Midvale-Barnhill jointly made donations and so did Tuscarawas, Stone Creek, Baltic, Sugar Creek, Mineral City and others. Their gesture set the standard for Tuscarawas County and eventually all surrounding communities and adjoining counties. The rewards of their sacrifice and labors quickly began yielding powerful rewards in the form of letters from the soldiers.

"...Words can never tell you how much I appreciated your most generous gift . . . with folks like you behind us it gives the added incentive that some of us might lack, to fight harder and better than ever before, and it's people like you that make the old USA. the best nation in the world, and worth working and fighting for."

Pvt. David Bellman

The ladies serving food carried it on large wooden trays strapped around their necks and later from food carts as the demand became quite overwhelming.

In the first few months there was no refrigeration for the canteen. The local folks had taken to preparing sandwiches in their homes and delivering trays of them to the station. One of the meat stretchers they made was bologna (ham) salad.  A train load of soldiers reportedly became sick after eating some food that had not been refrigerated. The Canteen put out a request asking for restraint with the donation of salad style sandwiches, instead asking for the ingredients so they could make up the food just prior to the trains arrival.  After that time the canteen largely went with bologna or cheese sandwiches, fresh fruit, desserts, coffee, milk and magazines.  Basic items put into lunch bags.

After grabbing a lunch bag, drink, snack and/or dessert the soldiers all quickly boarded the train to find their seats and enjoy lunch. In a brief few minutes it was under way, signaled with two blasts of the locomotive whistle and those first powerful blasts of exhaust steam jetting into the air as though shot gun blasts from straining pistons. As massive locomotive drivers began those first hesitant revolutions a grateful group of young men and women warmly waved and voiced their appreciation and thanks.

The food line at the Dennison Servicemen's Canteen.

The train of tuscan red coaches started rolling by. Coach after coach and at every window in the coach were happy faces and hands excitedly waving. A warm glow of appreciation radiated as the train gently rolled by. Smiling, the volunteers stood on the platform and waved back, rewarded for their work in some spiritually connecting way. They wanting to make the lives of hundreds of strangers pleasant and with some sense of meaning, if for only a few minutes. They knew those faces glancing out of the windows were going to stand in harm’s way.

By August, 1942, 26 separate church and ladies clubs were directly volunteering for trackside canteen operations on a twenty-four hour basis.

By early December 1942, the local communities had been alerted to a plan to offer thousands of soldiers Christmas boxes. Mrs. Margaret Wheeler of Uhrichsville, took the lead in this gesture of Christmas giving. Her committee ask everyone to make up boxes that weighed about one-pound each and contained cigarettes, candy, nuts, gum and cakes. If the boxes were intended for nonsmokers, they should be so marked. Individuals and groups from Tuscarawas, Guernsey, Harrison and Stark counties came forward as never before.

Church groups, ladies and communities all over the region got busy in their kitchens making candy, cookies, cakes and treats for which they probably would never know the name of the recipient. They were packed and wrapped, with a glee and a satisfaction of generous sharing. Many women put their name and address in the boxes in hopes of a letter from a soldier.

On December 24, 1942, distribution of the Christmas boxes was begun.  By the time the last of the boxes were given out, over 5,000 soldiers had received them. A few weeks later women all over the region received letters of appreciation from the soldiers.

And so it went for four long years. In all kinds of weather at every hour the volunteers faithfully served. On March 23 1946, Adjutant Elizabeth Brooks made the official announcement. "The Dennison Servicemen’s Canteen will serve its last man in uniform with the departure of the last train from Dennison station at midnight, April 7 . . . ."

The last train was westbound Number 27, arriving at 12:47 A.M. on Sunday, April 7, 1946. On the platform Canteen volunteers grouped around the serving cart. They were many of the Canteen supervisors along with Adjutant Elizabeth Brooks. This time they were dressed in their "Sunday finest."

The train eased to a stop and a few soldiers hopped off for a midnight snack on the platform. The last soldier to be served was Sgt. John A. Settlemire, of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He was on his way to reassignment at Camp Crowder, Missouri.

Included in that group were Edna Cottrell. She later recalled those final moments. "My sister and I served the last troop train going through Dennison. They got off the train shouting, ‘We're going home. We're going home.’" Some of those soldiers kissed the volunteers on the cheek.

They boarded the train with the last food and the conductor snapped the trap door closed. With two whistle blasts the train pulled out into a dark night. The ladies retired to the canteen facilities to turn off the coffee pot and cleaned up. When they left the station the lights were turned off for good.

Summary of the Canteen Efforts 1942 - 1946

Members of Armed Forced Served                  1,319,439

Women and men volunteers.                                 3,987

Volunteer hours worked.                                  6 01,520

Sandwiches served.                                           2,057,740

Cups of coffee, pop and milk served.                1,339,514

Candy bars, gum and lollipops served               137,634

Cookies, doughnuts, pies and cakes served.     1,626,033

Oranges, apples and other fruit served. 1       1,024,682

Misc. packages given out                                       77,431

Christmas Boxes distributed.                               58,932

Magazines, books and newspapers given.           513,730

Value of Donated Goods                                 $86,100.55

Total Cash Expended                                    $115,583.59

Grand Total                                                   $201,684.14

WHERE ARE THE DENNISON CANTEEN RECORDS AND SOLDIER LETTERS?  If you know, drop me a note at info@canteenbooks.com

ORDERING THE BOOK

Next Stop - Dennison!  Within months of the start of WW II a small group  volunteers came together forming the  Dennison, Ohio canteen to meet the troops passing through town on the Pennsylvania Railroad.  It became the first community based canteen in Ohio during WW II.  Over 1,300,000 troops stopped at Dennison, Ohio canteen.  They were welcomed with bologna and cheese sandwiches, fruit, candy bars and drinks.  It was a profound gesture supported by the citizens of over seven counties.     978-0-925436-54-2  

 

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

VISIT OTHER OHIO CANTEEN WEB PAGES JUST CLICK ON THE TOWN NAME:

Bellefontaine    Crestline    Dennison    Lima    Marion    Springfield    Troy