"God Bless, and Save America"

A Brief History of Marion, Ohio's WWII Canteen

By Scott D. Trostel

 READ MORE about this canteen in the book: ANGELS AT THE STATION

For additional information on the WW II canteens read the books listed at the bottom of the CANTEENS tab

Redirect me to the railroad canteen web site by clicking here

At Marion, Ohio, the start of WW II thrust the community into an emergency civilian defense mode. By the last of December 1941, the idea of a repeat of their WW I track side Red Cross Canteen had been revived.  During January 1942, 375 women volunteered to assist at a canteen to be reestablished at the Marion Union Station.  The initial plan was to meet troop trains on the Erie Railroad, New York Central Railroad and Chesapeake & Ohio Railway with a full compliment of foods, drinks and desserts. 

Headed by Waurena Willey, the canteen opened May 11, 1942.  Women between the ages of twenty-one and eighty worked there.  In the first hours no troop trains stopped, but instead passed through.  When troops did get off of scheduled trains, they seemed more interested in the snacks the women offered, especially  popcorn.  Within two weeks sandwiches were dropped from the menu selection.  In their place were bags and bags of fresh-popped corn, fresh fruits locally grown, candy bars, cigarettes, magazines, newspapers, beverages and uniquely, razor blades, which were in short supply. Collection jars were put on the counters of many local businesses for donation of change, and boxes were also set in stores for the donation of candy, gum, cigarettes and magazines.  By 1942 the canteen had come on board the Marion County War Chest and was recognized by the Marion Community Foundation for partial funding of some expenses.  By far a larger part of the funds and supplies came from private residences, farmers and businesses in the region.

Marion Union Station circa 1945.  The tracks in the lower foreground are those of the Erie Railroad and the New York Central Railroad.  The tracks crossing them from the right are those of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.  It is on the platforms around the station that soldiers were served by volunteers.

Their base of operations was established in the unused baggage rooms on the southeast side of the station.  It was transformed by donated labor into a kitchen area. Marion Steam Shovel donated kitchen appliances and the local utility provided electric and wiring services to get the canteen into first class shape.

The volunteers walked the platforms on the north and west side of the station with baskets of popcorn, fruit, sundry items and pitchers of drinks.  Usual hours of operation were from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.  Women worked four hour shifts, usually twelve per shift with a group on stand-by for unexpected trains.  At this canteen most troops stayed on troop trains until mid-1945, and the women handed up the baskets at one end of each coach, gathering the empty baskets at the other end.  Troops on regular scheduled trains did get off and eventually a lounge was established in the canteen for their use while awaiting connecting trains.  Some New York Central trains did not stop at Marion, but those troops were given an ample opportunity at Bellefontaine, where another important canteen had been opened eight days earlier than Marion's.

Heavy troop traffic was experienced and a plea went out to the community for more volunteers.  Over 500 women are recorded as working at the canteen.  Teachers and professional women worked on week-ends and after their normal work hours.  The loss of men in local industry brought women to take their places.  Many were mothers with small children, but who could not find baby-sitters.  This canteen took on the additional job of operating a volunteer day-care service at a second site in town.

 At the station platform the volunteers provided dedicated service to approximately 1,500,000 soldiers on all passing trains between 1942 and 1945. Service men and service women from all parts of America were provided pop corn, fruit, drinks and sundry items  and friendly smiles as their trains paused at Marion Union Station.

May 12, 1943 photo of Marion Union Station canteen workers with a group of soldiers and sailors.  Aside from the men in uniform, those in the photo left to right are: V. J. McMullen, Kent Division Superintendent of the Erie Railroad, Mrs. Waurena Willey, head of the canteen, Mrs. J. Malcom Strelitz, Mrs. George Alber, Mrs. James C. Woods, Mrs. O. G. Stephenson and Mrs. C. J. Zimmerman.  The men in uniform included Staff Sgt Harry Fargo, of Binghamton, New York, Aviation Machinist's Mate Warren Giel of Long Island, New York, Pvt. Hobart Nestor of Akron, Ohio, Pvt. Del Hershey of Akron, Ohio, Pvt. James P. Questal of Chesapeake, Ohio, W. C. Daugherty of Winchester, Indiana, Nelson Davids of Long Island, New York, W. F. Lynch and S. L. Williams, both from Chicago and all in Naval service.  -- Marion County Historical Society collection, all rights reserved

The women overcame many difficulties which would have discouraged any man or woman had the cause been less worthy.  For nearly a year they carried all the baskets to the trains, but long platform walks and cold weather brought the donation a cart to aid with the task.  Communities in surrounding counties were united in support of those volunteers efforts. Not once did the community allow the supply of any scarce items to fail.

This photo was taken May 11, 1942, the first day the Marion Union Station Canteen was open. Volunteers man the canteen kitchen in preparation for the arrival of the next train. The ladies in the photo are left to right, Mrs. J. B. Dennis, Mrs. Virgil Dye, Mrs. Waurena Willey, Mrs. Marion Clark, Mrs. Clara Campbell, Mrs. L.A. Axe, Mrs. Homer R. Waddell, Mrs. W. O. Nippert, Mrs. A. G. Birch, and in the foreground are Mrs. G. W. Pfleiderer, Mrs. A. J. R. Foster and Mrs. D. E. Montgomery. The actual canteen was an unused baggage room on the south east side of Marion Union Station. -- Marion County Historical Society collection, all rights reserved

Between train arrivals the women popped pop corn -- as much as 300 pounds per day.  When soy oil was rationed, home cup boards were emptied and oil was taken to the canteen so that the poppers wouldn't be silenced. Mrs. Willey moved to Arkansas in March 1945, but stayed in touch and made visited to the canteen during family trips back in Marion.  Mrs. Stephenson took her place as Canteen Chairman for the last nine months the canteen operated.

The Marion Service Canteen presented a united gesture with a powerful and lasting humanitarian purpose. Those volunteers were Marion's dedicated and unsung ambassadors to the many who stood in harm's way. On behalf of a grateful region they expressed gratitude to the many troops.   The canteen closed November 30, 1945.

Armband worn by many of the canteen volunteers at Marion Union Station. -- Marion County Historical Society collection, all rights reserved

A CHRISTMAS CANTEEN  MEMORY

The most important times at Marion Service Canteen were the holidays. The best of everyone came out, especially knowing many sons and daughters in uniform were not going to be home for Christmas.

The question of what to do for the many troops moving through over Christmas week was quickly addressed when the canteen ladies suggested it become a community affair.

The volunteers announced just after Thanksgiving 1942, they would provide empty cellophane bags to anyone who wanted to fill them with cheery Christmas of snacks and other modest gifts. Nearly 1,400 bags were given out between Thanksgiving and Christmas week of 1942. The generosity of Marion and Marion County folks was outstanding. One Marion lady stopped by for 20 bags, spending between $1.00 and $1.50 for gifts to be placed in each bag. A lady from St. Louis, Missouri, took three and sent three bulging bags back stuffed with games, playing cards, razors and snacks. The idea caught on quickly. Clubs, organizations and groups were pledging to fill a number of bags in place of their usual Christmas gift exchange. In addition a number of people gave money which was used to buy large boxes of Christmas cookies and candy. Some ladies put their names in the bags. After Christmas they started receiving letters at their homes from grateful soldiers and sailors.

On Christmas Eve morning there were 35 bushel baskets of gayly decorated bags awaiting the arrival of the trains that evening. An estimated 1,400 gift bags were ready. The Marion Star was so impressed, they sent a reporter over to Union Station. She described the canteen as a fairyland.

The generosity of the people of Marion County to the Canteenís appeal for Christmas gift bags touched the hearts of everyone at the Canteen that day. The volunteers walked around with happy smiles on their faces and tears of joy in their eyes.

When C & O Number 35 pulled in at 4:18 p.m. the ladies began wheeling out baskets of the gift bags. Mrs. Willey pronounced, "Boys who go through here will certainly know that Marion has a big heart."

In those bags were games, playing cards, every kind of candy, cigarettes, cans of peanuts, shaving soap, wash cloths, sewing kits, uniform buttons, shampoo, bars of soap, smoking tobacco and pipes, cookies, red apples, magazines and gum. In addition the usual bags of popcorn and cups of coffee were available.

The Canteen ladies, in the name of Santa Claus began handed out gift filled stockings and seasons treats as the trains arrived that evening.

As the many bushel baskets were unloaded the ladies heard many appreciative remarks. The troops were not forgotten men on this night.

During that brief ten minute stop the lives of many soldiers were changed, as were the lives of the Canteen volunteers. Tears of joy were shed as a mournful whistle announced the continuation of a long journey into a silent night.

One train of hundreds of men en route to naval training stations was held at the station nearly an hour on Christmas Day. It was a cold gray day with a damp chill feeling of snow. The ladies handed up bushel baskets of gift bags and men went through each coach handing them out. In addition each was given food items from the canteen.

The Commanding office was very pleased and exclaimed to the volunteers that the men had been on a train several days. "Thank goodness you are here Christmas morning," he said.

One of the sailors had brought a trumpet along and his buddy volunteered him to play for the volunteers on the platform. The youthful sailor pressed the trumpet to his lips and commenced playing the sweet melodies of "White Christmas" The sailors all joined in song. Fourteen-year-old Birch Willey was there with his mother, he fondly recalled those moments. "As the men sang, it began to gently snow. We were moved by this impromptu gesture." Spectators on the platform openly wept joyful tears and silence followed.

Throughout Christmas Eve and Christmas Day many Marion residents visited the canteen to see the colorful bags being handed out and to wish the troops a very Merry Christmas. Birch was there helping his mother. "It seemed as though half of Marion came down to the station to wish the troops a Merry Christmas. The platform was packed." All 1,400 gift bags were distributed in two days.

The day after Christmas Mrs. Willey said, "If all the people who gave us the beautiful Christmas bags could have seen the boys Friday and Christmas Eve, they would have felt repaid a million times."

Letters poured into the canteen from soldiers and their families with glad expressions for the kind gestures of the people of Marion County.

"On Christmas Day I was on a train that came through your city about 9 p.m. One of our Military Police came through the train and handed me a large Christmas package wrapped in cellophane. He did the same for other service men aboard, both sailors and soldiers.

"There were no names on these packages and so I am unable to thank the person or group responsible for the gift by writing direct. Will you please convey my appreciation to whomever did it and tell them how very, very much we appreciate the thoughtfulness of the general public and their attitude towards us when we are traveling so very far from our homes."

"William R. Paul

Induction Board No. 6

Huntington, W. Va."

 

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

 

 
ANGELS AT THE STATION

Scott D. Trostel

NOW IN PRINT

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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