Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Welcome Friends - Have a Coke": The Harvey County U.S.O. - Part I

"The U.S.O. and Red Cross in Kansas, especially in Newton, are doing a commendable job in meeting trains, seeking out the soldiers and giving them cookies, cigarettes, fruit, coffee, matches, stationary,candy and reading matter in a manner that none of the other states visited can boast."  -Undated clipping, Evening Kansan Republican, "A letter from a  Mother"  HCHM USO Piano File.
~~This is the first of a three part series on the Harvey County U.S.O. during World War II~~ 

Museums and Archives house many one of a kind objects, documents and photographs.  These irreplaceable objects are links to our community's past and the people that lived through historic events.  Sometimes the object itself is nothing special, common place, but the association with event and people make it unique.  The Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives has two objects related to Harvey County's U.S.O. during World War II, a Kreiter upright piano and the U.S.O. train cart.  This first post will give a brief history of Harvey County's U.S.O. and recipes for the cookies served to the traveling soldiers.

Canteen Sign
The Harvey County Chapter U.S.O. was organized in Newton on April 10, 1942 with representatives from each Harvey County town on the governing council.  At first, the U.S.O. operated in connection with the Red Cross Canteen on East 5th in Newton.  However, by October 1, 1942 the U.S.O. "Troops in Transit Lounge" was located just west of the depot at 421 Main, Newton.

Harvey County Chapter Canteen
ca. 1945
A group was formed to answer the need some saw to provide services to soldiers as they traveled through Newton on the trains. Because trains stopped longer in Newton to refuel and pick up supplies, soldiers had time to get off the train and look for food and entertainment. 
"Welcome Friend, Have a Coke"Sign above canteen door.
The 'Troops is Transit Lounge', staffed largely by community volunteers, was a place where soldiers could go while they were in Newton. The Lounge was furnished with comfortable chairs, writing desks, and game tables. The U.S.O. also provided food and drink. Volunteers would also meet the soldiers on the trains if time did not allow them to come to the Lounge. The U.S.O. Cart, seen in the photo below, was pushed down the train car isle and volunteers would pass out snacks and drinks to the passengers.  The U.S.O. volunteers worked to make sure that someone met each train with soldiers on it. 

U.S.O.cart & Volunteers
Canteen No. 9, Newton Ks
Refreshments were free and usually made by volunteers.  Typically, coffee and doughnuts were available in the mornings.  Lunch was provided and the menu varied. Home baked cookies and cakes were always available to hungry soldiers.  Below are two cookie recipes used by Canteen volunteers.


Special meals were made on the holidays Thanksgiving and Christmas.  At Christmas time, volunteers were ready with gifts for soldiers coming through during the season.  A mother in Washington D.C. wrote a letter to the Evening Kansan Republican expressing her gratitude for the care given to her son.
"Thank you for being nice to my son on his first Christmas eve away from home.  He writes me that you even gave them all a Christmas present and he said the town and the reception they got would long be remembered." 
The Lounge was also equipped with showers for the weary traveler.  One service was unique to the Harvey County U.S.O. - the underwear and sock exchange. Soldiers could leave their dirty underwear and socks in exchange for a freshly laundered and mended set.  Volunteers would launder and mend the items for the next soldier.  Over one thousand suits of underwear and sock were exchanged during the nearly four and a half years the Lounge was open.  

The Harvey county U.S.O. closed September 1, 1946.  During the time that it was open, 2,217,385 Troops in Transit were served at the U.S.O. Lounge.

~~Next week's post will focus on entertaining the soldiers and the U.S.O. piano.~~

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