It started when a National Guard Unit from Nebraska that was deploying for the war, was due to arrive by train at the N. Platte station at about 11 am on December 17, 1941. Some 500 people from the town showed up to greet them. But the hours went by and the train didn't show. Finally, a train pulled up -- but it wasn't their group. It was a group of another soldiers. The town gave these troops the gifts and refreshments that had been prepared for the Nebraska group. The idea 'clicked' to show support and give refreshments to all of the trains coming through the station.
They set up in a nearby hotel at first, then in the kitchen at the Station and began serving coffee, sandwiches, cakes, cookies, gum to all of the soldiers arriving on every train passing through. The soldiers received more than food. They received hugs, smiles, words of encouragement and kindness. This all-volunteer effort continued for five years and was funded only by donations and fund raising efforts until April 1946. It is estimated that they touched the lives of some 6,000,000 million soldiers.
Check out the Charles Kuralt video produced in 1977 that features some wonderful interviews with some of the ladies involved in the Canteen. It's fascinating.
(Here's the link in case it doesn't work)