Volunteers serve food

Volunteers serve food, cafeteria style, to servicemen. The volunteers would also bring food to the trains and hand the food through open train windows to servicemen and women.

Wall Drug has ice water; Aberdeen had pheasant sandwiches.

The Red Cross/United Service Organization’s canteen at the Milwaukee Road depot in Aberdeen became known as “the world’s standout for a handout” for offering a free lunch and showing hospitality to more than half a million servicemen and women during the two-and-a-half years the canteen operated.

“During its existence the canteen became famous the world over for its pheasant sandwiches. In 1945 the canteen cooked more than 9,000 ringnecks,” stated a Monday, March 25, 1946, article in the Aberdeen American-News.

What became known as the Pheasant Canteen opened Aug. 19, 1943, in the Milwaukee Road depot to troops traveling though the Hub City on trains. Because the Milwaukee Road (the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad) ran from Chicago to Seattle and back, this line was used to help move troops across the United States during World War II.

“The Pheasant Canteen benefited Aberdeen by giving a sense of pride and community spirit as the troop trains would roll in ,” said Casey Weismantel, executive director of the Aberdeen Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The community of Aberdeen would band together to serve the troops.”

Offering food and hospitality was something Aberdeen and area residents could do to support war efforts, he said.

Initially, ground ham sandwiches were served, along with cake, cookies, doughnuts, fresh fruit, pie, milk and coffee. Birthday cakes were given to every soldier having a birthday that day.

In December 1943, farmers brought pheasants to the canteen workers and the pheasant salad sandwich became a significant part of the menu. The sandwich consisted of finely chopped cooked pheasant, chopped hard-cooked eggs, grated carrots, chopped onion, sweet pickle relish, salt, pepper and mayonnaise or salad dressing mixed together, chilled and spread on sandwich bread.

Pheasant hunts were organized to keep the canteen supplied with South Dakota’s state bird. Pheasants were plentiful in the state, as the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department estimated a pre-hunting season population of 11 million pheasants in 1943, 15 million in 1944 and 16 million in 1945.

The birds were taken to local locker plants where they were cleaned, processed and stored for future use.

The canteen was operated by volunteers, with Mrs. Max Stokes as chairwoman of the canteen corps. Women were trained as supervisors for the canteen workers. People in Aberdeen and the area pooled their efforts and resources to keep the canteen operating during a time when food, gasoline, tires and other items were rationed.

See full story in this week’s Dakota Dunes / North Sioux City Times and Leader-Courier.