Her name was Hazel Pierpoint. She had resided in the High Plains area of west central Nebraska—not far from North Platte.
During World War II, her astounding angel-food-cake-baking account touched the lives of millions of young men who signed up for arm services’ duty, staying freedom in a war-torn world.
Dear Readers, Miss NiNi was privileged to review this historical record found within the pages of Once Upon A Town by Bob Greene.
“On Christmas Day 1941, it began.”
The “it” was the North Platte Canteen set up within the walls of that city’s train depot. Residents of that friendly Midwest municipality greeted on-board soldiers with welcoming words, heartfelt smiles, and baskets of food and treats.
Standing the Test of Time
Now, Dear Readers, one special occasion might not seem so unusual. However, the festivity that was initiated during this one brief train stop in 1941 didn’t cease.
Three to five thousand military personnel were transported by train through North Platte daily until the war ended on Sept. 2, 1945. Each traveler on each train was touched by the generosity of the area’s citizens.
Within the timeframe of 24 hours, the first troop train rumbled into North Platte at 5 am. Throughout the day and into the wee hours of the next, troop trains thundered across the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, delivering our boys to their next assignments.
Stopping at the North Platte Canteen was hurried—only ten minutes. However, every second of voluntary non-paid, dished-out happiness flowed from the population as troops were cheered and told that their country cared about them.
But let me get back to the story of dear Hazel.
As much of the food during war time was produced on farms, Hazel had an abundance of eggs with which to make hundreds of angel food cakes. Yet, her supply eventually dwindled, causing the use of another kind of poultry egg.
“My cousin over in McCook had a husband who drove a truck that brought turkey eggs to a hatchery,” she said. “When he found out that I was baking angel food cakes for the Canteen, and that I couldn’t get enough chicken eggs, he said: ‘Why don’t you try turkey eggs?’
“It would take me only six or seven of the turkey eggs to make an angel food cake. It would have taken twelve chicken eggs to make the same cake.”
She beat those egg whites all by hand, Dear Readers! “You have to whip the whites for half an hour,” she proclaimed. “I had a lot of muscle.” Undoubtedly!
But, Dear Readers, why did she do it? Why did Hazel consistently make eight angel food cakes a week for unknown military men?
“Baking angel food cakes for the soldiers and sailors made me feel whole,” she said.
“Everybody thanked everybody. That’s just how it was around the Canteen,” shared Hazel.
Letters of thanks would be sent to the Canteen from soldiers all over the world with special thanks for the cakes.
Hazel proudly stated, “I would see letters that said, ‘That angel food was delicious. I knew that was me.’”
Dear Readers, reflect on how a simple generous act of baking an angel food cake brought joy to over eight million soldiers and sailors at a time when our world’s future was in peril.
An American Story
There were thousands of hearts-of-gold, Hazel-type characters within this chapter of American history.
Only one was an angel-food-cake baker. Others were organizers. Some were piano players and singers. Many gathered eggs and milked cows for produce to share. Some made egg salad sandwiches and coffee. A considerable number of folks washed dishes. Countless lent a listening ear to “our boys”—many of whom were homesick. After all, a huge population of servicemen had still been of high-school age without any away-from-home experience.
Those acts of kindness by the residents of North Platte and surrounding communities were never to have been forgotten by the brave who so generously fought for freedom during World War II.
And just think, Dear Readers, had we lived in that era, this could have been part of our life’s story, too. How would you have served? Miss NiNi would have baked angel food cakes!