K Troop Mess Hall, where we never had so much as a single mouse. Well, we did
have one mouse. He lived with L Troop but he ate his meals with us. Smart
(Contributor's wanted) If you served in the US Army and have photos of
army field cooking utensils, army cook books or anything related to the army's mess
operations I would like to hear from you. Please send
My interest in food began early with the family bakery. My grandfather operated Hersey's Bakery until 1946, when he died. I went to work
in the bakery for my Uncle Bill when I was 12 years old and continued working on and off
until 1965, the year that I graduated from high school. In addition to working in my
uncle's bakery, I worked at Dunkin Donuts in Florida and I worked as a pastry chef at the
famed Colony Hotel in Kennebunkport, Maine.
|It All Began
With A "Guarantee"
Blackhorse Mess Hall
"In This Mess Hall Work The Finest Cooks In Vietnam". So
Says The Sign Over The Door.
When I arrived at Blackhorse, the Mess Hall was barely outfitted with
cooking utensils. We brought our field ovens, ranges, pots and pans inside the mess
hall to cook with. There was no water tower as seen in the picture above. We
hauled water in from a nearby water trailer. The kitchen area had a dirt floor
(which eventually was topped with cement). We had no steam tables to keep the food
hot or cold storage except for a small refrigerator. By the time I left Blackhorse,
all that I just mentioned was eventually installed.
The mess section of K Troop was staffed with a Mess Sargent (an E-7 or
E-8) a First Cook (an E-6) and four to six cooks depending on the current conditions.
My rank was "Specialist 4 (E-4) when I arrived and I was assigned as a
cook. I had no training as a cook (and no skills either). I learned everything
from the Mess Sargent and the cooks. My favorite meal to prepare - breakfast.
My best buddy in 'Nam was a fellow cook who was from Gardiner, Maine - Dave Mansir (third from the left).
When at Blackhorse, we would sometimes consolidate the mess operations
with a neighboring troop like I Troop or L Troop but most often, we would serve three
meals a day in K Troop's Mess Hall. We would
divide up our resources into two shifts. The Mess Sargent- Herbert Blackwell, would work each day and the First
Cook would head up one shift and a First Cook designate would head up the other.
Because I wasn't much of a cook and didn't really care for it that much, I would work a
few hours each day and bake the deserts - pies, cakes, cookies, biscuits, rolls and the
like. They were a big hit with the men. Country singer Mel Tillis was a baker
in the Air Force. When asked if he served his country in the armed forces he
replied, "Yes, I served cookies, cakes, pies . . . . ".
When the troop was in the "Field", we would travel along with
them with our Mess Truck in the dry season or we
would set up a rear mess operation in what the Army called the "trains" during
the rainy season. When we were in the field with
the troop we would cook breakfast and dinner. Lunch would be an issue of "C" Rations.
When the mess section was in the rear area, we would provide one or two
cooks to the troop in the field. The field cooks would prepare a breakfast or
scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes, french toast, toast, juice and coffee.
When the evening meal arrived by helicopter, the
field cooks would unload the food that was cooked back in the rear area and serve it to
the troops. We always got a large share of help from the men with us in the
field. They would help us set up the food, serve it, clean up afterwards and help us
bury the garbage.
I had a great fondness for field duty in spite of the inherent risks of
being exposed to the enemy's attacks. Field duty made the time pass more quickly and
it gave me a greater sense of worth and accomplishment. When I was in the field I
would ride "shotgun" with 4-0 track and
later with the medic's track 7-1. I became
great friends with many of the guys in the 2nd Platoon
and would ride with them when the opportunity presented. Especially exciting were
the night "ambush patrols".
My Famous "GI Field Coffee"
To make my famous GI field coffee begin with 20 gallons of potable water
from the water trailer. It's best when it's carried through a rice paddy knee deep
full of water. Bring to a boil in a kettle over a standard issue field mess gasoline
operated burner - preferably in the early morning darkness so as to give your position
away to the enemy. If you survive the lighting of the stove then proceed to the next
When the water boils, stir in two, 2-pound cans of ground coffee (it was
probably Maxwell House coffee in an olive drab can). Depending on how strong the men
like it you may adjust the amount upward or downward to suit their tastes. Once
thoroughly stirred, lower the stove's setting until the water simmers. Cover and let
simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from the stove and add slowly one quart of cold
water in a circular fashion starting in the center and working outward. This step
takes the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Be careful not to disturb the brewed
coffee but gently ladle from the top downward the coffee into another container.
Preferable a coffee urn. Leave the little bit of coffee remaining in the bottom of
the kettle behind. It contains the grounds.
Believe it or not, this makes a delicious coffee. At least I thought
so but of course, my taste buds were shot off in the war so you will have to judge for
yourself. Serve with fresh baked buns or ladyfingers.
My Not So Famous "S-O-S"
"Shucks-On-A-Shingle" - you translate. Every GI since
Hannibal crossed the Alps has eaten or at least encountered SOS. It is best
described as a plate of mouse droppings in wallpaper paste served over burnt toast.
It's actually quite good (but remember I lost my taste buds in the war).
Start with 10 pounds of ground beef (hamburger). The fatty kind is
best. Brown the beef in a large saucepan with salt, pepper, finely chopped onions
and a splash or two of Worcestershire sauce. This next ingredient isn't in any of
the Army's cookbooks but I always added a generous portion of cooking sherry. If I
didn't have sherry I would add cognac. Once browned, add a cup of water, a cup of
whole milk and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in 1/2 cup of bread flour. This
thickens the mixture. Lower the heat and cook slowly for about 5 minutes. If
the sauce is too thick add more milk. If it's too thin add more flour. Hint:
It's best if the final product is a little on the "thin" side because as
it sits in your mermite can, it will thicken up. Serve over toast or better yet, hot
biscuits. Any leftovers may be used as brick mortar by the engineers.