The Cold War on the Rhine. A writer-journalist's day book--sort of. If you've found this place, you know the way.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 1958

Nike Ajax at White Sands
Battery A had been stationed in Germersheim for almost a year and the guided missile battery was performing with extraordinary reliability and precision.  As Thanksgiving approached, a number of us had just returned from a practice and test firing of Nikes at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.  A full crew from the assembly, fire control, and launching sections had been flown over to the range to assemble and fire four missiles.  It was kind of a proficiency test.  It was flawless.

The battery commander, Capt. Earnest Tietke, was elated and wanted to give the battery personnel and their dependents a special Thanksgiving.  He arranged for the mess hall to prepare a lavish turkey dinner for the men with special attention to the families of the career soldiers in our unit.  Most of us were draftees who were not married and had no dependents.  Our battery happened to be on full alert that Thanksgiving Day.  The four batteries in the missile battalion were on full alert on a rotating basis, which meant that men were on the equipment and could fire missiles within five minutes of receiving a prepare to fire command. 

The launching control console where I ate Thanksgiving dinner.
For me, it meant sitting with a headset on monitoring the status of the four launching section on a console and with communications checks.  We pulled 24-hour shifts during full alert status, so there was a lot of unauthorized chatter to drive off the boredom and some unauthorized dozing.  Although, the slightest noise over the headset or blink of light on the console brought one to full attention.  It is a skill acquired by many, many hours of practice.

This is the kind of van in which I had Thanksgiving dinner
On this Thanksgiving Day, crews that were not working the equipment were assigned to come down and relieve the men on alert duty so that they could go to the mess hall and enjoy the dinner for an hour.  I waited and waited that day, and it became apparent that no one was coming to relieve me.  I called the orderly room and asked if someone was coming to relieve, and the duty sergeant discovered that someone forgot to  make the arrangement.   He connected me with the mess hall to see if someone could bring a plate of food down to the control van. The cooks said they had run out of food because so many people showed up, but that they'd see that I got a nice, hot meal.

Two of the cooks for our mess hall were draftees, also.  One of them was a baker and pastry chef from Brooklyn.  The other was a man whose family ran a restaurant.  They both were using their Army experience to hone their professional skills.  The baker had made an arrangement for the mess hall to get flour, yeast, and fresh eggs instead of the bread and powdered eggs that were shipped in.  He made fresh bread every day.  The other  man, who had supervised the roasting of the turkeys and the preparation of the Thanksgiving dinner, was always trying something different for the  troops.  When we had German-American Day once when Germans were invited onto the post, he barbecued an entire beef.  Both of the men were convinced that good, carefully prepared food was essential to the morale of the troops, particularly at an isolated post such as ours. 

Eventually a runner from the orderly room showed up at the launching area gate with some mess trays wrapped in towels.  He said here is your dinner.  The cooks had heated up some left-over roast beef, put it on some of that fresh-baked bread, and covered it with gravy.  It was probably the best hot beef sandwich I ever had.  They included cranberry sauce which they had cooked, a big plate of pickles and other relishes, and a thermos of freshly made coffee.

I may have been forgotten out there in the launching area, but the special  effort of those cooks was something for which I was very thankful.   That meal on that Thanksgiving is one of the warmest memories I have of that outpost  on the Rhine.

A side note:  As I said the cooks had arranged to get fresh eggs instead of powdered ones.  Sometimes they had more than they could use, so they hard boiled them and pickled them, and sent them over to the enlisted men's club for the men to have something to go with their beer.  This was also a special treat to the men, who quickly devoured them.  However, beer and pickled eggs create certain gastric conditions in  the human which can make a squad room where 24 men sleep a hazard area.  What is hazardous is the struggle between those who open the windows and those who shut them because they get cold.  You can imagine the circumstances for yourselves. 

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