-Art's Art-
Recollections of a Small Town Boy


The Army had a different term for it, but this was good enough for the basic trainees who were invited to pull KP. All of us were issued invitations according to some formula known only to duty officers. Either by rotating rosters or by drill sergeants meting out penalties, mess halls had plenty of raw talent.

Typically it worked like this: After a pass for an evening in town, the hapless soldier-to-be got back to barracks late and tired, interested only in a little sleep before reveille, only to see a towel tied to the foot of his bunk. A curse and a groan and three hours before an MP rapped on a bare sole and flashed a light in the eyes. Groan, dress, and stumble toward mess hall.

Ah, the mess hall. It was something of a miracle that a “buffet” could slop a thousand hogs an hour three times a day? Not when one sees the sheer number of hands throwing pots and pans, mops and brooms, trays and turkeys at high speed for twelve hours per shift. It was hard and frantic, but not completely without lighter moments.

There are a few kitchen soldiers I remember, one was a baker called Brownie. But our meeting needs to be explained a bit later.

I may hold a record for KP duty. At my three month’s mark in service to my country, I had managed to pull 32 days of KP, one way or another. The one way includes a roster possibly in use since General John J. Pershing was a raw recruit, and penalties for deliberate infractions or those committed by farm boy’s ignorance or naive trust in the goodness of fellow men.

My most grievous deliberate sin led me to a greater appreciation of humility in noting the dedication of the night shift in the kitchen. A corporal was drilling left-footers near the orderly room, so I helped him out by barking commands and ducking out of sight. It was fun until someone popped out of the orderly room and caught me. The drill patrol was dismissed and I was ordered to give myself drill commands–except Halt, At Ease, and Fall Out. Plus I was drilling myself to the glee of all witnessing my humiliation. Rage not yet spent, the corporal drove me to the mess hall where he instructed the mess sergeant to stick my head in every dirty pot for the rest of the night.

I met Brownie that night.

The night shift was fraught with frantic activity and lulls as good beef roasts were overcooked, beans were made mush and powdered eggs were liquefied for breakfast. Brownie did his thing at night: Rolls, pies and cookies. I always had a thing for raw cookie dough until Brownie advised me not to eat that stuff he was rolling out so expertly. He had my best interests at heart.

Later in the evening, a great dough-fight broke out when fun lovers grabbed gobs of dough to throw. Through it all, Brownie stood kneading and rolling out sheets of cookie dough. At some signal I didn’t hear, the skirmish stopped and dough wads were scraped off the floor and thrown back into the stuff Brownie kneaded imperturbably. I watched with a mixture of awe and horror, and Brownie simply said, “I told you don’t eat this shit.”

At that base I was marking time–marching in place–until the high command decided where my services were to be utilized. I volunteered for night KP for the duration. The advantages were many: No early drills, permanent day pass off base, sleep through hot Southwest afternoons. Cushy duty I backed into!

The night crew’s greatest caper came on Thanksgiving eve. Two of us had been notified that we would ship out the next day, so we decided to enjoy an early Thanksgiving dinner in the barracks. That last defiant gesture depended on the perfect crime of stealing a turkey from the oven at the right time–and under the nose of the old-army mess sergeant. Sarge was fairly mellow that night after a shared bottle and perfect steak cooked for the mess captain and his current lady friend. While three of us engaged the surly sergeant by asking him the fine points of judging good beef, a third grabbed a turkey from the oven and raced for the back door, clutching hot turkey legs tossed from one hand to the other. He was soaking his hands in cold water when we got back to the barracks.

We hacked the turkey to pieces, shared with the few who woke up hungry at two a.m., and even found a bottle of wine to help our great thanksgiving observance.

Broke a lot of rules with no regret. I had pulled KP duty on every holiday in my army career so far. Including my birthday. What’s to feel guilty about? We went on to Europe and beat the snot out of Hitler, didn’t we?

Art Darwin
April 29, 2004

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