Recollections of a Small Town
KITCHEN PUKE PATROL
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
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
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
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
April 29, 2004
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