In the Army overseas, our mealtimes were very unscheduled due to war chores, enemy attacks, and delays in delivery of food and mail. Having no chairs and tables, we often sat on our helmets to eat our chow, regardless of rain, snow, wind, or hot sunshine.
We also had gotten used to the appearance of many scrawny, ill-clothed Italian kids who, eagerly but politely, always showed up to receive any food our men would give them. They relished in receiving any leftovers or any scraps. The kids collected everything they could get and placed everything in one or two quart metal cans they had retrieved from our mess sergeant.
At one bivouac area where we had stayed about five days, I had become a bit acquainted with three 10 to 12 year-old boys. Pasquale spoke more English than his two pals.
I asked, “When you put all those foods in the same can, what do you do with it?’ Pedro said, “We go home. Mama put some food in plates. She give to us. We eat.” Manuel didn’t speak much, but he smiled a lot.
On Thanksgiving morning, for breakfast, we received pieces of Spam mixed in with fried, powdered eggs, also hot, baked biscuits, and hot but lousy coffee. My three new friends sat nearby, waiting to see what they would receive. I gave about half of my meal to the three hungry kids, who thanked me profusely. As we ate, I explained what Thanksgiving Day was all about. They looked like they understood.
When I noticed all our men had received their rations, I walked to the chow truck and asked our cook, “Shaky Jake” if he had any seconds. “Sure, Tommy, (my last name, Thomas) here’s a couple scoopfuls.” I filled my messkit as fully as I could and carried it back to dispense the food with the three kids. Oh! how thankful and full of smiles they were. They hurried homeward, singing.
About mid-afternoon, four Italian men came into our camp area, each carrying foot-long trays filled with raw, cleaned chicken breasts and legs. They went directly to the chow-truck and said to Jake, “For yur tanksgivin’.” They left. Jake became happier than I had ever seen him. He shouted, “Thanksgiving dinner in an hour.”
I’ve never forgotten that dinner with all the special “fixin” Shaky Jake had managed, and the joy of dining with my army comrades. (I learned at the end of the war, that Jake had a severe nervous condition, and that was why his hands shook so badly as he doled out the food he cooked.
As I happened to be the youngest of all the men in our battery, I could almost safely bet that each of them has already “reported for duty at the highest command post.”
Now at 96, in 2019, I give thanks for my special blessings of good health, and having the most lovely and wonderful wife of 68 years; for the blessings of having three strong, healthy adult-kids, and their wonderful spouses, and our seven marvelous grandkids; all high-achievers in their own particular life pursuits; and all our other relatives and friends.
“My cup runeth over.” HAPPY THANKSGIVING DAY TO ALL.
This article was written by Bill Thomas.