D. E. Larsen, DVM
There were a bunch of guys milling around outside of the barracks waiting for the Company Clerk to call the company to the formation. This was G Company of the Second Battalion at Fort Devens, US Army Security Agency Training School. I had been at Fort Devens for over eight months now. Three of those months had been waiting for school. Now I was in school, but I was in night school because of the significant buildup of troops for Vietnam. That allowed them to double their output.
We were billeted in the old WWII portion of the base. The barracks had been pulled out of mothballs and made livable. There were a lot of us living in the second battalion. Con 4 was a large central mess hall that fed everyone in the battalion. Probably close to 1500 troops. Tonight would be my first and only shift of KP at Con 4. We were a night school group, so we got the KP night shift.
The clerk climbed up on his elevated platform and blew his whistle. G company was made up of about 200 men in five platoons. Very similar to the makeup of the basic training companies. With all the platoons formed up, the clerk called the company to attention and read off the day’s orders. Then we were dismissed and fell into our class groups to march to school.
We marched nearly a mile to school in these smaller formations made up of our respective class groups. Today, I and almost 40 other guys, marched in a different direction, to Con 4.
The night shift was actually the best. We had to clean up after dinner, but it was just cooking and getting ready to cook for the next day after that clean up was done. Bags and bags of potatoes needed to be peeled. The kitchen needed to be set up for cooking breakfast.
The better part of the early evening, the entire crew cleaned the dining room and set it up for breakfast. Then we took our assignments for the middle part of the night. Peeling potatoes seemed to me to be the best gig. You were out back of the kitchen, almost outside on a warm summer night. And nobody to bother you.
Potatoes were dumped in a tumbler that removed the majority of the peelings. We just had to dig out the eyes and anything that was missed by the tumbler. There were 4 of us sitting around, going through one bag after another. How many potatoes do 1500 guys eat in a day? I don’t know, but we worked at it for several hours.
When the potatoes were all peeled, we went back into the kitchen to see what the next chore would be.
“Apple pie,” the cook said. “You guys always like the apple pie your mothers made. But your mother never made apple pie for 1500 guys.”
“This might be fun to watch,” I said to Fred. Fred was one of the guys who peeled potatoes with me. I had never seen him before tonight, and I figured I would never see him again after tonight.
“A couple of you guy go get that wok and bring it over to the table with all the apples,” the cook said.
“I don’t know what a wok is,” I said to Fred.
“He pointed over to the far corner,” Fred said. “Let’s go grab it.”
My first exposure to a wok was interesting. This wok was about six feet across and nearly three feet deep. It rested on a metal cart with four small wheels. We got behind it and pushed it and the cart over to where the cook was waiting.
The apple filling was in gallon cans. We started opening the cans and dumping them in the wok. I can’t say how many gallons were used, but the wok was filled to six inches from the top.
The cook sprinkled several cans of spices over the top of the apples, and a couple of guys started to mix the spices into the mass of apples with large wooden paddles. This was somewhat of a fun event with a dozen guys involved. Most of the crew had been working on the pie crusts while we had been peeling potatoes.
“Okay,” the cook said. “Let’s wheel this over to the pie crust.”
The pie crusts were in large flat pans, laid out on several tables over in the next room. About four guys grabbed the wok and started pushing it toward the tables with the pans of crust. Once they got it moving, the speed increased.
As the cart came to the doorway, it hit the ribbing on the floor, connecting the tiles between the rooms. The little wheels of the cart carrying the wok stopped when they hit this rib. The wok did not stop.
The wok continued, and the cart stopped. The wok made it halfway out of the cart, rested a brief moment at the midpoint of the rounded bottom, then flipped over. All of the apples hit the floor, and the wok landed upside down on the pile.
My first thought was that I was glad I had not been pushing the cart. I thought the cook was going to explode. He took a deep breath like he was going to let someone have it. Then he relaxed and took command of the situation.
He looked around the room and looked at the mess on the floor and the empty pie crusts. Then his focus came to rest on a shovel near the rear door.
“Larsen,” he said. “You go wash that shovel. We will clean up this wok.”
I couldn’t believe it. The cook was going to shovel that stuff back into the wok. I took the shovel to the big sink and started scrubbing. After a couple of scrubbings with a large brush, I started scrubbing with a steel wool pad. Finally, I thought I could probably use it to fry an egg on if I had to.
“Larsen, you don’t have to be able to eat off the thing,” the cook said. “We are ready for it.”
Then that is what was done. The crew shoveled the apple filling off the floor back into the wok. Then they moved the wok over to the pie crust and continued to make the pie.
The evening went along fine after that. The floor in the kitchen looked cleaner than it had in months. And there was no trace of apple pie filling on the floor.
The morning crew arrived, and we were discharged to return to our barracks. I got back to the barracks about the time that my classmates were returning from school. There was a little chatter in the barracks as everyone settled into their bunks.
“How was KP, Larsen,” Mac asked.
“It was okay,” I said. “Just don’t eat the apple pie.”