D. E. Larsen, DVM
I was up and through the showers and lacing my boots when the Fire Guard came into the bay to wake up the KP crew. We had to be in the kitchen by 5:00 AM. I was in the kitchen waiting for the cooks and the rest of the KP crew a good 15 minutes early.
Most of the guys hated the shift that ran until 7:00 PM. I had decided that nobody was going to work harder than me while I was in the Army, and this was just another day. And just like a day at work, time passes faster if you are working rather than sitting around watching the clock.
The assistant cook was the first to arrive, and he was surprised to see me already there. We started getting set up to cook breakfast. It was interesting to be mixing pancakes for 200 guys, and the scrambled eggs were also mixed from powder.
By the time the cook came through the door, we had the bacon ready to go into the oven. The oven was hot, and the griddle was fired up. Just about all he had to do was to start cooking.
“Are you the whole crew today?” the Mess Sergeant asked me. His voice was gruff, and his frown wrinkled his entire forehead. He wore a little white sock-like cap to cover his bald head.
“I was up early, Sergeant,” I said. “The others should be along any time now.”
When the others did arrive, the Mess Sergeant barked out instructions with practiced repetition. The milk dispenser needed to be filled, and the juice set out. Coffee needed to be made. He was assigning chores as fast as he could, and the assistant cook was trying to give instructions fast enough to keep up. It was a system that was used to make guys useful, even though many of them had never been in a kitchen.
“Who wants to mix the pancake batter?” the cook asked.
“Larsen had that mixed before you got here,” the assistant said. “And the eggs are mixed, and the bacon is ready for the oven.”
The cook looked at me and scowls. “Have you been a cook?”
“No, Sergeant, I was just here early and needed to keep busy,” I said.
Breakfast went off with no problems. We were each assigned to serving positions or other chores like keeping the milk dispenser full or moving dishes from the collection area to the dishwasher.
When breakfast was over, we started cleaning up and then getting ready for lunch and making desserts for tomorrow’s dinner. The cook was pretty good at keeping everyone busy and ruled with a loud voice and a frown.
“Larsen, you wash the vegetable steamer,” the cook says as he points the sizable stainless steel steamer that was anchored to the floor. This was a large tank, maybe 100 gallons.
I jumped right to it. Having made cheese in Myrtle Point for 4 summers, if there was something I knew, it was how to scrub stainless steel. I didn’t wait for any instructions.
I dumped a good couple of handfuls of powdered detergent into the steamer and started filling it with water. With a large scrub brush, I mixed the soap with the water and turned on a little steam to warm the water. About that time, I felt the presence of the cook, more than seeing him. He was standing at my left shoulder.
“What the hell have you done?” he boomed into my ear. “Did you put soap into my steamer?” He continued before I could answer. “Nobody puts soap in my steamer.”
I looked at him, and then I looked back at the steamer, everybody in the kitchen was watching now.
“How long have you used this without washing it?” I asked. I knew I probably had made a grave error by talking back to this guy. Still, I probably had him over the barrel because it was supposed to be washed.
The cook looked at me, red-faced, eyes narrowed, and breathing hard. Then he looked at the steamer.
“If they taste soap in their peas tonight, I will have your ass, Larsen,” he bellowed.
“I have washed more stainless steel than you will ever see in your life,” I said.
He stood and looked at me for what seemed like minutes. I was expecting to catch his full wrath. Finally, he took a deep breath and relaxed his facial expression. “We will let them decide,” he said, pointing out to the dining hall. Then he turned away and got back to other tasks.
I scrubbed and scrubbed on that steamer. Swirling the brush around, I was hanging half over the rim into the tank. By the time I was done, sweat was dripping off my eyebrows and my nose. I drained the tank and rinsed it several times. During this whole process, I could see both the cook and the assistant cook watching me. Plus, the other guys on KP.
When I was done, the cook came over and looked at the steamer. It glistened compared to its old self. He nodded in approval.
“Now, if you’re so good at scrubbing, you can scrub all the garbage cans,” the cook said.
I am sure he thought this was a punishment. It sort of reminded me of the rabbit story when Brier Rabbit begs not to be thrown into the brier patch. Every fall, I would scrub hundreds of milk cans, cleaning them for winter storage. A few garbage cans were nothing.
I was outside, enjoying working in the sunshine. I had water flying and cans spinning as I washed the cans and set them out to dry in the sun. I noticed the cook watching from time to time. I think he was a little upset that I was enjoying myself.
Then one of the other guys in the platoon, who was cleaning the storeroom, came out with a bunch of empty bags and cardboard. He handed them down to me to put in the dumpster. I took the load and tossed them in the dumpster.
“I have one more load,” he said. “You can take a break for a minute while I grab it.”
I grabbed the bags, and this time they were cumbersome and heavy.
He smiled, “Payback for the ass-chewing,” he said. “Put the heavy one in one of those clean garbage cans, and we will pick it up tonight.”
I looked at the heavy bag. It contained a whole bunch of bananas, stem and all, enough for the entire platoon.
Dinner went without a hitch. Nobody complained about soap in the peas. We cleaned up and were thanked by the cook.
“You guys have been a good bunch,” the cook said. “I think you will do well in this man’s Army.”
It was nice to get back to the barracks and get through the shower. I was in clean clothes when the guy who had stolen the bananas came by motioned toward the door.
It was close to dark, and the two of us exited the rear door and ran across the back yard. We grabbed the bag of bananas from the garbage can, turned, and ran back across the yard with the bag carried between us.
We felt like we just put one over on the cook. We had bananas for the whole platoon. We burst through the back door and almost ran over Sergeant Lopez.
Sergeant Lopez was the DI for the 4th platoon. He had lost his wife to the meningitis epidemic currently at Fort Ord, and he lived in the company barracks. His room was right by the back door.
Here we are, standing at attention against the wall with a bag of stolen bananas between us. We both think we are dead.
Sergeant Lopez says, “Ah, what have we here?” He peeks into the bag.
We knew we were dead now.
Lopez smiles, looks down the hall, and shakes his head. “I didn’t see a thing,” he says as he turns and heads for his room.
The whole platoon had 2 or 3 bananas each. The trip back to the dumpster with the peelings was just as scary.
Our opinion of Sergeant Lopez changed that night.
One thought on “KP, Basic Training, Fall 1965, From the Archives”
I enjoyed this story, too. You will have to rerun the one about how apple pie was made at some point. That is my favorite army kitchen story.