An Army Breakfast is no Mess to Haul….
by Hap Rocketto
In my salad days, when I was green in judgment, I did a cruise in the Navy and a hitch in the Army. The one consistent element, other than the fact that no uniform ever tailored could make me look any more lean, mean, and warlike than a sack of Maine potatoes, was the quality and quantity of breakfast. In those days the military nutritional pyramid was based upon four food groups; starch, fat, sugar, and caffeine.
I never had a bad meal in the Navy but I can’t say as much for the Army. However, nothing can beat an Army breakfast and the demise of the Camp Perry Mess Hall has pretty much left that gustatory delight a memory for me. Mornings when I knew I wasn’t going to have to shoot rapid fire sitting, I side stepped through the chow line and smiled as a heap of cottage fried potatoes were plopped onto my plate and watched with delight as an aluminum ladle full of bisque colored sausage gravy or creamed beef burst over a fresh baked biscuit like a tsunami surging ashore on an Indian Ocean seafront. Next came the jewel in the crown: eggs to order.
The Army must have had a mold at Cook and Baker School, for it seemed that every young mess cook manning the line from Fort Benning, Georgia to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii looked exactly alike. The Army must have turned them out by the thousands. No matter the color each stood about five feet ten inches tall. They were lanky, had rubber like arms, and a scrawny neck with a prominent Adam’s apple. Their early morning patter was punctuated by a bobbing toothpick parked in the corner of their mouths. The only stain on their immaculate white dress was a delicate gray ornamental tracery of sweat decorating the edge of the paper barracks covers pulled tight over their foreheads.
Most amazing was that all spoke with the same jocular southern accent and patois. As you approached you were inevitably greeted with a smile and a cheery, “How yo’ lak yo’ aigs? Fried o’scrambode?”
I was dreamily thinking about those mess cooks and a belly full of carbohydrates as I sat with grumbling stomach in the dark pre dawn pits at Quantico one warm and humid July morning. The Interservice Rifle Championship was underway and I was hoping that both my pit mate, a fellow Guardsman named Mike Delk from Maryland, and the catering truck would soon show up. If not I would pull targets all morning alone and with an empty belly to boot.
Each day after the cessation of firing Delk, a hail fellow well met, would head north to Baltimore where he would pick up his girl friend. They would then cavort, gambol, and frolic with youthful abandon in the fleshpots of “The Charm City” until even the frenetic Delk was exhausted. Repairing to his girl’s apartment he would grab an hour of sleep change into one of several fresh uniforms he had cached there in anticipation of a quick turn around and motored south to Quantico and his early morning rendezvous with me in the pit. He would cat nap throughout day and, as soon as we secured the pits, be off like a shot, for another night of debauchery.
This morning Mike shuffled into the pits, dropped down onto the bench behind our target, pulled his hat over his eyes and started to nap. Dealing with Mike was a bit like house training a lovable puppy that had a hard time learning to use the paper. Mike was a hard guy not to like and, because of that, it was easy to take pity on him and excuse his behavior.
The catering truck pulled up and honked its horn to attract our attention. I sauntered over to Mike and lifted up the bill of his cap to get his attention. His eyes would have done Rand McNally proud. The irises were dark circles an a magenta sea and radiating out from their centers was a cobweb of jagged red and blue lines. They were veritable road maps of his decadent behavior. I was quickly reminded of Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I wasn’t going to get my Army breakfast on this muggy July morning and would have to settle for a ham and egg sandwich and a container of orange juice from the truck. Experience had taught me that Mike would need a bit of food and drink to get him through the long hot day to come.
In a soft voice so as not to jangle, what I thought must be, a terrible headache I quietly said, “Mike, I am going over to the ‘roach coach’ to get something to eat. You look like you could use a bite.” Then in my best mess cook imitation I drawled out, “How yo’ lak yo’ aig sangwidge? Yo’ wan’ some juice?”
He popped up like a jack in the box and with a mischievous grin on his face he laughed back “Thanks for asking but, heck no Rocketman! I don’t want none of that health food. Get me a Moon Pie and an RC!”
At that moment I knew Baltimore was in for yet another raucous night.