VIETNAM MONTAGE ARTICLE

first medal

Young soldiers today don’t pull KP. So….for those who never had the rewarding episode of pulling KP….let me share the experience with you.
In the old army there was a duty roster which was posted on the company bulletin board. You were required to check the bulletin board at least three times per day. There you would find such things as a notice of a Saturday Inspection….notice of an upcoming retirement parade, a posting of the latest promotions…..and, at payday, the pay-roster would be posted so you could see how much money you would be drawing this month. No privacy here…you could also see how much everyone else in the company was drawing.
Here too, were the duty rosters: Post Duty Sergeant, Sergeant of the Guard, for the Senior NCOs, CQ for the junior NCOs, Guard Duty, Fire Guard, and KP for the E4’s and below (except for Corporals, who were on the CQ. But not the KP roster).
There were always instructions on the KP duty roster. (Those selected for KP are required to report to the CQ the night before duty and tell them which barracks you were in….and which bunk was yours. You must also tie a white towel at the end of your bunk.)
Generally there were from twelve to twenty-four bunks in the bay…depending on whether or not they were double-stacked. After tying the white towel on the end of my bunk that night, I crawled into bed and tried, unsuccessfully, to tune out the card games, the loud talking, and the radio so I could go to sleep early. TAPS would be played at 2200 hours, then lights would go out….and it would grow quieter…but not entirely so. Finally, amidst the snoring from half-a-dozen of my barrack-mates, I drifted off to sleep.
“Vaughan? Vaughan? Get up, you’ve got KP.” The voice and nudging were coming from the CQ runner.
“Go away, you’ve got the wrong bunk. I’m not Vaughan.”
“Come on, Dick, get up. I’ve got four more to go.”
Crap…it had to be someone who knew me.
I trudged through the night across the quadrangle to the mess hall. All the barracks were dark and I was envious of the men who were still asleep in their bunks. The mess hall was the only building ablaze with lights, and when I stepped into it, I had to sign the roster. I was the first one there, so I signed up for DRO. There were 3 “jobs” on KP. DRO, which meant Dining Room Orderly, ”Front sink” which meant washing the serving trays, (no plates, we ate from partitioned bake-late trays) and “Pots and Pans”. It was generally agreed that DRO was the best job, though the term “best” was relative. Pots and pans was the worst. DROs kept the salt and pepper shakers and the napkin dispensers full. DROs also kept the milk dispenser full. DROs swept and mopped the floor, and bussed the tables in the “Top two grade” area, which was separated from the main dining room by a waist high wall. In the days when I pulled KP, top two meant E6 and E7. The army had not yet added E8s and E9s.
The mess hall was permeated by the aroma of coffee. As the KPs arrived, and before the real work began, we would sit at the first table in the dining room to talk, drink coffee and smoke cigarette. But I was not coffee drinker at the time. I didn’t smoke either, so I would just sit there talking with the others.
“Vaughan, you’re not smoking or drinking coffee, how ‘bout coming back into the kithen to clean up the floor where we just spilled some grease?”
The cooks were supreme. You could be an E4 specialist…the cook could be an E2 private…but when you were on KP the cook was absolute boss, regardless of the relative rank.
Finally the day would start. “Vaughan, start breaking eggs into this big bowl,” the head cook ordered.
The bowl he pointed to was a large aluminum bowl…but I was breaking them, one at a time, into a smaller bowl. That way, if I came across a bad egg….as I would about one in every 20 eggs, I would transfer it to another bowl so I could throw them out, later.
“Vaughan, what are you doing, breaking eggs into that little bowl?” the head cook asked. “I told you to break them into the big bowl.”
“I’m culling out the bad eggs.”
The cook picked up my cull bowl which had at least four bad eggs. He tossed them in with the other eggs. “I’ve been cooking in the army for 18 years…I ain’t ever seen a bad egg,” he said.
Once, while wiping down the scullery counter, the filthy sponge popped out of my hand, and fell into the big container we had just filled with orange juice. It floated around on top of the orange juice, leaving a wake of food particles.
“Sarge, the sponge just fell into the orange juice.”
The cook came over, reached his hand down into the orange juice and picked up the sponge. One more dip of his hand took out most of the food particles. He gave me the sponge. “Get the orange juice out on the serving line, and this won’t happen again.”
There was a period of time during the 1950s…when it was decided to remove all the labels of canned and bottled products so as not to show brand preference. Once a cook was mixing a cake, and he was pouring in vanilla extract. He had put half the bottle in, then set it on the center island as he began beating the batter bowl. I had just brought him the beater, and as I looked at the bottle of vanilla extract, something about it didn’t look right. I picked it up, put a drop on my finger and tasted it.
“Sarge, this isn’t vanilla extract, this is Worchester Sauce.”
The cook shrugged his shoulders….and emptied the rest of it into the cake mix. When the trays came back in through the scullery window after that meal….I noticed that a lot of the cake was uneaten.
KPs worked constantly….there was no let down between meals….there were floors to mop, supplies to be unloaded from the delivery truck and put in the pantry, grease traps to be cleaned, (a perfectly horrible job) “Edible and Un-edible” garbage to sort..(yeah, I know, I never got used to the concept of “edible” garbage either), and stoves to clean.
Finally, a day that had started at 0300 that morning, ended about 2130 hours that night. After a long hot shower, I collapsed into the bunk, just as the first, plaintive notes of TAPS wafted through the company area.
Day is done,
gone the sun,
from the lakes
from the hills
from the sky,
all is well,
safely, rest,
God is nigh

And to think that the young soldiers today, who are no longer privileged to pull KP, will never have these memories.

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