February 4, 1968
The TET offensive had calmed down around Hill 65. There were still nightly firefights out in Arizona territory, but that was the search and destroy nature of the mission in a free fire zone.
We had finished brunch and were cutting steaks when a small convoy arrived from Headquarters battery in Da Nang. I was hoping, as always, for mail call but there was no red nylon mail bag in the trucks. A new cook was assigned to us, and he was checking in with Top and the Gunny.
When all the administrative stuff was finished, the Gunny introduced “Sumo” to me and made sure to refer to me as “Ptomaine.” I led Sumo to the hooch and set up the extra folding cot. We were the same age, but Sumo had five years of service and was a Corporal. We talked as he put away his gear, and I learned he had been stationed at MCAS Iwakuni Japan for three years. He was married to a Japanese girl from Iwakuni and had met her at an amateur Sumo wrestling event off base.
I encouraged him to stay put and get settled in before starting the cook’s routine, but he insisted on working the dinner meal. He wanted to work the grill, and it was obvious right away he was competent in that position. He greeted each Marine, “How would you like your steak?” and introduced himself as Sumo. His relationship with everyone clicked in the mess hall right away, and I felt a load lifted from my shoulders as Britt was getting close to leaving for CONUS.
Sumo was a big guy (close to 300 pounds) and had been training to be a wrestler. In Japanese culture, low ranking aspiring Sumos were expected to do housekeeping chores and cook the meals for the advanced ranked wrestlers. This experience enhanced Sumo’s skills as a cook, and I planned to take advantage of this resource.
After dinner I took Sumo on a tour of the hill, and he reacted poorly to the run-down inadequate showers. There were four overhead spigots (hose bibs) with cold water and no dividers for privacy. That night we talked about building our own “Cooks Only” shower, and I knew it would become a priority on our To Do List.
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