Top Culverhouse checked in during breakfast and wanted to know how we were getting along without Sumo who was in Japan. He offered help if we needed it, and I asked, “Are you volunteering to cook the pinto beans?” Without a blink of an eye, he was on it; he had a pile of onions and peppers ready for chopping. We had no ham hocks, but he compromised with canned bacon (I warned him it was really greasy).
The beans simmered all day on low heat and were stirred with a long wooden paddle. Cornbread and coleslaw were staples of the “Southern Meal” and complimented the beans. The fish (deep fried in a cornmeal batter) finished off the menu, and everyone got one of Reb’s Carolina hush puppies.
Top added pepper flakes to the beans before they were panned and ready for the chow line. He was a pro at talking up the meal and delivered a constant oratory on the proper way to layer the cornbread, pinto beans and coleslaw on top of each other. Fish and hush puppies were treated as side dishes, and salsa (canned tomatoes, onion, garlic and cumin) was available.
Culverhouse was an outstanding leader. The troops looked up to him, and his solid example was admired by everyone. Lieutenant Skoog came through the line and balked at piling beans on the cornbread . . . Top said, “Come on Lieutenant, this will tighten you up.” Everyone laughed at the idea of Skoog somehow changing his relaxed demeanor over pinto beans.
Occasionally fire missions during meals prevented gun crews from eating in the mess hall at normal hours. We always monitored the situation and made adjustments to accommodate everyone. We finished serving the “Southern Meal” at 1900 . . . a 15-hour day. The routine could be exhausting, and we learned to use time wisely. On the positive side, I had two hours to take a shower, write a letter and watch the war before going to bed. Seven hours later I would wake up to a new day of challenges. “Normal” meant adjusting to constant change.