Both Sumo and Reb had been working extra hours while I was in Thuong Duc, and I appreciated their additional effort. I asked Top Culverhouse if he could arrange for them to get a day of relaxation at China Beach. Culverhouse followed up . . . Reb would go on Friday and Sumo on Monday. I wasn’t interested in the China Beach recreation area; if I had a day off, I’d rather spend it getting caught up on sleep in the hooch.
Sumo took over the lunch meal, and I started preparing for dinner early. My plan was to slow cook the pork butt in a marinade of apple juice and brown sugar. We had a lot of fresh potatoes so I put the mess crew to work peeling them for “Potatoes Au Gratin.” Reb had a large amount of day-old doughnuts, and I sliced them into chunks for bread pudding.
Mama-San brought my rice hull pillow back from Dai Loc. It had been cleaned and refilled with new hulls. Somehow the pillow had gotten wet, and the rice hulls had fermented, causing the putrid smell. Now it was fresh and like new again.
Sumo took the afternoon off to nap while I finished preparing dinner. There was no recipe for the Au Gratin I made. All we had were blocks of Velveeta cheese. I cut them into small cubes which were then layered between the thick sliced precooked potatoes. A mixture of milk, flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper was poured over the potatoes and baked.
One of the mess men helped me bone and shred the cooked pork. I de-glazed and thickened the apple brown sugar drippings. The pulled pork was panned, covered with glaze and reheated.
Sumo and Reb were surprised by the meal: Apple glazed pulled pork, Au Gratin Velveeta potatoes and chilled applesauce with (doughnut-based) bread pudding for dessert. It was something different and appreciated by the Marines who had been eating C-rats for weeks. Gunny Pavelcek said, “These are the cheesiest-damned potatoes I ever ate, and I’m from Wisconsin.” He was a character, and I thought we were lucky to have him as a leader. The position of “Gunny” required a strong person who the troops would follow.