Unexpected Entertainment

(official USMC photo by A.V. Huffman)
Martha Raye On Hill 65 – Thanksgiving Day – 1968 (official USMC photo by A.V. Huffman)


Thursday, November 28, 1968

We transitioned from preparing pumpkin pies to making breakfast. It was our standard no frills: hot cakes, sausage and eggs to order. The condiment table had a pot of oatmeal with brown sugar, butter and maple syrup. Fresh orange wedges were also a popular treat.

After breakfast we did a complete scrub down of the galley and mess deck. The burner units were all filled, and we staggered firing them up so they wouldn’t all run out of gas at the same time.

It was chaos cooking and warming up so many things at one time. With one hour to go, we started loading the condiment table with cranberry sauce, fruitcake, hard candy, mixed nuts and portion-wrapped butter pats. My gravy was finished, and it was smooth as silk.

A Chinook helicopter flew low above the mess hall and created a dust cloud over the LZ (a different approach than normal). A few minutes later there was a pounding at the locked mess deck exit door. I opened the door, and it was Captain Robb (the President’s son-in-law). He had been the CO of India Company and left Hill 65 in July. *

There were two Marines with him, carrying a large wooden trunk (similar to a footlocker, but larger). The box was opened to a full dining room service set of plastic (melamine) dinnerware. Each dish had a blue anchor at the top edge. I told the Marines to take it behind the mess hall and store it next to the burner shack.

Robb said, “It’s a gift from Division Supply” (where he was now assigned). This was an awkward moment because he and I never got along very well. Robb was always pushing me to “upgrade” the Officer/Staff mess to a step above the enlisted dining area.

Robb told me to let all the cooks and mess men go so they could attend the guest entertainment of Martha Raye at the LZ. I shook my head, no and said, “Sir, we’re 18 hours into this dinner, we can’t just walk away from it.” He was adamant, “Sergeant, release your men now!” This was an order, and I had no choice.

“PEOPLE LISTEN UP, there is a mini USO show at the LZ . . . you are free to attend it now.” There was silence, and everyone was in a defiant stare down with Captain Robb. He turned and walked away. We were sidetracked by a few angry remarks: What a jerk, arrogant bastard, etc. Finally I said, “Let it go! Let’s focus on this meal.”

We opened on time at 1400, and there was a trickle of people coming in during the show. Eventually the entertainment ended, and the mess hall was full of hungry Marines. I wondered if Martha Raye would join us, but she stayed busy signing autographs at the LZ.

Captain Robb entered the chow line from the side door. All of the back and forth banter and chat stopped as he worked his way through the line. Sumo was at the end of the line, serving pumpkin pie. Robb rarely made it through a meal without making a sarcastic remark. Sumo served his pie with a smile, when Robb asked, “No ice cream?”

It all happened in a flash . . . Sumo was sitting on the ice cream freezer and jumped off. He opened the freezer top and scooped a large dip of our private vanilla ice cream stash onto Robb’s tray. “Anything else, SIR?” This incident I would remember forever.

When the Chinook flew over us again, Captain Robb left his tray on the table (ice cream uneaten) and bolted to the LZ. We never got to see Martha Raye, but we were still appreciative of Robb’s effort in bringing her to Hill 65. Forward fire bases like ours never had entertainment.

* See previous blog, “Captain Charles Robb” April 9, 1968


Next Edition: Leftovers

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