Sunday, December 14, 2008
A “Hell on Wheels” Christmas Dinner
by Hank Nuwer
In Memoriam and Remembrance, Christmas 1941, Fort Benning, Georgia
Sixty-six years ago my dad (Hank Nuwer, Senior; 1915-1984) was a Private First Class and training at Fort Benning for what became his five-year stint with the Hell on Wheels outfit, the Sixty-Sixth Armored Regiment (Light). 2nd Armored Division. *
I guess it's the time of year, but I lost myself this morning contemplating the few military souvenirs my father brought back from World War II combat. Why few? When he docked in New York after years spent as a light tank driver under General Patton in North Africa, Belgium, Sicily, France and Germany, he stopped at a pay phone to call my mother. After he hung up, he discovered a thief had waltzed with his duffel bag.
"Welcome home, Dogface," he remarked about the incident in his laconic way, when I asked what he thought after seeing the empty spot on the concrete.
He refused to say much more, just as he refused to say much more about such matters as the death of his tank mate and best buddy who was blown away by a shell while they were on a break. My dad's tank was nicknamed Lonely, and that's what's printed on its side in one surviving photo my mother has.
My Christmas thought for you is to think of my dad and all those other beloved Dogfaces sitting down to a formal Christmas dinner just weeks after Pearl Harbor. My Dad had been drafted and in uniform about one year.
Here is the menu from his Christmas Dinner, 1941, printed in a beautiful red, white and blue booklet:
Appetizers: Oyster Cocktail, Hearts of Celery, Mixed Pickles, Olives, Cream of Celery Soup Main Course: Roast Turkey, Cranberry Sauce, Oyster Dressing, Giblet Gravy with Rice, Candied Sweet Potatoes, Asparagus Tips, Creamed Peas, Creamed Cauliflower, Apple and Date Salad Dessert: Mince Pie, Ambrosia, Pound Cake, Ice Cream Beverage: Coffee, Lemonade Breads: Crackers, Hot Rolls Fruit: Tangerines, Oranges, Apples, Grapes, Bananas
Well, because mincemeat pie was my Dad's favorite, I don't have to wonder what his dessert selection was. By some crazy coincidence, I found mince pie yesterday at Wal-Mart, and it is in my fridge now. I had not so much as a slice of this dessert since scarfing down my late Aunt Marion's unbeatable mince pie many, many years ago in my dad's hometown of Alden, New York.
So here's to our men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq and you for a beautiful holiday, as I give thanks to all the veterans (God Bless the Ordinary Troop-level Dogfaces), beloved family, friends, students, colleagues and casual readers of this web site.
Dad, if somehow you're reading this... "Welcome, home."
You're going to be a Great-Grandfather for the second time. And for the second year, I’m going to throw my diet out the window and invite friends over to enjoy the same meal you had at Fort Benning.
We'll lift a thin stem with lemonade and say, "Thanks, Dogface."
*In December 1941, the Commanding Officer at Headquarters was Major C. P. Amazeen and the Commanding Officer was First Lieutenant George C. Spence. In Dad's Third Battalion, the Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Malcolm B. Byrne and other brass included Major Leonard H. Nason, Second Lieutenant Robert C. Atwood, and Staff Sergeants Harold S. Bauver and Henry A. Hudson. The other Army men (in case their survivors are reading this by chance or Google) in L Regiment were George Gannon, Josef Kastl, Gordon Morrow, Andrew Theoful, Robert Chandler, Willard Lackey, Charles Meagher, Warren Portwood, Louis C. Rendina, Marion Russell, Henry Sydlo, James Tainsh, Charles Walters.