Bob Hersey, 11th Armored
Cooking For K Troop in the rice paddies of Vietnam Credit: Bob Hersey
Cooking For K Troop
My Life with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam
My interest in food began
early with the family bakery. My grandfather operated Hersey's Bakery until
1946, when he died. I went to work in the bakery for my Uncle Bill when I was
12 years old and continued working on and off until 1965, the year that I graduated
from high school. In addition to working in my uncle's bakery, I worked at Dunkin
Donuts in Florida and I worked as a pastry chef at the famed Colony Hotel in
It All Began with a Guarantee
My Army career began with
a promise. One of many that would not be kept. A written "Guarantee"
that I would become a US Army Bread Baker. I attended the Quartermaster School's
bread baking course at Ft. Lee, Virginia all right but that was the first and
last time that I would bake bread in the Army.
After graduation, I was
sent to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Germany. When I reported to the
personnel officer he asked me what my MOS was. I told him, "94D20."
He'd never heard of it. He asked me if I had ever driven a tank to which I replied,
"every Saturday night to the drive-in back home." He wasn't impressed.
He made me a cook. Thank God the mess Sergeant utilized me as a baker. It wasn't
until Vietnam that I would learn how to fry eggs, make coffee and burn toast.
Blackhorse Mess Hall
"In this Mess Hall
Work the Finest Cooks In Vietnam." So says the sign over the door. When
I arrived at Blackhorse, the Mess Hall was barely outfitted with cooking utensils.
We brought our field ovens, ranges, pots and pans inside the mess hall to cook
with. There was no water tower. We hauled water in from a nearby water trailer.
The kitchen area had a dirt floor (which eventually was topped with cement).
We had no steam tables to keep the food hot, or cold storage except for a small
refrigerator. By the time I left Blackhorse, all that I just mentioned was eventually
The mess section of K Troop
was staffed with a Mess Sergeant (an E-7 or E-8), a First Cook (an E-6), and
four to six cooks depending on the current conditions. My rank was Specialist
4 (E-4) when I arrived and I was assigned as a cook. I had no training as a
cook (and no skills either). I learned everything from the Mess Sergeant and
the cooks. My favorite meal to prepare breakfast. My best buddy in 'Nam
was a fellow cook who was from Gardiner, Maine Dave Mansir.
When at Blackhorse, we would
sometimes consolidate the mess operations with a neighboring troop like I Troop
or L Troop, but most often we would serve three meals a day in K Troop's Mess
Hall. We were so proud of our cleanliness that we never had so much as a single
mouse. Well, we did have one mouse. He lived with L Troop but he ate his meals
with us. Smart mouse.
We would divide up our resources
into two shifts. The Mess Sergeant, Herbert Blackwell, would work each day and
the First Cook would head up one shift and a First Cook designate would head
up the other. Because I wasn't much of a cook and didn't really care for it
that much, I would work a few hours each day and bake the deserts - pies,
cakes, cookies, biscuits, rolls and the like. They were a big hit with the men.
Country singer Mel Tillis was a baker in the Air Force. When asked if he served
his country in the armed forces he replied, "Yes, I served cookies, cakes,
pies . . ..".
When the troop was in the
"field," we would travel along with them with our Mess Truck in the
dry season or we would set up a rear mess operation in what the Army called
the "trains" during the rainy season. When we were in the field with
the troop we would cook breakfast and dinner. Lunch would be an issue of "C"
When the mess section was in the rear area, we would provide one or two cooks
to the troop in the field. The field cooks would prepare a breakfast or scrambled
eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes, french toast, toast, juice and coffee. When
the evening meal arrived by helicopter, the field cooks would unload the food
that was cooked back in the rear area and serve it to the troops. We always
got a large share of help from the men with us in the field. They would help
us set up the food, serve it, clean up afterwards, and bury the garbage.
I had a great fondness for
field duty in spite of the inherent risks of being exposed to the enemy's attacks.
Field duty made the time pass more quickly and it gave me a greater sense of
worth and accomplishment. When I was in the field I would ride "shotgun"
with 4-0 track and later with the medic's track 7-1. I became great friends
with many of the guys in the 2nd Platoon and would ride with them when the opportunity
presented. Especially exciting were the night "ambush patrols."
My Famous "GI Field
To make my famous GI Field
Coffee you begin with 20 gallons of potable water from the water trailer. It's
best when it's carried through a rice paddy knee deep full of water or a hot,
steamy jungle. Bring it to a boil in a kettle over a standard issue field mess
gasoline operated burner preferably in the early morning darkness so
as not to give your position away to the enemy. If you survive the lighting
of the stove, you proceed to the next step.
When the water boils, stir
in two, 2-pound cans of ground coffee (it was probably Maxwell House coffee
in an olive drab can). Depending on how strong the men like it you may adjust
the amount upward or downward to suit their tastes. Once thoroughly stirred,
lower the stove's setting until the water simmers. Cover and let simmer for
about 5 minutes. Remove from the stove and add slowly one quart of cold water
in a circular fashion starting in the center and working outward. This step
takes the grounds to the bottom of the pot. Be careful not to disturb the brewed
coffee but gently ladle the coffee from the top downward into another container.
Preferably a coffee urn. Leave the little bit of coffee remaining in the bottom
of the kettle behind. It contains the grounds.
Believe it or not, this
makes a delicious coffee. At least I thought so, but of course my taste buds
were shot off in the war so you will have to judge for yourself. Serve with
fresh baked buns or ladyfingers.
My Not So Famous S-O-S
you translate. Every GI since Hannibal crossed the Alps has eaten or
at least encountered SOS. It is best described as a plate of mouse droppings
in wallpaper paste served over burnt toast. It's actually quite good (but remember,
I lost my taste buds in the war).
Start with 10 pounds of ground beef (hamburger). The fatty kind is best. Brown
the beef in a large saucepan with salt, pepper, finely chopped onions and a
splash or two of Worcestershire sauce. This next ingredient isn't in any of
the Army's cookbooks but I always added a generous portion of cooking sherry.
If I didn't have sherry I would add cognac. Once browned, add a cup of water,
a cup of whole milk and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in 1/2 cup of bread flour.
This thickens the mixture. Lower the heat and cook slowly for about 5 minutes.
If the sauce is too thick, add more milk. If it's too thin, add more flour.
Hint: It's best if the final product is a little on the "thin" side
because as it sits in your mermite can, it will thicken up. Serve over toast
or, better yet, hot biscuits. Any leftovers may be used as brick mortar by the
Im now happily retired.
I dont go anywhere near a stove. I barely remember what cooking is like.
Im perfectly happy, living with my wife Hellen and visiting with our son,
his wife and our grandchildren. When Im not writing short stories about
my Vietnam experience I turn my attention to my website at http://www.ktroop.com.
Its all about Cooking for K Troop and more, besides.