There were those times when Dad was sent overseas without us, usually to a war zone.  My earliest memories of this happened when Dad was in Korea.  Mother would send him a box from home.  One time Dad wanted a pipe and some tobacco.  Remember, this was around 1952, and nearly all adults smoked.  Mother had a very strict weight limit for anything mailed to that distant part of the world.  She took her kitchen scale, weighed the box with the pipe in it, and then wrapped some of the tobacco in tissue paper before stuffing it into the box to provide some padding for the pipe.  Finally, the desired low weight was achieved, and the result mailed to Dad in his tent in Korea.

Towards the end of his time there, weight restrictions were eased a bit.  Mother, with the ‘help’ of a three year old me, would bake cookies, put them in a coffee can with crumpled wax paper to cushion the precious cargo, and mail it to Dad.  (This was in the era of metal coffee cans, and the lids did fit snugly onto the top of the can.  All Mother had to do to it was to tape it down with electrical tape, wrap it in brown paper so she could write the address on it, and mail the result.) I asked Dad about those cookies, and he said they were the best crumbs he ever ate!  (So much for the cushioning of the crumpled wax paper…)

I was a freshman in college when Dad was sent to Vietnam.  Letter tapes were the in thing then, although there were some traditional paper in envelops letters as well.  Still, those tapes were wonderful!!  We could actually hear Dad’s voice, and he could hear ours.  Which sounds really old-timey in this era of face to face conversations via iPhones or tablets and computers with Skype.

Mother and I would send him boxes of things- frequently edibles.  Evidently we over did the sweets, as he complained he had enough to cause diabetes.  Again, there were cookies baked.  Dad loved oatmeal about the best, although he didn’t complain at all about the Christmas sugar cookies and ice box cookies we sent, along with crackers- in small packages so the humidity wouldn’t ruin them.  Small cans of ready to eat ham.  Maybe canned shrimp.  Once, someone sent him a box of raisins.  But, it was summer time, and mail sometimes had to wait a while before apace was found for it on a plane.  The long and short if it is, the raisins were ‘inhabited’ by the time they arrived.  Oops!!

There were things we couldn’t send him though.  The local paper advertised a willingness to send daily papers to local guys in Vietnam.  Sadly, when the paper listed the names of those being sent the paper, those frustrated with the war took it out on some of the listed families.  When Dad came home, we met him at the gate!  It was obvious that he was back from the war zone, and that we were his family greeting him.  Some manner-less wonder glared at him, and flipped him the ‘bird’.  Sadly, Dad remembered that rude gesture as much as he remembered his joy at being reunited with us.

Years later, he was invited to a “Thank You Korean Veterans” dinner by the local Korean American community.  After a dinner, including kimchee and other Korean delicacies, he was given a crystal-looking commemoration.  Never mind that it was the earlier conflict, receiving that thoughtful token meant a great deal to Dad, and it eased his annoyance with the airport incident when he returned that last time.

I learned an appreciation for even simple gestures. Even back in the world of the 1950s, sending a coffee can of delicious crumbs could reach a loved one across the world, and take that person back home, even if that connection lasted for only a few minutes.  I remember Dad telling me just how much mail from home meant.  Even if the post office had closed for the day, Dad could see if he had mail waiting for him.  And if there was something in that little cubbyhole, he could savor the knowledge that there was something waiting for him to open in the morning.  To men overseas, wealth wasn’t, and still isn’t, measured in money.  The wealthiest soldier is the one whose mailbox, literal or e-mail, frequently has Facetime/ Skype  and packages from home; the poorest person, even if he or she is high ranking, is the soldier who gets few or no messages or packages.  Mother and I made sure Dad always felt a wealth of love from us.


Jan Wertz


Things We wish We Could Tell You……But Can’t

22 Is More Than A Number

*******WARNING, THIS POST MAY CONTAIN TRIGGERS********************

As I sit here beginning this post, my hands are shaking.  My heart has the feeling of a hundred pound weight atop of it, and my chest has a burning sensation sitting directly under my sternum.  My mind is swimming with ideas, thoughts, and static.  It’s almost as if I can have a clear thought for only a brief minute, then it’s wiped away like the image of a distant tree in massive blizzard.  Occasionally, the wind will shift slightly, and the snow breaks just enough to glimpse the distant figure only to be wiped away again in a blink.  On my way home from work I noticed that it did not take much to piss me off.  When I say it didn’t take much I mean, it took NOTHING.  I saw a guy on a moped, that pissed me off.  A woman was…

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War & Children: A Weekend of Reflection

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Tales from the DEFAC (Dining Facility)

Erik Woessner

There is an old saying that the Army travels on its stomach. It is true that a hot meal can boost flagging morale, and certainly gives soldiers a chance to relax and unwind a little. However, just like every other part of the big green machine, sometimes the DEFAC hits a little snag now and then. Here are a few of the hijinks and incidents that I can recall during my time in the Service.

One Generator, Two Cans

During one particularly stressful field problem, 4-1 BSTB was conducting training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. As such, our mess section was the highlight of our day—that, and the occasional alligator and poisonous snake/ spider sighting, but I digress… Anyway, we were at the midpoint of our field problem, and everyone was looking forward to hot chow with about the same level of enthusiasm as we would being reunited with a long-lost relation. So, that evening as we arrived at the mess, and what did we see? Several sheepish-looking cooks and nothing but salad (anyone who has had an army salad knows it’s 90% iceberg lettuce mix and not much else.) PB&J and a few snacks. Naturally, we were sore distressed! Hot chow, even bad hot chow, is always a morale booster.

Later, we discovered why we had no hot chow that night, or any hot food for the next two days. As it turned out, the cooks had somehow managed to pour five gallons of water into their generator instead of JP8. This is despite the fact that water cans and fuel cans have a different cap and handle configuration, and are of course, distinctly labeled, and the fact that the SOP states the two are not to be stored near each other.  We eventually learned that the culprit was one of the mess sergeants who had made a mistake.  The moral of the story is that even E-5s make mistakes and one should always pack an emergency supply of ramen noodles.

 To Eat or Not to Eat.

Food is one of the most often talked about subjects in the Army –usually regarding how lousy it is. But despite the argument, most of us appreciated having it. Unfortunately, sometimes our DEFAC warriors make a minor miscalculation, and the result is as follows.

While at NTC in beautiful Fort Irwin( those of you who have been there know I’m lying now) I was part of S-6.  We were heading to get chow after a long day of putting out commo fires– only to discover that our unit had “forgotten” about us and had made no provision for feeding us. Talk about a bad start to NTC. We made do with white bread and mushy peas that night. Fortunately, we did have a stash of MREs in the back of the truck, so it wasn’t a total disaster. The moral of the story is always bring peanut butter and jelly with you to the field… just in case.

 DFAC Basics

People often complain about how little time they have for lunch, that they spend more time getting to and from chow than they do eating it. Well, depending on when and where you went to Basic, you learned the luxury of time was in very short supply. At Fort Jackson, during Basic, we had about ten minutes to eat. We had to wait until everyone had their trays then, and I stress only then, did we get to eat and our Drill Sergeants were always keeping an eye on us. If they felt we weren’t enthusiastic enough, then they got us out early. We normally had about ten minutes to eat, which I can assure you, is plenty of time to empty your tray, and of course, not ask too many questions about what you were eating.

If that weren’t vexing enough, we would often have to earn our meal by answering questions or recite the Soldiers Creed or sing the Army song, give a war cry, or receive the fundamentals of marksmanship… It was not unusual to have a change of plans– sometimes we ended up having our chow times changed because another training platoon needed to go first. So, when you complain about your lunch hour, take a moment to remember those poor soldiers in Basic and their hardships.