Many A Slip Twixt Cup And Lip

 

Poor Richard's Almanac says "There's many a slip twixt cup and lip."  Ben Franklin wasn't thinking of the Army when he said that.  But he'd have been right on the mark if he had been.

Patton II was very much changed from what we had left a few months before.   Civilization had finally arrived.  Twice a week a truck arrived with big bundles of clean uniforms.  We could strip off our old, dirty fatigues and put on clean ones right there in the middle of the compound.   There were also fancy new command bunkers with wooden floors, a large radio complex and microwave transmitters with crypto-encoders.  The most impressive addition was a new battery of six self-propelled 155 mm. howitzers.

Self-propelled 8-inch howitzer, at Patton II
These big guns were mounted on a tracked vehicle - usually the bottom part of a tank.   The breech end of the gun was enclosed in a massive steel box the size of a small room, with the business end sticking out about ten to twelve feet.  They were monsters and they fired a shell which was six inches in diameter and a foot and a half long.

Whenever a field unit needed artillery support, the call came in for these guns, and others, to respond.  Gun crews loaded the big shells, closed the breeches, lined the guns up on target and pulled a lanyard.  The following Boom! shook the walls of our bunkers.  It sometimes even knocked down the foam padding in the radio building.   When all six went off together, it was loud!  Talk about noise pollution . . .

But for all the changes, one thing was the same.  Our favorite cook was still there, along with his unforgettable fried chicken.  When dinnertime came I walked down to the mess hall.  I picked up a paper plate and held it out as the mess stewards ladled up mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, salad, and golden brown fried chicken.  Yum!  Meal in hand, I started back for the bunker, up the slight incline, and across the open dirt compound.

Shortly before dinner that evening a fire mission came in.  While we were loading our plates, men were loading the heavy projectiles, closing the big steel gates, and turning the guns on their turrets to aim for the Ho Bo Woods fifteen miles away.  The guns were loaded with their heaviest charges, to push those big shells all the way out there.  Gunners stood by their lanyards, waiting for the order to open fire.

I was directly beneath the barrel of one of these guns when that order came.   I was thinking only of chicken, and of getting to my bunker before the potatoes got cold.  I never saw the elevated barrels pointed toward the horizon.  Wham!   The muzzle blast stunned me. Involuntarily my arm and hand jerked first left, then right, then back and forth again.  The roar of the guns echoed against the small forest to the south of the fire base, and then died away.  There I stood.  The paper plate was still in my hand.  But it was empty.  I had shaken all the food off of it and into the reddish brown dirt that carpeted the base.  Not even the gravy was left on the plate.

For several moments I just stood there stupidly looking at my dinner in the dirt, before it sank in that it was gone.  Slowly I retraced my steps to the mess hall and begged for seconds - they wanted to know what had happened to the firsts.  The cooks were really good guys - they did let me have more.  And I carried it with both hands this time.  As I got close to the guns, I heard the commands issuing forth again.   I gritted my teeth and let them blast away.  They weren't getting my dinner twice.  And when I finally settled down to eat, I savored every bite - the chicken was just as good as I remembered it.  Maybe even better!

 

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Many A Slip Twixt Cup And Lip:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
155mm Howitzer Picture Copyright 1995 Peter Riker
Last modified: March 02, 1995