catnav-interviews-active-3Post #238 – Memoir Writing – Matilda Butler



A Memoir Writer Shares a Thanksgiving Story

The following is a memoir vignette that Bill Thomas sent me on Thanksgiving Day. I contacted him and have his permission to post it below.

I met Bill virtually through our other website — RosiesDaughters.com. Bill found our website a few years ago and told us several stories about training some Rosie the Riveters before going off to war. I’ve put those stories on that Rosie website. But I thought this story of a Thanksgiving in the trenches in Italy during World War II belongs here.

I love that it shows the way memoir vignettes can reach out across time and place to connect with all of us. I hope you enjoy it. Perhaps you’ll leave a comment for Bill.

THANKSGIVING DAY, 1943
Bill Thomas

On the battlefront in Italy, in late November, 1943, for most of us, it was hard to keep track of time, having no time-watch or calendar.

One of my buddies mentioned, “Thanksgiving Day is tomorrow.”

Fortunately, at “Mail Call” that day, I had received two packages from home.

In a tin box was a dozen “dolmathes.” This was my Greek family’s delicious favorite my mother often cooked; made of ground meat and rice, wrapped in individual grape leaves.

The other box contained about two dozen cookies baked with raisins, shredded coconut, and chopped nuts. I shared about half of them with my buddies.

Our mealtimes were very unscheduled due to war chores, enemy attacks, and delays in the delivery of food and mail.

Having no chairs and tables, we often sat on our helmets to eat our chow, regardless whether we had rain, snow, wind, or hot sunshine.

We also had gotten used to the appearance of many scrawny, ill-clothed Italian kids who, eagerly, but politely, always showed up to receive food our men always gave them. They relished in receiving leftovers or any scraps. The kids collected everything they could get and placed it all in one or two quart cans they had gotten from our mess sergeant.

At one bivouac area where we had stayed about five days, I became a bit acquainted with three 10 to 12 year-old boys. Pasquale spoke more English than his two pals. Manuel didn’t speak much, but he smiled a lot.

I asked, “When you put all those foods in the same can, what do you do with it?’

Pedro said, “We go home. Mama put food in plates. She give to us. We eat.”

On Thanksgiving morning, for breakfast, we received pieces of Spam mixed in with fried, powdered eggs, also hot, baked biscuits, and hot but lousy coffee.

My three new friends sat nearby, waiting to see what they would receive. I gave about half of my meal to the three hungry kids, who thanked me profusely.

As we ate, I explained what Thanksgiving Day was all about. They looked like they understood.

When I noticed all our men had received their rations, I walked to the chow truck and asked our cook, “Shaky Jake” if he had any seconds.

“Sure, Tommy, (my last name, Thomas) here’s a couple scoopsful.”

I filled my mess kit as fully as I could and carried it back to disperse the food to the three kids. Oh! How thankful and full of smiles they were. They hurried homeward, singing.

About mid-afternoon, four Italian men came into our camp area, each carrying foot-long trays filled with raw, cleaned chicken breasts and legs. I don’t know where they got them.

They went directly to the chow-truck and said to Jake, “For yur tanksgivin’.” They left.

Jake became happier than I had ever seen him. He shouted, “A real Thanksgiving dinner in an hour.”

I’ve never forgotten that dinner with all the special “fixin” Shaky Jake had managed, and the joy of dining with my Army comrades. (I learned at the end of the war, that “Shaky Jake” had a severe nervous condition, and that was why his hands shook so badly as he doled out the food he cooked.)

All of the men in our unit were older than me. I can safely bet that each of them has already “reported for duty at the highest command post.”

Now, at 93 in 2016, I give thanks for my special blessings of good health, and having the most wonderful wife of 65 years; for the blessings of having three strong, healthy adult-kids, and their wonderful spouses, and our seven marvelous grandkids; all high-achievers in their own particular life pursuits; and all our other relatives and friends. “My cup runeth over.”

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU.

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