It is written, (in a prior diary) that in the late winter of 1947, I had grown so discontented with my lot in the U.S. Army that, I QUIT! I was stationed at Fort Knox Kentucky, 3rd Armor Division at the time, and for some reason that escapes me at the moment, after donning the ruptured duck in January of 48, I made my way (via Greyhound Bus) to a little town in western Pennsylvania, the place of my birth. When I left in 43, I had been living with my widowed mother on our small rented farm, but she had remarried in my absence to a man I loathed and the feeling was mutual. I had not factored the lack of a domicile in my reckoning of future expenses, and discovered shelter was indeed a very big and costly item. I had accumulated the sum of 200 dollars to see me through any rough patches I might encounter before finding employment. 200 bucks was a princely amount back in 48. The 200 dollars however dwindled at an alarming rate as I looked for work. Hotel rooms were 2 to 3 dollars a night, and after a couple of weeks I realized I was going to have to find cheaper shelter. I started staying in 50 cents a night rooms that offered a cot, blanket, and chair and often even a pillow. In those establishments a chair was an essential piece of furniture. One used the chair as a brace against the door to prevent invasion and robbery, (or worse), in the night. Often one was awakened in the by brawls in the hall or drunks singing bawdy ballads at the top of their lungs at 3 AM, but for 50 cents a night you can’t have everything, right? If the room had running water that was an added luxury. One could wipe down one’s body with a damp cloth and rinse out underwear and socks. Keeping clean was a big problem. Shaving could be accomplished at a Greyhound or Trailways bus terminal restrooms during the day with no ill consequences but if one attempted to spend the night in the bus waiting room, the cops would often chase you out into the cold and sometimes bust you as a vagrant if you returned later. I spent a number of nights at Greyhound to conserve my dwindling supply of cash. I was very conservative in those days.
In 48 there was no such thing as a fast food restaurant, a fact that astounds my grandchildren. I found a quaint little one man restaurant called Joe’s. Joe served you one egg, one strip of bacon, two slices of toast and a cup of coffee with one refill for 60 cents. I ate at Joe’s a lot, often my only meal of the day.
Another problem with the lack of a domicile that I failed to consider prior to leaving the Army was where to keep my personal possessions. I have a lot of empathy for homeless people nowadays with their shopping carts. Of course there were no shopping carts in 48 so I bought a cardboard suitcase in which to transport my worldly goods. I had underwear and socks, all in a lovely Olive Drab color, a civilian shirt and a pair of blue jeans, an Army sweater plus a wool OD hat as well as a pair of knit Army gloves. I sold the miserably heavy wool Army overcoat and most of the other uniform stuff and used those funds for civilian outfits. Jeans and shirts, 2 each. When all ones possessions are contained in a single small suitcase, if you are prudent, you keep the case with you at all times, which in itself can be a pain.
I did not consider myself homeless because I still had some money but when the weather mended enough, I did sleep under the stars some nights rather than pay for a flophouses repose. Three months after leaving the bosom of the Army, my funds were down to $2.83 when I finally found a job.
I hired on as a laborer in a steel mill at minimum wage which, at that time, was 40 cents an hour. I hocked my watch and a jade ring in order to come up with the cash for the first two weeks rent in a boarding hotel that offered rooms but no food. I pretty much lived on peanut butter and stale bread for the first two weeks, till the first payday. I redeemed my watch after the third payday but let the ring go. My income just covered the cost of my room and the restaurant bills if I was careful. If I shaved my food budget a little, or skipped some meals altogether, I could occasionally go to a movie but other than that my social life was nil. I worked as a laborer for six months then took a hard look at my situation and discovered I was anything but happy. I thought about my days in the Army and could not recall exactly why I had quit. I went to see the local Army recruiting sergeant who greeted me like a long lost brother. He offered me coffee from the pot he had brewing and donuts from a large cardboard box on his desk. He promised me my E4 rank back and gave me a list of schools I could attend. How could I refuse? I signed up, quit my job that very day, and was off to Ft. Mead, Maryland for processing the following day.
I arrived at Mead in time for breakfast and was marched off to the dining area. SOS was on the menu that morning. As a matter of fact SOS was the only thing on the menu that morning. I almost wept with nostalgia. My very first Army Breakfast was also SOS. One of my table mates said; “Christ its f**king SOS again!” That also strummed my heart strings. You can’t spend an hour in the Army without hearing someone bitching about something.
It is said SOS was first created by an Army Chef, early during WWII whose name now is lost in time. I have always imagined the creator to be of someone of French decent. Since its origin, other Army Chefs have made subtle changes to the dish, but it has retained it basic ingredients during all those years. Slivers of savory beef swimming in a delicious salty white sauce, generous spread over toast.
I once heard Julia Childs say she could not imagine a civilization without onions. In the same vain, I cannot imagine a U.S. Army without SOS.