My stepdad’s father was a navy cook in WWII. Though he was barely in his twenties during the war, he told me with pride that he enlisted before the army came calling. My inquiries about his war experience were met with brevity. Not so much because he’s unwilling to talk about it, but because at almost 92 years old, that seems like a couple of lifetimes ago.
He was assigned to the USAT Santa Rosa (an army transport ship) and went to Casablanca and Italy. When I asked how he ended up as a cook, he said he thought it seemed like a good thing to learn. Ever so practical. He did not have much by way of cooking experience beforehand, but that was no matter for the army – they had manuals for that. Though I wasn’t able to glean much information off of him, he declared that during his time in Italy the food they had to work with was terrible.
Amongst a small selection of cookbooks in his kitchen sits a yellowed and stained Baking Manual for the Army Cook. A pretty fascinating read – everything from the very basics of the kitchen to recipes for croquettes to feed 100 men. Not many of today’s seasoned cooks could crank out a recipe of that scale, let alone people with no prior cooking experience! After the war, he went on to raise a family and even run a restaurant for many years. I can definitely attest that his time as an army cook served him well, as he is a great cook even to this day.