K. P. CAPERS

In response to your appeal for newsletter input and/or anecdotes that might be of interest to former squadron members, and with the statute of limitations safely expired, I will give you the following story. It will either amuse you, anger you, or make you violently ill. In either case, for reasons that will become clear, it is submitted with the proviso that the writer shall remain nameless.

Like most of you, I’m sure, I did my own stints on KP duty during the early months of my enlistment in the Air Force, following my assignment to SAC Headquarters. One such case in particular is indelibly fixed upon my mind, thanks largely to the fact that one of those assigned with me on that occasion was a grizzled old airman who, if he were to be believed, would have to have been in our service when it was known as the Army Air Corp. That old airman would make a deep and lasting impression upon me, to say the very least.

Throughout that single KP shift we would be regaled with continuous, sometimes amusing and sometimes outrageous tales of this jaded old airman’s service experiences which included numerous ups and downs in rank, the most recent of which had been an ignominious bust from buck sergeant. This venerable old airman’s age, to say nothing of his admittedly volatile military career, might have suggested to an astute observer, or one more knowledgeable and urbane than yours truly, that his very presence on this occasion portended something out of the ordinary. In the final analysis, at least one thing would become patently clear; whatever the past infractions that had brought the old vet here where our paths crossed, that mischievous old codger clearly had an agenda, and would ultimately demonstrate that he got his jollies unsettling and destroying the minds of younger and less sophisticated airmen.

Arriving at the mess hail in the late afternoon to begin that KP assignment, I was joined by four other airmen, including the old vet, none of whom I’d met before. Together we reported to a designated member of the mess hall staff who would assign us the first of our duties for that evening shift. That mess hall staff member ushered us into a room where there was this humongous pile of burlap sacks containing those ubiquitous tubers which, whether fried, mashed, boiled or otherwise prepared, invariably made up a part of every military mess hall’s daily menu.

Doubtless, everyone having donned the uniform of any branch of the military service was at least a few times pressed into KP duty. And I’m sure that most all of them, like yours truly, have been familiar with the specter of that knife-wielding World War II GI bent over a tub-like vessel, a half-peeled spud in his hand. Seeing that mountain of potatoes and four huge metal bins set up nearby where countless numbers of them would eventually wind up, this was the vision that came to mind. Happily however, thanks to the ingenuity of man and modern technology, my crew and I would be spared the worst of the potato peeling job.

I was only marginally relieved when the mess hall staff member now demonstrated to my crew how the potatoes would actually be processed, then dumped into the four huge bins set on cart-like vehicles he had earlier pointed out to us. Evidently, those containers, when filled with potatoes, represented the days supply of this vegetable for the mess hall meals. Once filled, they would then be wheeled away to the kitchen by other mess hall personnel where they would later be prepared by the cooks. Having gotten the members of my crew duly oriented, the mess hall staff member departed to attend to other duties, leaving my team on its own to perform this formidable task which I anticipated might take all night. My personal qualms aside, in retrospect it would become clear that that mess hall staff member demonstrated an unusual and totally unwarranted degree of confidence in me and the members of my team.

Procedurally, what was supposed to happen was this: two members of our crew would lug a sack of potatoes from the huge pile and dump them into the hopper of this cleverly designed machine which, when turned on, tumbled the potatoes in a huge inner chamber. The rotating and tumbling action of this marvelous machine abraded the potatoes against each other, thus removing most of the peel, a process which rendered unnecessary the tedious and time-consuming task of manually peeling each individual potato. When the processed potatoes emerged from the machine, about all that was then necessary was the manual removal of any remaining peel traces, the de-eying of the tuber and it was then ready for one of the bins on the wheeled vehicles.

That’s what was supposed to happen. But here’s what actually happened. The initial batches of potatoes emerging from the automatic peeler in the early stages of this job were properly processed and disposed of without a problem, but as the evening wore on and our interest in this boring job waned, the efficiency of the peeling machine eventually outstripped the ability of the troops to keep up. At this point, the old vet, asserting his seniority, assumed control of the potato peeling machine.

From this point on, when each sack of potatoes was dumped into the machine hopper, things took a decidedly different turn. Under the administration of that wily old coot the potatoes remained in the peeling machine for successively longer and longer periods of time until eventually, when they emerged from the machine, they were drastically reduced in bulk to the point where they now resembled perfectly round, white marbles of varying sizes. Naturally, processed to this extreme state, the potatoes, or what was now left of them, required no further attention from the troops but were now ready to proceed directly into the bins on the wheeled vehicles.

I don’t know why this outrageous performance by the old vet, aided and abetted by the members of my crew, would not have come to the attention of any of the supervisory personnel in the mess hall. Clearly, this was an oversight on their part or else an instance of outright dereliction of duty. But, not being a total ignoramus, I vigorously protested to my compatriots this wantonly shameful waste of government property. My self-serving goal here was, hopefully, to establish for myself a degree of deniability should we be called into account for this deed. The consensus that eventually emerged from the group, however, summarily rejected my counsel which suggested that if this infraction were discovered and prosecuted, we might all be subject to court martial. That matter resolved, we then proceeded with our job until all four of those huge bins had been filled to the top with peeled potatoes.

The question is bound to occur to someone: How come we were not exposed when a supervisor or the mess hall personnel came around to check on our progress or to pick up the filled potato bins? The answer is: typical Yankee ingenuity, and, as I have said, we were left totally unsupervised during the performance of this task. We cleverly reserved one of the bins for the properly processed potatoes which, when needed, would be transferred to cap off each of the other bins as they became full. Don’t ask me how we anticipated that this deception would forever go undetected, but the fact is, we were never officially challenged about that job.

The felonious conduct of my crew and the slovenly manner in which we had handled the potato job should have suggested to me that things were not apt to get any better before this night was over, but rather, were more likely to proceed downhill from there on. Still, being the novice I was, and the fact that the evening was yet young, that deductive failing on my part may very well have been providential. I could only imagine the reaction of the cooks or other mess hall personnel who later handled those potatoes our team had processed. If the truth be told, this probably was not the first or only incident such as this they had observed. Most likely, knowing how the average group of GI’s are apt to perform on KP assignments, and the fact that we were never challenged over the way we handled our job, it was probably more the mess hall norm than the anomaly it then appeared to me. In any case, with the potato job finally disposed of, my team was now ready to move on to its next assignment.

Scrambled eggs were on the menu for breakfast the morning following this KP assignment. The next task assigned to the five of us, was to break the eggs in what appeared to me to be a mountain of crates set up beside a huge, round, stainless steel container. Receiving our instructions, we seated ourselves, encircling the stainless steel cauldron and began our assignment. Our task began naturally enough, each of us going about our chore with the delicacy the job dictated and with no hint of what was to come.

As the evening wore on, we entertained ourselves with animated conversation punctuated by one outrageous and sometimes hilarious tale after another by this old veteran who would eventually take total control of this otherwise routine situation, just as he had done with the potato peeler, and turn it into something extraordinary. Our current job had gone reasonably well all evening, more than half way through our task, or until boredom again set in.

Given the circumstances here, I suppose it was inevitable it should happen. Someone in the group wondered aloud whether everyone present “enough to suck a raw egg.” I don’t suppose I need say who posed that rhetorical question and I know I don’t have to tell you how a bunch of rowdy GI’s are going to react in such a situation. Anyway, the old vet tossed off the first egg. Then, one after the other around the vat, each of the guys followed suit. Somewhat disconcerted but not to be outdone or put to shame, I steeled my nerves, held my breath and tossed off the first egg, then, in turn, the second and the third. Suppressing an ever increasing urge to gag after each gulp, I silently prayed: Please Lord, no more! This revolting ritual continued until we’d each consumed more than half a dozen raw eggs as I remember.

This unnatural exercise eventually had the same jading effect an equal number of shots of liquor might be expected to produce. With the stage thus set, the old vet now assumed total control and the fun and games begin in earnest. He demonstrated to us mere amateurs in military mess procedure how to speed up our boring job and at the same time add a little zest to the project. Taking four eggs in each of his huge paws, he would slam them together over the vat, squeeze them dry of their contents, then discard the shells with a flick of the wrist. A couple of the guys attempted to emulate our instructor with more or less success. Another discovered he could achieve about the same result by smashing a handful of eggs against the inside wall of the vat, squeezing out their contents and letting gravity take its course. Eventually, they dispensed with such niceties altogether, and smashing handfuls of eggs over the caidron, they would allow them to fall, shells and all, into the mixture below. As this madness spiraled out of control, it appeared to me to become a contest among the participants to see who could outdo the other. The longer it went on, the grosser and more revolting it became.

A naive country bumpkin, I had joined the Air Force one year out of high school in order to avoid conscription following the outbreak of the Korean War, and nothing in my banal background had even remotely prepared me for these bizarre antics of my military comrades. The truth be told, while I do not pretend total innocence, at that early and inexperienced stage of my life no one could have convinced me that my peers were capable of such unbelievably crass and barbaric behavior.

Throughout the evening, in order not to draw undue attention to myself, I had attempted to portray a studied nonchalance and savior-faire that I was ill equipped to pull off. If my “cool” demeanor had sustained me up to this point and had impressed any of the members of my team, that accomplishment was destined to evaporate as the evening wore on. Unbelieving and completely unnerved by the unnatural conduct of my comrades, I observed this unfolding spectacle with growing disgust and nausea. I now needed space of my own and the opportunity to regain my composure. Desperately anxious for this task to be over in order that I might put some distance between myself and the obnoxious old vet, I was encouraged by the fact that at this juncture we had only a couple of crates of eggs to go before our job would be finished.

After all that had transpired up to this point I felt reasonably sure nothing worse could possibly happen, but as we were about to finish the final crate of eggs, that depraved old wretch committed the ultimate outrage, totally grossing me out. Pushing up his tee shirt sleeves, he plunged his arms into the seething mass of eggs almost to his shoulders. He then swept his huge paws about, moving them over the bottom of the vat. “To get the shucks out,” he explained as he came up with handfuls of egg shells which he discarded along with streaming gobs of disgusting, foaming yellow goo. He repeated this outlandish procedure numerous times as my companions and I watched in open-mouthed awe. Finished with his revolting task, he now withdrew his arms and, cupping the thumb and forefinger of first his right hand and then the left, he squeegeed down his heavily haired arms from well above the elbow to his wrists, sloughing off the foaming yellow mess into the mixture below.

In retrospect it became clear to me that that old fox had been probing the group the whole evening in an attempt to ferret out its weakest and most vulnerable member. Evidently sensing he had found his mark, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the rim of that stainless steel vat. With his hands hanging limply down, dripping yellow slime, he fixed his languid gaze directly upon me as he commenced another of his disgusting stories. Nauseating as the old vet’s just finished performance had been and all that had gone before, I was convinced that nothing this depraved old devil incarnate might now come up with could further dismay or unsettle me. But I was wrong!

This yarn had to do with a delicacy the old veteran said he had observed the Guamanians enjoying during his tour of duty on that American possession. The subject delicacies were called “Galoops.” It seems the natives would somehow terminate the embryos inside incubating eggs in their second or third trimester, then allow the treats to thoroughly “ferment and germinate” for a week or ten days before they were offered to the public for consumption. Allegedly, this rather pricey but highly delectable and popular treat was dispensed all over the island of Guam, much like peanuts and popcorn in the States. This “delicacy” evidently” got its odd name from the sound made when its eater chipped off the large end of the egg, punctured the membrane, tilted back his head and tossed off the eggs’ contents in a single movement: “GALLOOP!”

Well, that did it! My contrived facade collapsed and my late meal of raw eggs and I began our rise simultaneously. What followed after this is now only a blur in my memory. Decency dictates that I spare you the rest of the story except to say that the guys told me later (after I came to) that I had missed the cauldron of scrambled eggs — they thought!

That old familiar adage suggests that ignorance is bliss. But I don’t know. Think about it guys; the clone of that KP shift may, heaven forbid, very well be repeated to one degree or another day by day, in every installation throughout the military. While I suppose it’s true that a little crud never killed anyone, what the average GI doesn’t know may, in fact, really be a blessing after all. One thing I can tell you for sure; after this it was years before I was able to comfortably look at an egg, let alone prepare or eat one. And the Lord knows, I was in no condition to work the serving line I was assigned to the following morning. Deathly ill and guilt-ridden, when my best buddies came down the line that morning, about all I was able to manage was a weak admonition: “For heavens’ sake guys, don’t eat the eggs!”



Murl Ming

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