I recently picked up one of my favorite books from my childhood, Edward Jablonski’s Flying Fortress. It’s a highly researched and detailed account of the brave American airmen that flew B-17 bombers during World War 2. I can remember devouring that book in fifth grade and hoping that one day I would also be able to save the world from tyranny as these men had done. Over the years I have met many of these veterans and can honestly say that the vast majority of them share one common trait, humility. Most of them have told me that at the time they certainly didn’t believe they were being noble or heroic; they were just doing what was asked of them. After spending a few years as Chef at a retirement community my respect for this group of men was rekindled. I became good friends with a few B-17 crew members who were in their late 80’s or early 90’s and they all agreed that what got them through the war was dumb luck, not heroism. The heroes were the ones that didn’t come back. So as I was leafing through Flying Fortress, a chapter on the conditions inside the German POW camps stood out. Here’s an excerpt, it’s from the diary of a young officer who’s been a POW for too long, and he contemplates his idea of the dream meal that will be waiting for him when he gets back home.
Fresh Peaches (with cream)
Corn Flakes (with thick cream)
Toast (lots of butter and jam)
Coffee and Milk
Scrambled eggs (with sliced tomatoes and bacon)
Martini (pecans and almonds)
Soup: Chicken Noodle
Entre: Roast Beef
Vegetable: Peas and Mashed Potatoes
Salad: Hearts of Lettuce with Russian Dressing
Dessert: Brandied Peaches
Coffee and Brandy
On the very next page of his diary was an excerpt from his prison camp’s bulletin:
1) Menu: Breakfast: Oatmeal Bring your own Klim (powdered milk courtesy the Red Cross) cans as bowls may not be available if the water is not on. Dinner: to be announced.
2) If today we have not received word that water is on by the time of this bulletin we will begin construction of a well to alleviate our present water shortage. Anyone having experience in the construction of fresh water wells please report to building 9, room 5
3) Bits of glass have been found in the German bread. Bread should be sliced thin and in the light, and the slices should be examined closely before consumption
Honestly I cannot imagine how hungry one must be in order to slice a loaf of bread thin enough to look for bits of glass then having to slowly and methodically chew it prior to swallowing. Can you? Think about that the next time you fuss about the old man in front of you in the line at the grocery store or the frail gentleman in the wheelchair trying to get on the elevator. I often take our many blessings for granted and I’ve embarrassed myself by complaining about trivial things. Now our country, while rife with problems and contentiousness, is still the most prosperous nation the world has ever seen. Think about this the next time you’re complaining about the cost of a loaf of five grain bread at Whole Foods. Our grandfathers, the ones that secured our freedom to make way for all this prosperity, may have had to slice their bread thin enough to be able to see bits of glass in it before they ate it. To all my friends, please remember our veterans on Veteran’s Day.