WAR STORIES: IN THEIR OWN WORDS
'Sergeant, can you get some food up to the men?'
Louis H. Vargo was a mess sergeant with the 87th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, 7th Armored Division. (Monica Cabrera/The Morning Call / December 28, 2012)
He got kitchen experience at a Poconos camp and at a prep school in Connecticut, and was working with dietitians at Fordham University in New York when he was drafted during World War II.
After Army basic training in the tank corps, he went to cooks and bakers school. He got married in 1943 and left for Europe the next year.
Vargo, now 91 and living in Palmer Township, remembers his experience as a mess sergeant with a cavalry reconnaissance squadron during the Battle of the Bulge.
After four or five days on the front line, a soldier has to get rested. The kitchen would feed him hot food in any kind of weather, in the snow and cold and rain, and he'd go right back to the front line.
I was a staff sergeant in the 87th Recon of the 7th Armored Division. I had four cooks and a truck driver under my supervision. We fed 190 men and six officers whenever possible, three times a day.
The kitchen was one truck and a two-wheel trailer, and I had a jeep when I needed one. We mostly stayed out of harm's way, five to seven miles behind the front line.
In December 1944 we were up in Holland, in the city of Heerlen. All was quiet on the western front, and we were going to be billeted in homes for the winter. But that never materialized. The Battle of the Bulge broke out on the 16th.
So now we were on the move, going down to St. Vith, Belgium. Traveling with a kitchen truck and a trailer, you'd get on some rough roads and you'd be bouncing up and down, with the stoves chattering in the truck.
We had a hell of a time getting down to St. Vith. People were evacuating from the area. The 106th Infantry was overrun. They were just trying to get away from there, and the civilians were, too. There was mass confusion, a big traffic jam as they were coming out and the 7th Armored was going in.
About midnight we got into St. Vith. The first sergeant comes up to the kitchen truck, and I said, "Where do you want this truck, Sarge?" He said, "Follow me."
We went off the road and into the woods. He said, "Set up here." It was dark and we couldn't see anything. If we'd gone another 15 feet, we would have dropped down a steep bank.
The next morning we fed the troops.
When you're cooking for 190 men, you can't feed everybody at the same time because if the Germans are shelling you, you don't want a shell to get everybody. So the men come in by platoons.
For breakfast, we'd have to get ready for them at least by 4:30 in the morning. Let's say we were having pancakes. It takes you two hours to make the pancakes. I'd use 15 gallons of mix.
You can't wait till the men come to the serving station. You had to make the pancakes ahead of time. We used our three gasoline-fired stoves and three hot plates. When a pancake was ready, you stacked it aside on a big roasting pan, kept it warm on the back of the stove. The same with French toast.
When the men come through the chow line, you're feeding everybody in 20 minutes. No time to waste.
Pancakes were easy to make, but syrup was another story. If we didn't have any, we'd improvise. We were always issued jam or marmalade. We'd dilute strawberry jam with water, heat it to a certain consistency and that was our syrup.
What else for breakfast? Scrambled eggs, hash brown potatoes and SOS, which was creamed beef on toast. And we ate a lot of Spam. The men always joked: Spam again? But you could do a lot with Spam. You could make a meat loaf out of it. With powdered eggs, you could make an omelet with it.