Sorry, Sarge, youll have to take my heart
By W. T. Block
Reprinted from the Beaumont Enterprise, Saturday December 19, 1998.
NEDERLAND -- Its been more than fifty years now since I promised Mess Sergeant McIlheny that I would never divulge our secret. He had threatened that if I ever did, he would cut my heart out and serve it with brown gravy. And remembering the sergeant like I do, and how he used to bark orders to everybody like a bulldog, I never doubted for a moment that he was mean enough to carry out his threat.
However, since he was fifteen years older than I was, theres only slim chance he is still alive; hes probably somewhere barking our his orders in the happy hunting ground.
The bloody battles in the Bulge and Ardennes Forest had just ended, and then we had to wait a month while the flood level from a blown dam ran out of the Roer River.
Late in Feb., 1945, my division crossed over the Roer, racing forward and generally meeting light resistance. Somewhere in the Rhineland between Euskirchen and Remagen, my company halted in a farm village to allow our gasoline and supply line to catch up with us. Soon after setting up my radio in a large farm house, I began exploring on the second and third floors.
Later that evening, while eating my spam supper on a log, I overheard the mess sergeant tell a cook that he only had enough flour and ingredients left to make one pancake for each soldier the next morning. The sergeant had sent a supply truck back for food, but the vehicle had returned empty.
"Sergeant McIlheny," I intruded. "If youll follow me, I think I can help out."
"All right, Block," McIlheny bellowed in my direction, "but youd better not lead me on a wild goose chase!"
A few moments later, McIlheny, who was somewhat stout, was panting by the time we reached the attic floor of the farmhouse. Flues from the fireplaces beneath passed through a large metal cabinet, from whence was emitted the delicious smells of smoked hams, long sausages, and slabs of bacon.
The sergeant warned that the cabinet might be booby-trapped, but I assured him I had already looked inside. His nose and countenance flowered and grinned as he savored the sight and smells of the smoked meat, but again he warned that the contents may be poisoned.
"Sergeant," I countered. "What farm family would poison a 6-months supply of meat? And if German soldiers had found it, the cabinet would be empty!"
I finally convinced him, but he added, "Block, you keep your mouth shut about this, or the old man will have both our heads on a platter like John the Baptist! Do you promise?" So I promised to keep quiet.
He and I worked another hour, hauling smoked meat in barracks bags back to the mess truck. The next morning, each soldier had one pancake and a heaping slice of ham. Later for other meals, we enjoyed succulent sausages and bacons, and the old man inquired why Sergeant McIlheny couldnt obtain such tasty meat more often.
"If youre still alive, Sergeant McIlheny, Ive kept our secret as long as I can. I just had to tell somebody, even if you cut my heart out!"