I hope all our active duty military people can be home for this year’s holidays. To those who can’t make it, whether Stateside or overseas, my best wishes for enjoying the festive season wherever they are.
Among my World War 2 memories is one about a unique and unexpected Thanksgiving feast I enjoyed far away from home. It happened during the American retaking of Leyte, The Philippines, in the middle of October 1944.
After General MacArthur splashed ashore declaring, “I have returned!”, troops of the U.S. 6th Army fought their way through the island against the Japanese occupiers. I was with an advanced Navy communications team that set up a tent camp a month later on the island, just in time for Thanksgiving.
As other sailors aboard nearby troop and combat ships enjoyed fresh turkey and all the trimmings, my team looked forward to canned Spam and powdered K-rations. On Thanksgiving morning, I was moping along on the way to the outdoor four-hole privy, when I heard someone yell, “Hey, Hummer!”
That word was a greeting that could only come from a fellow ex-student of Girard College, a Philadelphia residence school for fatherless boys. Since the 1830s, first nicknamed the Home, then the Hum, all students and alumni called themselves Hummers.
A Jeep pulled up next to me, and I recognized the laughing driver from my graduating high school class of 1942. After many happy yells and back-slaps, he told me he was with a Navy construction battalion, the famed SeaBees, encamped about 10 miles away. While my unit had just arrived on the embattled island, the SeaBees had come ashore on Leyte with the first Army combat units.
He asked me if I wanted to join him for their Thanksgiving dinner that evening. Considering what I expected in my camp, I heartily agreed. That night with the SeaBees I feasted on a delicious fresh meal the Pilgrims may not have recognized, but would have enjoyed.
Because it happened so many decades ago, my memory of the menu may be a bit dim. It probably included Leyte chicken, called waray, pit-roasted among kamunggay vine leaves with yam-like roots. We had sugared coconut slices for dessert, followed by the island’s famed tuba, a fermented coconut milk wine.
Then we all raised our canteen cups of the powerful drink, and clinked toasts to victory, homecoming, and of course, The Hum.