Memorial Day is when everyone comes together, we prepare our beach bags for the beach and grills for our backyards. Yes it marks the day on the calendar that all the beaches and pools open and we can start BBQ’ing in our backyards but it’s also a day of remembrance and memories. To remember those who have served with honor, dedication and selflessness to preserve our freedom.
I often sit back and wonder about the many jobs people have held in the military. The one job I often wonder about was who cooked for our soldiers when they were out on the battlefield. Did they have a chow hall or mess hall somewhere? Did they eat the same foods we ate? Were they sitting family style like we were? What was it like out there for them on the battlefield?
I recently read about a Marine Corp mess sergeant Willard Chamberlin, who was deployed to Okinawa toward the end of World War II. Sgt. Chamberlin quit high school in 1943 and decided to join the Marines. He went to cooks and bakers school and from there was sent to the war in the South Pacific. Sgt. Chamberlin cooked in the 3rd Amphibious Corp attached to a battalion of the 155 ‘Long Tom’ field guns, attached to the 1st Marine Division. On board the ship they were not quite sure where they would be heading, but they ended up in a landing ship off the beach in Okinawa. Sgt. Chamberlin goes on to explain that close to arriving they had been told where they would be going and what their orders were. According to Sgt. Chamberlin not long after they arrived the Japanese Kamikaze (suicide pilots) came down and hit the water near to their ship and blew up. ” The explosion rocked our LST (landing ship) so badly the chains holding some of the 155 millimeter cannons broke and the weight aboard our ship shifted,” he said.(1) “The captain of our LST ran the ship on the beach, opened the bow doors and we stepped onto the sand without getting our feet wet,” Chamberlin recalled. (2) There was no impending danger when they exited the ship. A few weeks later the Marines had seized the north end of the 70 mile island without much conflict.
So this is where this little piece of his story became interesting to me. Sgt. Chamberlin was told to prepare some food for the troops. So he did, he set up on the beach and made them some soup and coffee. Now the article doesn’t say what kind of soup he made but I’m sure it was well received and appreciated by the troops. I’m sure they used whatever field rations that were available to them at the time. The usual rations could be a can of chicken soup He goes on to explain “while cooking on the beach an object flew right by his head and buried itself in the sand by his feet.”(3) When they dug up the object they found it was a piece of shrapnel approximately 20 inches long, 5 inches wide and 2 inches thick. I thought to myself could you imagine setting up your grill in your backyard and something like that nearly missing your head and feet and impaling into your grass? I realized that the men that fought out there during the war were not sitting at tables enjoying a family sit down dinner but they were being served by cooks out in the field who would prepare any rations they had available.
As for Willard Chamberlin the Marin Corp mess Sgt and rifleman, he saw the final days of the fight for Okinawa that ended on the beach at the south side of the island. He spent a year or so in Okinawa after it ended and returned home in May of 1946.
(1-3) War Tales, Sgt. Willard Chamberlin with 1 st Marine Division at Okinawa during WW II, by Don Moore