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Posted: August 6, 2013 8:30 p.m.

Military cook kept soldiers fed

"I can’t even eat. The food keeps touching. I like military plates, I’m a military man, and I want a military meal. I want my string beans to be quarantined! I like a little fortress around my mashed potatoes so the meatloaf doesn’t invade my mashed potatoes and cause mixing in my plate! I absolutely HATE IT when food touches. I’m a military man, do you understand that? And don’t let your food touch either, please?"

- Captain Patrick Zevo –

Perchance Captain Zevo was hawkish concerning his culinary etiquette but as Napoleon famously testified, "An army marches on its stomach."

In simpler terms, "If you don’t feed your soldiers, then they ain’t gonna fite!"

Behind each combat soldier are 10 other soldiers whose sole duty is to keep that one soldier in the fight. Ammunition and trained medics keep the soldier alive, while food keeps him strong enough to stay the course.

It was a long trek to the military kitchen for Hugh Vines. Born in 1916, the Carroll County native recalled, "The folks owned a farm about five miles from Carrollton. We were dirt farmers, grew cotton and corn for market, and grew vegetables and fruit for ourselves. Of course, we had chickens, pigs and cows, too."

Formal education took place in a three-room schoolhouse heated by a potbelly stove. Air conditioning was a stiff summer breeze.

"I had to quit school in 1934 when my mother died," Vines said. "Times were tough, so I worked with the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) for $30 a month. I kept $5, and the rest was sent home."

Discovering that cooks received $36 a month stirred Vines’ interest in learning culinary skills. He said, "I got to keep the extra $6!"

Seeking new frontiers, Vines joined the Army in 1935. His culinary skills were enhanced by the Army’s cooking school.

"I only made $21 per month in the Army, but I did get to see Hawaii," Vine said. "Seeing" Hawaii meant Wheeler Army Air Field, 15 miles northwest of Pearl Harbor.

"I saw the Arizona once," Vines recalled. "It’s hard to imagine all those men dying on one ship." (The Arizona went down during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, taking 1,177 of her crew members with her).

Asked to describe his duties, Vines said, "Well, I cooked." When asked the menu, he said, "Grits every morning."

Asked to clarify how grits got on the menu in Hawaii, he replied, "It was still American boys and they got grits, and scrambled eggs, and sometimes we’d cook up a batch of pancakes. For lunch and dinner we served a meat and vegetables. No splurges back then, that’s for sure. The Great Depression was still upon us."

Having seen enough of Hawaii and possibly tired of cooking grits every day, Vines chose to leave the Army in 1939. Back in Georgia, he took a job as a supervisor of cooks in the Atlanta City Prison Department.

"That was an interesting change," he said. On the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Vines was transporting released inmates from prison to the Atlanta Police station.

"I knew what those boys were going through at Pearl Harbor," he said. "That was a sad day."

Vines’ brother talked him into joining the Navy in 1942.

"We wanted to serve on the same ship, but the Sullivan tragedy changed things." (All five of the Sullivan brothers went down with their ship, the USS Juneau).

Vines said, "So my brother and I served on different ships. I had enlisted as a cook because of my experience and got a brand new ship, the USS Charles Carroll, an attack transport. We were on the shakedown cruise when I had the mishap."

During the cruise, Vines picked up a huge pan of boiling tea in the galley; his back gave way, the scalding mixture landing on his lap and legs. The severe burns scarred his legs for life.

"I was in sick bay until we hit port, then was hospitalized," he said. "I got out in time to catch the ship for the West Coast."

East Coast to West Coast meant the Panama Canal.

Just short of the canal, the Charles Carroll stuck a mine. There were no deaths among the crew en route to the Pacific, but the ship had to make port at Balboa for repairs.

Vines reentered the hospital. "My back, again," he said. "They did everything but operate on it."

Having returned to Norfolk, Va., and somewhat recovered, Vines was assigned another new attack transport, the USS Almaack.

"We were headed for the Pacific," he said. "We traversed the Panama Canal and headed up the coast to San Diego. You guessed it; by the time we arrived, my back pain was so dreadful I ended up in the hospital at Long Beach. My war was over."

Medically discharged, Vines returned to Georgia. He still suffers painful back spasms and carries scars from the boiling tea. Finding employment with the City of Atlanta, Vines drove a transit bus until 1954.

And, "After that I hauled new Chevrolets over-the-road." In 1981 Vines was hit head-on by another vehicle. His truck and carrier overturned. Leg injuries forced him to leave the road after 27 years.

A devoted man of God, Vines had preached part time until that fateful day.

"I guess God needed me to go full time," he said with a grin.

Hugh Vines retired in 1985. Still active in church at the age of 97, he promised: "If the Lord is willing, I’ll be in the pulpit of my home church, the Bethany Christian Church in Carroll County on my 100th birthday. "I suppose after that, well, God will let me know."

Vines and his first wife had six children — three boys and three girls.

The six offspring produced Vines’ 16 grandchildren — eight boys and eight girls. The grandchildren produced 40 great-grandchildren — 20 boys and 20 girls. The 40 great-grandchildren thus far have produced 14 great-great-grandchildren — seven boys and seven girls.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at aveteransstory@gmail.com or aveteransstory.us.

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