I’ll Take a Hamburger to go with Extra Grease, Please


It’s brutally hot today.  The humidity is around ninety-five percent, and the temperature, over a hundred.  It’s one of those days where it’s impossible to stop sweating.  I stood for a moment to wipe the sweat off my nose and thought to myself, today when I get off work, I’m heading down to that new hamburger joint, scheduled to open at six, and grab dinner.  We were scheduled to have fish sticks that night at the mess hall (it was Friday) and the fish sticks in Nam tasted about as good as the ones the Darke County School Board fed us on Fridays, back home.  They were something to be avoided, if possible.

The base chow hall fed us burgers and fries from time to time, but they weren’t very tasty.  Our new hamburger cart was supposed to sell burgers, fries, and shakes that tasted like the ones back home.  Civilians were going to run its operations.  Since I loved junk food as a kid, I was hoping that both the burgers and fries would be of the greasy spoon variety.

“Hey Clark, get your head outta your ass and give Thompson a hand with the tow bar.”  Sure thing, Sarge, I’m on it.”  My boss, Staff Sargent Mills, was a heroin addict.  He was very good at his job though, when he was straight; but that day was not one of those days.  We had just finished dropping two newly overhauled engines into an F4, we had worked on for three straight days, and it was time to tow the bird back to the flight line.

Thompson and I hooked the plane’s front tires to the tow bar and gave Mills the thumbs up for him to tow her out of the phase-dock hanger, where I worked.  Phase dock maintenance performed all of the major plane surgeries on base.  We were supposed to be the experts on such operations.  As my boss drove the newly equipped multi-million-dollar fighter jet out of the hanger, he missed clipping the right wing, by barely a foot, on the side of the hanger dock door.  Granted, this particular maneuver was always hard to pull off, but it was much easier when attempted, by someone sober.

As my boss headed down the flight line with his newly acquired giant bird in tow, I turned to Thompson and said – “are you headed down to the new burger joint when we get off?”  “Damn straight”, he said.

Neither Thompson nor I possessed enough rank to be assigned a jeep.  It was about a three-mile hike to the burger joint, from where we worked, so we headed out on foot, with a spring in our step.  We were both excited.  About halfway there, a South Korean Colonel picked us up in his jeep and gave us a lift the rest of the way.  I threw in this little detail for a reason.  An American Colonel would not have offered us a ride.  But the South Koreans treated American soldiers with great deference and respect.  The Colonel in question treated us like equals.

I waltzed up to the new burger joint and placed my order.  “I’ll take two burgers, loaded; a large fry, extra crispy, and a Chocolate Malt (remember those?).”  In about five minutes I received my food.  As I unwrapped my sandwich, I could tell it was going to be good, based on how much grease I saw.  I took a bite of my burger, followed by a small handful of fries.

OMG – I was immediately transported back to the Hamburger Shop on the corner of Martin Street and South Broadway, next to Thompson’s Pool Hall.  My burger, fries, and malt shake tasted like they had been prepared and shipped to me from my hometown.  It was a taste of Greenville, in Southeast Asia.  It didn’t take much to satisfy me during my wartime experience.  We lacked so much in terms of creature comforts that any taste from home was divine in nature.  Combat personnel do not experience many days marked with endorphin flow capabilities.

Once again, thank you for taking this little stroll down memory lane with me.