The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

Christmas Dinner At Calicoan

by Cecil Owen

The time is Christmas Eve 1945, and the place is Calicoan Island. This is a small island off the southern tip of one of the large islands in the Philippines called Samar. Samar is where General Douglas MacArthur landed when he kept his promise to the Filipino people to return. Calicoan Island was about 13 miles long and 9 miles wide. Built on this island was Navy 3149 S.P.D.C. - N.S.D. which means Spare Parts Distribution Center Naval Supply Depot. This was a large Navy base that covered nearly all of the island. But the first time we saw it (I was one of the servicemen stationed there at the time), only a clearing in the middle of the jungle existed. We had to swing our hammocks between two cocoa nut trees for the night. The war had officially ended on August 15, 1945. However, around 4,000 Japanese were still in the Philippine jungles. We wondered how many were on our island? Needless to say, no one slept very much that first night! We were loaned out to the Seabees, the Navy Construction Battalion, to help them build our base.

Everybody was looking forward to a delicious Christmas dinner but for a week now the Christmas menu had been posted, and we could not believe our eyes. It stated that instead of turkey, the meat would be Elephant Stew! Now Stuart Davisson had been a mess cook in the Australian National Guard and his recipe for Elephant Stew went like this. "Take one medium sized

Cecil Owen

Elephant and cut it into bite size chunks, (this takes approximately four weeks.) Put it into a very large size black pot. Cover with water and add two cups salt and pepper. Simmer over a kerosene fire until tender, (about five months.) Add one sack each of potatoes, carrots and onions, then cook for about three days. This should serve around five thousand people! Everyone was beginning to think that the Navy cooks had gone completely wacky.

Early on the morning of Christmas Eve day, the menu was changed to read the following: Meat will be Turkey and Ham with mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, green peas, green beans, turnip greens and cranberry sauce. With your choice of rolls, cornbread or biscuits. For dessert, pumpkin pie and blackberry cobbler! I guess you know that everybody was jumping up and down and shouting. We were like a bunch of kids who had just won a big game of marbles. (You could tell by the menu that the cooks had to

The U.S. Navy Mess Hall once stood on this spot in the jungle of Calicoan Island.

(Original photo dated 1945 from Cecil Owen's collection)

be Southern). In our imagination we were already smelling and tasting all of these delights! We could hardly wait for Christmas Day to arrive!!

The Mess Hall was decorated very pretty, even with Christmas lights strung

up everywhere. Mess Hall is what the dining room was called, and waiters were called mess cooks. And some of the concoctions that the Navy cooks whipped up, were just that, a mess! For breakfast they had one that we even called "Mess on a Shingle." (It faintly resembled Sloppy Joe's, on toast with gravy).

At two o'clock in the morning, the U.S. Navy Mess Hall had visitors. They certainly were not Santa Claus and his herd of reindeer! A tremendous explosion completely obliterated the entire building!!! Three huge bombs had gone off at the same time! It shook the whole base, including the Quonset barracks where we were sleeping. Everyone grabbed a rifle and ran outside in our "skivvies," this is what the Navy calls underwear. It was very warm, even though it was two o'clock in the morning. For in the tropical Philippines there are only two seasons, wet or dry and always hot. Of

course, we all thought that some of the Japanese soldiers had sneaked down from the hills. This had happened several times in the past few months, even though the war had ended in August.

The Japanese soldier went by a different kind of living than the American soldiers did. It was called the Bushido code and the warrior was supposed to continue fighting until killed. And rather than be captured, he was supposed to commit hara-kiri. (Suicide). As we arrived on the scene, one of the bombers

was just a little late in leaving, so we quickly captured him. Imagine our surprise when the "Jap" turned out to be one of our own black sailors!! "The Black Mutiny is upon you," he murmured, being well hopped up on Saki, Japanese rice wine. It took a lot to sober him up as this Saki would really drive a person half crazy. Finally he told us what was going on with the Black Sailors of Calicoan Island. For months they had secretly been storing food, water, guns and ammunition in a large cave. Then the idea was to take over the whole island. They failed to realize that the Jap troops out in the jungle would have to be dealt with also. Sometimes, being stationed on a tropical island out in the Pacific Ocean, a certain type of person does go "cuckoo." And I am not talking about black people, white people or red people. This is psychology in their makeup that causes them to go "Bananas" or "Rock Happy."(Of course these are Navy terms). Calicoan Island was called affectionately by the regular sailors, the U.S.S. Never Sail 3149. Some sailors are bothered by duty on land and some are bothered by duty at sea. In this case it just happened to be the black sailors. Many of the white sailors were

from the South, so they volunteered to go up the mountain to "roust out" the offenders. But we did not want this incident to turn into a race war. So a detachment of Marines from the next island, Samar were called in to roust them out. The marines slipped in around midnight and quickly surrounded everyone while they were sound asleep. So the Black Mutiny of Calician Island was over just as quick as it begun and with no one killed or injured. However, the effects of it lingered on..... and on.

There was a huge hole in the ground where our beloved Mess Hall had stood. As the rainy season was beginning, it quickly filled up with water. Someone suggested that we stock fish there. But as we had flying fish around here, they probably would not stay. This was a very touchy subject with most of us, for our Christmas menu was changed three times, from Elephant Stew to Turkey and Dressing and finally to "K' Rations!!

"K' Rations was emergency powdered food out of a can. You opened a can,  poured in a little water and stirred up a glob of something!! Ours turned out to be powdered eggs, which tasted just like damp cardboard!

Yes, this was a Christmas Day present that I will never ever forget. However, no matter how meager our "Chow" may be, there is always somebody somewhere that has less. And the greatest Christmas present that we can ever have is this: knowing Jesus Christ, our Lord!!!