Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Superb Filet Mignon

J. Lee Campbell - AT HOME (ca 1980)
My dad, J. Lee Campbell, loved his beef. He loved them on the hoof or on the plate. He transferred some of that love of beef to me as a youngster. I took that love with me into the military and my time in the Navy. the Navy was known for providing good beef to the sailors and that may have been one of the selling points for me to join that particular outfit back in 1969 right after the Draft Lottery came out and I was sitting in my dorm room at the University of West Florida, thinking about my draft number that December - which was EIGHT and the relative merits of the Marines vs the Navy should my semester grades not measure up. I knew Marines ate canned food and that was one of the negatives in the comparison. Final Exams were in play. Draft numbers were helping college students make lifelong decisions. I made mine and went to see a Navy Recruiter to join the reserves THAT NEXT DAY.

By late 1972, I was floating around the other side of the world on the steel deck of a Destroyer Escort - an Active Duty Naval officer - looking at the coast of Vietnam.  Every few minutes there was a loud "BANG" and then another. Smoke rising on the beach meant somebody was not having a good day.

Weeks of this, with the supply of beef running low, was about all a boy could take. The wardroom had decided to spend its food allowance on dietary menus because the XO and CO were on a diet and because the left-over allowance for food was handy for the OPS boss and WEPS boss to pay off their expensive sports car loans back in "the world".  I, too enjoyed the extra $15 a month to put toward my own small extravagances.

Fortunately the Navy required the crew to have only the best food the Navy could muster up --- and about once a week it seems, they got Steak and Lobster to eat down on the Mess Deck.  But in the wardroom, the officers ate baloney sandwiches.  (In those days, officers ate separate meals from the crew - separate galley - cooks - the whole deal - it was a throwback to the British Navy of 1750 in which officers bought their own uniforms and meals).

Given the (BaMMM)  uncomfortable ambiance (BAmmm)  and low caloric output of the Officer's Wardroom -- (Bammm) I was inclined to volunteer to sample the crews (BamMMMM) mess . This was also a Navy requirement. An officer MUST daily sample the crew's mess to be sure they are getting the very best meals possible.  (BAMMmmmm).  I made myself available on many occasions to be sure the crew was fed properly. I would join them on occasion for lobster and steak. BaaaMMM!.   Rounds Complete. Target Destroyed. Troops, bunkers, ammunition. Five rounds expended. Standby for new target, bearing 237, 5640 yards. Computer check. Standby to shoot.

So weeks of this with very little good beef were interrupted by a spate of bad weather and a chance to take a few days in Hong Kong.  USS O'Callahan was a Destroyer Escort - larger than the WWII versions but still, only one screw and two boilers.  We steamed through the bad weather all the way to Hong Kong and pulled into Victoria Harbor.  Immediately on entering the harbor and anchoring out,
USS O'Callahan "Irish Song"
we got a communication from the British Harbor Master - who was in a delicate situation - as plans were underway already to return Hong Kong to the Chinese government. There was a kind of dual government going on between the Brits and the Chinese.  And it turns out the BAD WEATHER on our trip up had kept our crew safely inside the skin of the ship (except for lookouts).  The weather situation kept our deck crew from getting outside to PAINT THE GUNS back to a normal Navy Gray vs the crispy black and peeling paint resulting from heavy gunfire.

There we were. Anchored in a semi-Commie Port with guns that looked like they had been in a war somewhere in that general part of the world.  One could guess the guns had been aimed at friends of the Chinese - points South of Hong Kong.  The Harbor Master was LIVID.  His message to our CO was along the lines of  "throwing us out of town".  We had MINUTES to get our guns dressed up like nice Navy ships should be.  So, indeed, while still in a drizzle, the deck crew hustled paint to the deck and proceeded to get the gun barrels colored gray again.   We really were -- ALMOST --- thrown out of Hong Kong.

We had perhaps three days there and most of the officers and crew got a chance to go into the city and become impressed by the wonders of the Orient.  I had an opportunity to join a table of young officers at a fine table at a fine restaurant. I ordered a filet-mignon and the thing melted in my mouth,.
Typical Hong Kong Achorage
leaving not a single part of my pallet unsatisfied.  Maybe it was being off the ship for a few hours. Maybe it was the wonders of the Orient. Maybe it was my starvation diet from the wardroom. In any case, this meal would become my standard for filet-mignon from then on.  In a few days we left Hong Kong and returned to "the gun line" near the DMZ, off the mouth of the Cua Viet River.
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That memory of fine beef remained with me to this day. And only today - in a meal at my home - has the wonder of the fine taste of the best filet been matched.  My wife cooked it carefully.  At current prices you don't want to mess up a good filet. This happened because when I went to Chumuckla today to take care of some chores, Karen asked me to stop by Oakes Meats and get some filets. And I did.

Our Ship Reunion will be in Pensacola October 5-10. On Friday the 7th we will have a memorial service at the Veterans Park in Pensacola to honor our shipmates who sailed already and to honor our namesake - Father Joe O'Callahan and the crew of USS Franklin in WWII.  We welcome friends of the Navy and Veterans to join in any of our activities. The registration details are at www.ussocallahan.org. 

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