Looking Back: Veteran served as Navy cook

November 09, 2003|BRENDA S. EDWARDS

Charles Corbett spent his military career in the kitchen.

The 22 years, 6 months and 11 days he served in the Navy was mostly as a cook in the ship's galley. He did everything there was to do, with the exception of making bread.

Between ship duties, he spent time at a base in Millington, Tenn.

He did a lot less cooking for a ship's crew than he did while on a land base. He served from 70 to 200 men on ship duty, and as many as 15,000 Marines and sailors at the Memphis base.

Meals in the ship's galley were not bad when Corbett worked in the kitchen, unless someone played a trick.

Corbett recalled once when a young sailor asked for a fried chicken fillet sandwich.

"He asked for a sandwich. We gave him a sandwich," said Corbett. "The kid gulped it down and asked for another one."


Corbett said his cooking buddy decided to play a prank with the second sandwich. "He got a sponge, split in half, dipped it in egg and flour. Then fried it. The kid said it was the best sandwich he ever ate.

"Once a chief cook came aboard and asked if we served beans," said Corbett. "I usually cooked them two or three times a month."

That answer did not go over too well.

"We're going to serve beans twice a day," the chief cook told Corbett. For the next two and half years, the ship's crew either had cold pork and beans, baked beans, navy beans, black-eyed peas or bean salad every day. Sometimes more than one bean dish would be served at lunch and dinner. Corn bread also was on the menu daily.

Corbett said the older shipmates would eat beans, but the younger men would rather have something else.

The Navy cook also served lobster two or three times a month. No, they were not fresh from the sea, and some of the crew was not too fond of the lobster tails. Breakfast consisted of sausage and gravy, beef on toast, or both, and fried potatoes, sweet rolls and milk.

"But some people were never satisfied," said Corbett. He recalled one sailor, who was the last one through the mess line, always complained.

Most of the battles Corbett fought in the military were in the kitchen. However, in the early 1960s, his ship did chase submarines when their ship was near Vietnam and saw a few Russian ships. His ship was not involved in battle.

Corbett, who retired as a chief petty officer, joined the Navy Nov. 25, 1952, in St. Louis, then headed to San Diego, for boot training. From there, he was assigned to Columbia River Group Tongue Point, Astoria, Ore. His first assignment to a ship was on the USS Belle Grove. He changed to the USS Orange County a couple months before he was discharged.

Corbett decided to re-enlist. He left for a tour on the USS Cape Esperance, a jeep carrier that ferried airplanes from California to Japan and also hauled troops. He had a 21-month tour on the USS Ingersoll, a destroyer, and also two terms on the USS Dixie, a repair ship that also stored weapons. He was discharged after serving a short time on the USS Cascade, also a destroyer.

The USS Dixie required tight security, Corbett said. As a cook, he never ventured far from the ship's kitchen. He was surprised when he learned how powerful the weapons were. He was told if ignited, the weapons could have blown up a several mile radius.

Since Corbett left the military, he stays out of the kitchen. He said his wife, Anita J., doesn't want him to cook or wash dishes.

The Corbetts moved to Harrodsburg in 1980 and to Danville the next year to be close to their son and daughter.

He worked in Harrodsburg a few months and with General Electric in Frankfort for about 10 years before retiring a second time.

Although Corbett liked the military, he said it was not good for the family. He could not have his family close while he was on a ship. However, he thinks that every young man should either serve two or three years in the military or go to college.

The 74-year-old Corbett still keeps up with some of his buddies by attending reunions. He also is involved with the Local Retired Military Association which is open to officers and enlisted men. "We welcome everyone from the National Guard to the Coast Guard," he said. The group that has 20 members ranging in age 50 to 83, includes two Navy captains, two lieutenant colonels from the Army and Air Force. The group meets for breakfast once a month in the basement of the Masonic Lodge building on North Fourth Street.

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