Feeding the troops with pride

August 31, 2011

Louis Smethers, of Sedalia, can’t help but smile when speaking about his service.

He wasn’t too surprised when he received his draft card from the Army in 1942. He married the love of his life, Dovey Elizabeth Carleton, on June 29, 1941. He was 23 years old and was sent to Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training. The Army decided the best job for Smethers was to be a cook.

Meanwhile his brother, who was six years older, also got drafted and was a cook at Camp Carson, Colo.

Smethers learned the art of cooking and baking at school. He practiced on M-1937 field ranges that were about 3 feet tall and 15 inches wide. Getting used to how the equipment worked was a challenge. Once one of ranges exploded and singed Smether’s face. He was sent to the medics, who fixed him up. He was back on the line before the meal was served. He remembered learning how to cook 16 turkeys in one night on a field range. He also said he received 86 percent on his cooking test, because he burned the bacon.

Before he was sent overseas, he got a three-day pass. He decided to surprise his wife and returned home to see her. He knocked on the door and said, “She about fell over backwards.” Leaving her behind was one of the hardest parts.

He was sent overseas for 14 months with the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops. They started in England and made their way over to France, Germany and Holland. The cooking staff was comprised of four men. One was the mess sergeant and the other two were the truck driver and baker. Smethers was the first cook, who was responsible for seeing the meals were served in a timely fashion. They cooked for 60 men in the platoon.

“I had some good times. It was a good group of people,” he said.

He spent a lot of time in Luxembourg. They kept their fires hidden, so that they could only be seen by airplane. He slept in a sleeping bag on the ground and often it was 16 degrees below zero.

“The enemy would drop grenades and stuff around us at night. I woke up one morning and there were seven soldiers dead. I was lucky,” he said.

Once he was trying to cook breakfast while airplanes were circling around. Though they could have been bombed at any time, he felt the most important thing was feeding his men and he did.

Since he was a bit older, he received the nickname “Pappy.”

“It was hard to leave that bunch of boys,” he said. Three of the men he met lived in Arkansas and he saw them occasionally.

He returned home on a Navy ship and decided to help the sailors bake bread on the trip back. When he returned to Sedalia, he worked for the railroad for 18 years. Then he was custodian at Heber Hunt Elementary and Smith-Cotton High School for a total of 18 years.

He was married to Dovey for 61 years, before she died. Now he is a resident at the Missouri Veterans Home in Warrensburg.

“I was pretty proud about serving my country. I’d do it again, if I had to,” he said. “It means everything in the world.”