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Melvin Gray of Fort Dodge

Gray cooked for hundreds of troops

November 8, 2013
By BILL SHEA (bshea@messengernews.net) , Messenger News

Dinner for 150 was Melvin Gray's specialty when he cooked in Army kitchens in the United States and the former West Germany.

The Fort Dodge man had expressed interest in joining a military police unit after completing his basic training. His wish was fulfilled, at least partially, when he was assigned to such an outfit as a cook.

Gray graduated from Lohrville High School in 1953 and found it hard to get a job. He said a lot of young men at the time found getting a job to be hard because the draft was ongoing and employers knew that any man they hired would probably be inducted into the service.

Article Photos

Melvin Gray, of Fort Dodge, looks over some photos taken while he was in the Army from 1953 to 1955. He was a cook, and was assigned to a military police unit in the former West Germany.

Faced with the prospects of unemployment and being drafted, Gray said he volunteered for the draft. He said that volunteering ensured he would be among the first men selected when the local draft board began its next round of inductions.

''I knew it was the right thing to do, but I also knew that I would be drafted,'' Gray said.

He was drafted in October 1953, months after Korean War combat had ended. He was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., for basic training. He recalled that the only grass on the post was on the football field. The rest of the ground, he said, was clay and rock.

Eight weeks of training that included lots of calisthentics followed.

Gray said that after basic training was over, he was asked to list three Army jobs he would like to have. He listed physical fitness instructor, military police officer and truck driver.

After getting his list, the Army promptly sent Gray to cooking school at Fort Leonard Wood. He believes he was picked for cooking school because he didn't have perfect vision.

Upon completing cooking school, Gray was dispatched to Fort McClellan in Alabama in 1954. Not long after arriving there, he volunteered to go overseas.

He was assigned to the 793rd Military Police Co. at Grafenwoehr Training Area in the former West Germany. That military base consists of 90 square miles at which American units wage practice battles.

''That was supposed to have been Hitler's big training area,'' Gray said.

While numerous Army units came to Grafenwhoer for training exercises, there were just three units permanently assigned there, according to Gray. One was his military police company, another was the hospital and the third was a headquarters company responsible for managing the base.

He said that four to five Army cooks and a handful of German civilians worked in the kitchen during every meal. He said they prepared food for 150 soldiers at a time.

Getting breakfast ready for the troops meant getting out of bed at 3 a.m., Gray recalled.

Gray was in West Germany for 14 months. During his last six months there, he became a baker. He said he mostly baked desserts including cakes, cookies and jelly rolls.

He said that not far from the base was a town called Weiden that straddled the border between democratic West Germany and communist East Germany. He had visited the town and recalled that American soldiers there had to make sure that they didn't stray into the communist side of town.

''You had to be careful, especially when you were in that one town,'' he said.

As his Army tour of duty neared its end, Gray flew back to the United States. He reported to Fort Sheridan in Illinois and was discharged from the military there in September 1955.

Gray said he was ''in and out of the Army before I was 21.''

Upon returning to civilian life, Gray farmed and worked at a variety of jobs, including driving a tanker truck and building cabinets.

 
 

 

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