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Fifty Years of My Life (1939 - 1990)
A Memoir by Jeff R. Noordermeer

My first Thanksgiving in the Army

After basic training all of my buddies went home for a long leave. I had to stay at the base as the army was my home. One of my friends wanted me to come along to his home in Miners town, Pennsylvania. He said his family would like me, because all of them worked in coal mines. I had told him about my coal mine experience in Holland. I stayed at the base and had plenty of time to write all of my family, about all the new changes in my life. After basic training and when all the boys came back from their long leave, many of my friends were transferred to other bases. The ones who were left at Fort Knox had to take a written test for their IQ score. I had to take one but I knew I was going to fail the test. In the army I had learned a lot more about the English language, but my writing was far below standards. My company's sergeant and I had become very friendly. He was a Negro and came from Tennessee. One day he started to ask me all kinds of questions. Once he found out that I was from Holland, he told me that he was stationed in Germany, and during his leaves he would visit Amsterdam, and had great memories about that city. He told me that he liked the Dutch people. From that time on he became very easy with me, and whatever I asked him he would always say, "go ahead Dutch, you know what to do". He always said, "Dutch, you're alright ". One day we had general house cleaning in the barracks. Everything had to be scrubbed and cleaned. Not too far from our barracks was a large Negro service club. I never saw any white soldiers going in there. I noticed whenever they had a band; inside it was always the best of Negro music you wanted to hear.

Two Musicians (1960), by James Weeks 
Two Musicians (1960),
by James Weeks

I had peeked through the door when I was walking around the base. Negro music in Europe was very popular. That night when we were cleaning the barracks another good Negro band was playing. With all the cleaning we had to do I never thought that I would have a chance to get away, but I asked the sergeant anyway. To my surprise he said, "Dutch, you want to go, go ahead". He said put your uniform on and look sharp. With a lot of complaining going on from the boys who had to stay behind and clean the barracks, I left. Once I got in the club it was packed with Negro soldiers. I was the only white soldier in the club and I never felt a minute uncomfortable. At that time I didn't know what segregation meant or was. The band which was playing was very exciting; especially the saxophone players were my favorites.

There were a lot of women from off the base invited, what I didn't know was that a lot of them were prostitutes. One good looking Negro girl came to me and started to talk, and later on she asked me to join her in her car which was in the parking lot. I said to her that I wasn't interested to go out. Later on I found out from other soldiers that she was a prostitute. The beer on the bar was only ten cents a can. I could tell that those Negro soldiers around me noticed right away that I was not an American. For me I was still in a new country, and there were so many things I didn't understand, even here on this army base. I had enjoyed my evening and saw a different race of people, the way they enjoyed themselves, something I had never seen before. My sergeant asked me how I enjoyed my evening; I told him I just loved the music.

My first Thanksgiving day, I celebrated on the army base in Fort Knox, Kentucky. I never heard about this Thanksgiving day celebration in Holland. I didn't even know that story behind it, but one of my friends in the army told me all about why this country celebrates Thanksgiving. I could really tell the way the army had decorated our mess-hall that this was going to be a special day for off of us. I was very impressed with the service; it was just like we were eating in a fancy restaurant. I found our all about the specialty in food during Thanksgiving day. We had roast turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie or mincemeat, fruit cake and all kinds of nuts. This was all new to me, but it left quite an impression on me after I found out how this holiday originated, and what it meant to the American people. The army did a heck of a nice job, and I will always remember my first Thanksgiving dinner.

CONTINUED: Going to New York after the Army
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© Copyright  - Antonio Zamora

- Foreword
- Old Rotterdam
- World War II
- After the War
- Coming to America
- Washington, D.C.
- Southeast Asia
- Philosophy of Life

- Book Index