Marc Alan Holmes

I guess the meal that meant a great deal to me occurred twenty plus years ago. It involved Army Special Forces training I was undergoing in the swamps and woods of North Carolina. My company had been pushed to the point of exhaustion running compass courses, staging mock attacks, marching for miles, and parachuting into dense forests for the better part of a week. During this time we were denied food. Only water was allowed.

Now it's hard enough to go without eating for days in a completely normal situation. But if your body and mind are being pushed to their absolute limits, well, I'm sure you can understand how much we not only needed sustenance but were also dreaming about it.

After two, two and a half days our instructors finally allowed us to have one C-ration. Now if you've never spent time in the military, let me tell you, C-rations are nothing to write home about. Unless you're complaining about them. Old timers told us that they were a dramatic improvement over the K-rations of old. But we couldn't imagine anything worse. However, given the state we all were in, anything edible was Manna from Heaven. Jeez, some of us had taken to killing and eating insects and snakes we were so hungry.

Needless to say we tore into the C-rations like animals. I got my box of C-rations open and grabbed the first thing I saw, a tin of cake. Now this wasn't cake Mom makes, this was a compressed loaf of something with a concrete, fruitcake-like consistency that in a pinch could easily have been used as a weapon to conk an enemy.

Even still I tore into the tin with my P-38 can opener and began devouring mouthfuls of it. In my zeal I forgot that it's a necessity of eating that either drink or saliva is present so you can swallow what you're eating. In my famished state, this important fact eluded me.  Half way through wolfing down this "cake" I began to choke. In seconds I couldn't breathe. It then became a sick battle between my hunger and my need for air. What would win? Would I satiate my hunger but suffocate? Or would I breathe and live to eat another day?

I was so hungry my body kept trying to swallow the cake, but I was rapidly running out of air. I became dizzy, the forest was spinning around like a merry-go-round and I began to pass out.

Lucky for me one of my buddies saw my predicament and rushed to my side.  He grabbed me from behind and performed what I guess was an early version of the Heimlich maneuver. With a mighty crush he sent all the cake I'd been cramming down my gullet flying through the air like a mortar round. Instantly I could breathe.

Was I thankful? Hell no, I spun on my pal and began yelling at him for making me spit my cake out onto the muddy ground. He was incredulous.  In his mind he'd saved my life. In my mind he'd only taken away the experience of the most important meal I'd ever consumed. My lack of gratitude was rewarded. I suffered three cracked ribs from my friend's attempt at first aid.

After everything calmed down and everyone went back to eating their own C-rations, I snuck over to where my cake had landed and carefully picked up the pieces. This time I took care to make sure a full canteen of water was by my side. I snuck over behind a tree and wolfed it down.

You know what? It still tasted better than anything I've eaten before or since.

Marc Alan Holmes, powercopy@WordSleuth.com

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