I would like to share with readers my memories of a very special day, and invite those who were also there in any capacity to add their own recollections!
I was eight years old. My Dad, MSgt Daniel E. Watson, was stationed at Dreux Air Base from June 1959 - April 1961. He worked in Personnel and also at the Little Theatre (the Quonset Hut one). Daddy went over to France well ahead of the rest of the family. My Mom, Daisy, as well as my two sisters (Debbie 5, Patty 3) and brother (John 1) followed. We arrived fresh from McGuire Air Force Base by way of Newfoundland and Prestwick, Scotland on Tuesday of Thanksgiving week. We were assigned to temporary quarters initially, which was #181 in the trailer park along the perimeter road facing the fields. We were both shattered and excited at the same time.
Just two days later was Thanksgiving, and we found ourselves in the main mess hall for the big Thanksgiving celebration! I have never experienced anything like it - before or since! The mess hall had been decked out to the hilt! The tables were beautifully decorated, complete with a centerpiece and a "turkey" napkin for each person. Families sat together in units, so we joined up with another "newish" family with young children and shared a long table together for the big feast!
And then there was the food - the star attraction of the day. Food stations were set up for each course and were manned by the airmen. For example, nearby was the Bread Station, with every type of bread and roll imaginable including the all-important cornbread and biscuits for my Southern Daddy. You see he was from Arkansas, and Mom was from Rhode Island, so we always had both Yankee and Rebel foods in our house!
Another nearby station offered a huge array of different kinds of nuts. Us kids were fascinated by this as we had only been familiar with walnuts in the shell until this point. This was the first time I had ever seen or eaten a pecan, and I've been eating them ever since. Each table had a basket and nutcrackers for all to use.
There were food stations for every kind of food you could possibly want: fruits, vegetables, salads, main event meats - turkey for Mom and ham for Daddy, and the grand finale - desserts! There were pies including the all-important pumpkin and lemon meringue, cakes, and cookies of every description with an airman who would put a big scoop of ice cream on top of your chosen selection, or in a cone if you preferred. As kids, we thought we had died and gone to heaven. Could life get any better???
Guests could have as much to eat as they liked. The serving staff were very cheerful and oh, so helpful. I remember one airman even offered to warm a bottle of milk for my little brother, and more importantly, did it with a positive attitude. Mom really appreciated that single act of kindness that day, and mentioned it many times over the years.
After the meal a band performed, then everyone sang. We were all in
We spent the day there and had such a good time. By the end we felt as though we had become part of the Dreux family - and that was a very good feeling. The team of workers who organized and carried out that meal did an incredible job, and are to be congratulated. They may never know the difference they made that day.
When we left for home, each child was given a "goodie" bag to take along. It was a brown paper bag decorated with a turkey on the outside. Inside were many special treasures! They included a balsa wood plane :), packet of crayons and a coloring book, a candy bar or two, and ropes of red and black licorice. But the prize treasure was a candy we had never seen before. It looked like half of a clamshell and had a lollipop-type colored candy on the inside. The idea was to hold the shell in the palm of your hand and lick away! We were instructed on how to master this skill by the other kids at the table who had been at Dreux a few months longer. They even directed us to the candy shop in the nearby village where more could be had.
Mom has said many times over the years that we had celebrated Thanksgiving on many bases under different circumstances, but nothing could compare to that first, very welcoming Thanksgiving at Dreux Air Base. I certainly agree. We have had many wonderful family feasts over the years, but nothing can touch that special time we all shared together in November, 1959. The base family joined together as one, no matter who you were, and the feeling was very special indeed. I am now 61 years old, and each November my mind goes back to the mess hall atmosphere, the taste of that food!, the friendliness, and the whole welcoming experience we all felt at our new "home away from home" over 50 years ago.
Sherry (Watson) Nelson
April 2013 Thanksgiving at Dreux Air Base, 1959
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