Ellis County man part of Navy’s Seabees during World War II

Image: James McAfee — James McAfee served his country during World War II as a member of the Seabees in Okinawa.

James McAfee — James McAfee served his country during World War II as a member of the Seabees in Okinawa.

Meals-on-Wheels Celebrates the “Greatest Generation” during March for Meals Campaign

James McAfee of Ennis never wants to see another can of fruit cocktail again. The Meals-on-Wheels client recalled an incident during World War II when he was hunkered down in a fox hole and decided to crawl into the officer’s mess hall and check out what the other half was eating.

“The (Japanese) were really giving us the business that night and everybody was in the fox holes,” McAfee said. All the rations were in GI cans, so McAfee sauntered up to the goods, opened one and discovered a genuine syrupy feast – fruit cocktail. He spooned out a generous portion and proceeded to dine on the sucrose-heavy dessert. He feasted until he thought his stomach would pop. Then back to his position he went, with an additional hearty portion of fruit cocktail for his fox-hole shift.

“If he was gonna’ get hit, he wanted to be full of something he liked,” his wife, Sarah Garrison, said.

“To this day I get sick at my stomach when I see fruit cocktail,” McAfee laughed. “I ate so much of that stuff.”

McAfee was 18 when he joined the Navy Seabees – attached to the 7th Marines. His unit was deployed to Okinawa. The Seabees are the Construction Battalions (CBs) of the United States Navy. “We’d go with (the Marines) and they’d hit a beachhead and we’d start building the airstrips,” he explained. Part of the Naval Construction Battalion, the Seabees were an integral part of the invasion’s success.

“Any time you make an invasion, the Japanese know where you’re at,” McAfee said. McAfee lost one of his closet comrades during the bombing and stated that their tour in Bouganville, Okinawa was the worst combat his unit endured. “Bouganville was a son-of-a-gun,” he said. “…And I’ve seen those (Japanese) suicide planes come after those hospital ships in Okinawa.”

But there were endearing moments as well, McAfee recalled. Some of the men in his unit hailed from Kentucky, Tennessee and the Florida Swamps where the manufacture of moonshine was a part of their heritage. “They’d go in the chow hall and see what they needed to make moonshine,” McAfee said. “They said one canteen kept full of that stuff and you’d think you were back in the States. I never did drink any of it so I didn’t know but they always had a still.”

And McAfee remembered a stunt he pulled that resonated like a scene from a movie. “I was coming down the road (in an officer’s Jeep) – and a bunch of guys were having a crap game,” McAfee said. He decided to stop and try his luck but soon realized that the dice were loaded. “They were taking my money,” he recalled. “…I got in my Jeep went back down to camp, took a hand grenade and defused it.” He returned to the group and lobbed the ominous object in their direction. “I threw that hand grenade in the middle of those guys and you ought to see them scatter,” McAfee said with a chuckle. McAfee collected the cash and beat a hasty retreat.

Like the McAfee’s and the many others Meals-on Wheels serves, the month of March has been set aside to honor them – most, part of the “greatest generation.” On Saturday, March 27, to help raise monies for the program, Meals-on-Wheels will be hosting a benefit, Remember When…a Fabulous Forties’ Fling. The event will be an evening of swing dancing, dinner, a “live” radio show featuring 1940s celebrities, and chances to win prizes at their annual fundraiser. It will be held at the National Guard Armory located at 618 N. Grand in Waxahachie, beginning at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $75 each, or tables for 8 for $1,000 which include happy hour, dinner, photos, and entertainment. Sponsorships are also available at varying levels.

“We are excited about our upcoming benefit and clients like the Mr. and Mrs. McAfee will be attending the event ,” said Amy Jackson, director of development. “They will be some of our honored guests during the evening to share their stories, but most importantly the night will be dedicate to helping the elderly, homebound in our community,” she added.

Meals-on-Wheels is a community-based, non-profit organization serving the homebound elderly and disabled residents throughout Johnson and Ellis Counties. For more information about the “March For Meals” events or about Meals-on-Wheels services, please contact Meals-on-Wheels at 972-351-9943 or www.servingthechildrenofyesterday.org.

“March For Meals” is a national campaign, initiated and sponsored by Meals On Wheels Association of America (MOWAA), to raise awareness of senior hunger and to encourage action on the part of the local community. Senior nutrition programs across the United States, like Meals-on-Wheels of Johnson and Ellis Counties, promote “March For Meals” in their local communities through public events, partnerships with local businesses, volunteer recruitment and fundraising initiatives. . For more information on the 2010 “March For Meals” campaign please contact Meals on Wheels Association of America at www.mowaa.org.