Wineka column: Cheerwine tastes like home
By Mark Wineka
Bob Morgan and three of his Army buddies were hunkered down in their machine gun post outside of a German town called Sinz when their ammunition and K-rations arrived.
With the delivery came a small package addressed to Morgan.
He knew the mail orderly, who had made a special effort to get the box to Morgan in these hours before the Allied forces launched their latest offensive as the Germans defended the Siegfried Line.
The package was from Bob’s dad in Rowan County, N.C.
It contained four bottles of soft drink ó two Cokes and two Cheerwines, the cherry concoction made in Salisbury.
The temperature seemed stuck at 15 degrees on this January day in 1945, and slivers of ice already clung to the outside of the bottles, making the drinks look even more inviting to Morgan and the guys with him.
Ernie Gallo, Morgan’s platoon leader from California, couldn’t stand it. He offered Morgan $25 for one of the drinks.
The men, who had landed on Utah Beach a month or two after D-Day, had some extra francs on them as part of their invasion money.
“No, Ernie, I’m not going to take anything,” said Morgan, one of the youngest guys in his unit.
He handed the Cokes to Gallo and another soldier. The Cheerwines went to himself and Doc, a medic from Raleigh. Doc had never had a Cheerwine, and Morgan decided he needed a taste of home, considering what lay ahead of them the rest of the day.
The men savored their drinks as long as possible.
Finished, the soldiers broke down some twigs, stuck four into the ground near their position and placed the bottles upside down over the sticks.
They laughed, thinking about the next machine gun team that would take their place. Those guys would have to wonder, how in the world did these drink bottles from the States make it to the German countryside and the Battle of the Bulge?
And what was Cheerwine?
Later in the day, the men encountered heavy fighting in the attempt to win Sinz ó action Morgan became accustomed to as part of the 94th Infantry Division.
Of the 39 men in his machine gun platoon, only five weren’t casualties (wounded or killed), and the four men who drank sodas together that morning outside Sinz were among those five.
It’s one reason Morgan will never forget that box from his father.
Most people in Salisbury know Morgan as sales manager and later co-owner of Foil Motor Co., where he worked 46 years before selling the dealership and retiring in 1992.
He also is a well-known Lions Club member and, at 84, seems to be enjoying retirement in his home off Milford Drive.
We sat recently on his sun porch, and he talked about growing up on a farm in eastern Rowan County, his Army training, his six-day trip on the Queen Elizabeth with 22,000 other soldiers and how the first beach he ever set foot on as a teenager wasn’t Myrtle Beach but Utah Beach.
You grew up fast in those days.
Morgan, wounded twice in the war, earned the Purple Heart, Purple Heart Cluster and Bronze Star.
When a Cheerwine employee heard the story about the special package from home during the war, he left a case of Cheerwine in Morgan’s garage one night after work.
Before I left Morgan the other day, he handed me two of the Cheerwine bottles for the road.
I twisted one open back at the office.
I couldn’t help but think of a young soldier from long ago, taking a swig with his friends and wondering if he would ever taste home again.