The Best Ever in the worst conditions

Even in war time, UMR alumni will find a way to celebrate the Best Ever. For an article that appeared in a 1991 issue of the magazine, MSM-UMR Alumnus staff interviewed Gene Boyt, ME’41, about his experiences meeting up with two MSM alumni as prisoners of war in the Philippines during World War II.


John McAnerney, CE’41 (for whom the Quadrangle’s McAnerney Hall was named), was killed during the defense of Corregidor, but Boyt and Robert Silhavy, CerE’41, survived the Bataan Death March and spent the rest of the war in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. It was there that the pair improvised to celebrate their version of the Best Ever, even under the worst conditions.

“Silhavy and I got a coffee cup of rice three times a day and a little soup made out of squash, radishes or vines,” Boyt said. “As often as we thought we could stand it, Silhavy and I would cut the rice in half and give it to someone with the understanding that on March 17, he would give the ration back to us. “We also got a Red Cross box filled with sugar, butter, strawberry jam, a chocolate bar and powdered milk. We saved that.”

On March 17, the two MSM alumni were determined to celebrate – as best they could – St. Patrick’s Day.

“All the fellas came in at noon on March 17 and gave us their rice. We ended up with about a half gallon of rice,” Boyt explained. We mixed it with milk and butter and made an ‘engineer’s cake’ and covered it with jam.

“We also had put raisins in a jar and by leaving them in the sun a little bit at a time we were able to ferment them. We made a hydrometer out of a vial to check the fermentation – we wanted champagne.

“We ate the cake and drank that raisin champagne on St. Patrick’s Day – what a day!”

Editor’s note: Since this article was first published, both Silhavy and Boyt have passed away. Silhavy died in 1996. Boyt died in 2003.

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