When a mother writes her son in the military, the first thing she asks is, “Are they feeding you OK?”
It has been said the motor that runs the Army is a man’s stomach and if that is true the fuel is the rations he gets. Around the Poverty Plantation here in Kent, you will see quite a few military vehicles of the past — World War II, Korea, Vietnam, etc. This is one of our hobbies among other things. Recently, we got an old Army truck and under the front seat was a box of C rations. I am sure if any of you or your men folks ever served in the military before the 1980s, you have had C rations, which started showing up around 1940 and held on until 1958 without changing. They were designed to be eaten when regular meals were not available, never more than five days in a row. But soldiers in World War II found themselves eating them three times a day for days on end. After a lot of grumbling, the menus were changed somewhat.
They were getting meat and beans, meat and potatoes, and meat and vegetable stew, and the first C rations had paper labels. When the labels got wet they came off and it was potluck from then on. Fighting men carried some wafers, fruitcake, salt tablets, moisture-resistant matches, a piece of chewing gum, 22 squares of toilet paper and a P-38 can opener most soldiers put on the chain with their dog tags. They started printing the ingredients on the can and I like to have forgotten one of the most important items, a pack of four cigarettes. The most popular cigarettes were Camels, Lucky Strikes, Pall Malls, Philip Morris and Wings. Some men didn't smoke but they were few and far between. They saved the cigarettes and sent them home. Much later they quit putting cigarettes in Army meals.
One thing soldiers worried about was carrying these meals around. These items were packaged in cans and were heavy if you added three meals to the load you already carried.
At best C rations tasted bland so the Army put out a new version from 1948-1958 including breakfast, which happened to have chopped ham and eggs, pork and beans, and meat chunks and beans. A man still needed a cooked meal but try as hard as they could this was not always possible. As time went by they would add this or that. They included a pill that was supposed to make water taste better and they added pound cake to the fruitcake menu.
What did they do for smokers? The soldiers either brought their own or did without. Many soldiers remember the aluminum cigarette pack holder that would keep one pack dry and kept them from getting wet from sweat or rainy climates. The little packs of matches were OK but if they got wet they still would not strike. Most soldiers carried Zippo lighters; one kickback to the Zippo lighter was when it was filled with fluid it would sometimes leak and blister your leg through the pocket. Ask any ex-GI and he will tell you about it.
Even after these changes the soldiers complained eating too many C rations in a row not only left them dissatisfied but constipated. I don't know how true this next statement is but the GIs said the candy-coated chewing gum had a mild laxative in them and there was one in each C ration.
There were K and T rations but they were all called C rations until the early 1980s when the MREs (meals ready to eat) packages came out. They said at the time they could be eaten for 21 days without a cooked meal. I would hate to try it. Some packages could be crushed and the package would heat itself. In Desert Storm the soldiers’ mainstay was MREs but we learned to pool them together and with the help of a kerosene burner they made some pretty good meals. They say they have a shelf life of 3½ years. You can now buy MREs at hunting and fishing stores for about $7.25 each.
I hope I have brought back some memories for you men who served in the military. By the way, I still have my P-38. Stop by and I will show it to you.