DIARY ENTRY #7
is it around our house after consuming the typical family Thanksgiving feast
that the conversation invariably turns to a discussion of leaner days that
occurred long ago? Somehow or other, we each like to recall our own personal
experiences of past years. So it seems inevitable that long before the desert is
being served that someone at the table has to needle me about my old “brown
shoe” army career and the field rations at the time. When one hears the
expression “Army Chow” do I think of the Mess Sergeant nicknamed “Mama”
Gosher and his idiosyncrasies; First Cook Al Jordan’s green apple pies; the
Spam, mutton stews, chipped beef on toast (better known as Shit on a Shingle to
the troops)? I cannot honestly think it is anyone of them in particular, but
taken together they represent the cuisine served during the war years for me of
1943-45 while serving as a member of the US 2nd Armored Division in the European
Strangely enough, I
guess the one single food item that I associate with that period of time is
(don’t laugh) … “C” rations! Why those damn things you ask? For one
thing, they were our daily diet for many days and weeks on end prior to and once
we landed in Normandy for the invasion, spelled by the combat “K” rations.
An important part of this food memorabilia is due to the fault of one Staff
Sergeant Tommy Speirs, plus my own non-conformists and rebellious ways. This
incident occurred right after the frantic chase across northern France and our
heralded entrance into Belgium as the first Allied troops to cross their border
and commence the liberation of their country on 2 September 1944.
hailed from Picayune, Mississippi and served as the CCA radio half-track
commander and as an Old Army man was known as a no nonsense soldier.The rest of
his crew was comprised of Vern Evans from New Orleans, Bill Truett of Indiana
and Harold Zappendorf of Chicago. We stuck close to them in bivouac areas for
they had a power generator on a trailer they towed and that gave us needed
electric power when necessary. In addition, together we were the only enlisted
Signalmen assigned to CCA Headquarters. Misery loves company. We all had become
accustomed to the K and C rations long before we had the luxury and experience
of dining on the new 10 in one rations; or when in a static position the field
kitchen came up to serve a decent meal. No one that I can recall cared much for
the can of hash in the Cs or the can of lemon powder and hardtack crackers it
came with. It finally got to the point where we would throw them away or else
set them aside for when we were really hard-pressed for food, which happened.
When the division had
out-run our supply lines we also ran out of gasoline to move the division.
September 4, 1944 was my 22nd birthday and it found me underneath an
apple tree in an orchard concocting a scheme to dispose of a case of hash and
lemon powder to the unsuspecting Sergeant Speirs. Perhaps it was boredom or else
hunger pains that motivated me to swap a case of unopened Cs off the side of
Speirs half-track for a case of “duds” of hash & lemon powder. I
collected all the hash & lemon cans I could find in our two wire vehicles
and packed them into an empty C ration box. I then carefully re-nailed the
boards back on top and then re-wired the retaining wire to where you could not
easily tell it had been repacked with the “duds.” Making sure I wasn’t
seen, I then swapped this bogus case for a virgin box stored in the rail on the
side of Speirs half-track. I figured it would take the “dit-da-dit” crew a
few days to come across the switched box of Cs. However, that very same day one
of the crew selected that box among
those on the rail and the howls that were heard alerted Speirs. After viewing
the switch rations the old Cavalry man said, “What low life horse’s ass
would do a thing like that? I am going to kick someone’s ass if I find the
@#$%^&* who did this!”
With common knowledge that the whole wire crews were practical jokers, he naturally accused us. When Joe Elfer, our Cajun from New Orleans and one of Speirs drinking buddies, was questioned by Speirs, Elfer spilled his guts and said, “Tom, only a damned Yankee would pull such a stunt.” With that Speirs gaze fell on Veno from Wisconsin, Hull from Massachusetts, Donahue from Michigan, Waldroop from Oklahoma and I from Wisconsin, rounding out those north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Because by now they knew, they all turned and looked at me with big grins and guffaws.
I knew the jig was up and my goose was cooked and started getting to my feet not a moment too soon as Speirs was headed my way with his eyes blazing. Back in those days I could outrun any sergeant and he soon gave up the foot race in the orchard.
Later when cooler
heads prevailed and we all shared a good laugh, I had to swap him a fresh
unopened case of Cs that he personally inspected for the case of “duds” that
I tried to palm off on him. He promised to keep a close watch on me thereafter.
So when soldiers of yesteryear start reminiscing about Army Chow and its
shortcomings, I will always recall my Sting of the rebel sergeant and swapping
the two cases. Even today, I find pleasure in rehashing this old story. Now tell
the truth, before you complain too loudly, wouldn’t you rather hear stories
about coping with the old field rations instead of all the old stories I had to
hear about the guys cleaning out the stables at Fort Riley in the prewar days?
A condensed and edited version appeared
in Issue #1, 1986, of the 2nd Armored Division Association Bulletin
.Publication or reproduction, in part or
whole, is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don R. Marsh.
All rights remain the sole property of
The Marsh Family Trust.