I’ve been participating in a project conducted on Twitter by Operation Gratitude designed to send care packages to our troops. And doing so has brought back a flood of memories about my own experience with care packages.
I spent the second half of 1971 in the mountainous jungles of Vietnam commanding an airmobile rifle platoon. Our routine was to patrol for a couple of weeks at a time, then return to the rear for three days of R&R, which included washing clothes, cleaning weapons, and packing rucks for the next mission.
Our rucksacks contained just about everything a grunt needed for living in the boonies: socks, ammo, grenades, stationery, and, perhaps most importantly, C-Rations. These meals, packaged in tin cans, were the staple of the GI diet during Vietnam. We would pack three or four days worth of rations into our rucks before we climbed into the Hueys to fly out to the jungle. And, pending weather or other circumstances, we counted on being resupplied by helicopter every three days. On resupply day, the drill was to clear a landing zone and secure it with a defensive perimeter so that the Huey could set down and we could offload the food, ammo, and the all-important mail. As dangerous as it was, this was Kumbaya time – passing out the mail, wondering what meals we were going to get, and trading certain foods for cigarettes, which came in a pack of four in every box of rations.
This is how the quartermaster of the Army described C Rations:
"The Meal, Combat, Individual, is designed for issue as the tactical situation dictates, either in individual units as a meal or in multiples of three as a complete ration. Its characteristics emphasize utility, flexibility of use, and more variety of food components than were included in the Ration, Combat, Individual (C Ration) which it replaces. Twelve different menus are included in the specification.
Each menu contains: one canned meat item; one canned fruit, bread or dessert item;
one B unit; an accessory packet containing cigarettes, matches, chewing gum, toilet paper, coffee, cream, sugar, and salt; and a spoon. Four can openers are provided in each case of 12 meals. Although the meat item can be eaten cold, it is more palatable when heated.
Each complete meal contains approximately 1200 calories. The daily ration of 3 meals provides approximately 3600 calories." (from http://gruntfixer.homestead.com/files/crats.html ) The description still makes me salivate. Yeah, right.
Some of the Charlie-Rats were better than others. Or, I should say, there were some meals that no one cared for. Ham and limas anyone? And I think no one would argue that the beans and weiners (beenie weenies) were the universal favorite.
On one of our forays into the jungle I was delighted to receive a box that arrived on the resupply chopper. I recognized my wife’s handwriting, so I couldn’t wait to tear into it. What a delight to find candy, other edible treats, stationery, a love letter, and a bottle of Tabasco sauce accompanied by what was labeled “The Charlie Ration Cookbook.”
The cookbook, replete with cartoons, contained a number of recipes designed to make the C Rations more palatable. Some of the titles were: Foxhole Dinner for Two, Breast of Chicken Under Bullets, and Battlefield Fufu. My theory is that the recipes were designed so that the grunt would shake so much Tabasco sauce into the food that he essentially cauterized his taste buds. As I tried the various recipes it wasn’t long until I had gained a reputation as a C Ration master chef. Soon the men wanted to sample my dishes.
My method was to take an empty tin and place a small amount of C4 explosive in it, light the C4, then put the C Ration entrée into my canteen cup, season to taste with Tabasco sauce, and heat. Many of the ingredients in the cookbook weren’t available in the jungle, so I used the field expedient method of blending in whatever I could find that seemed to suit the dish. Elephant grass was not one of the ingredients of choice. Nor were leeches.
If you’re interested, here is a link to the actual cookbook.
Let me encourage you to be a part of sending care packages to our troops. Let our brave men and women experience the same delight that I had some forty hears ago. The hashtag is #cinnabonsaysthx, and the sponsoring organization, Operation Gratitude, goes by @OpGratitude.