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Strange things that I have eaten.
I ate very few field rations during my first enlistment in the Marine Corps. At that time, 1968-9, the people going through Infantry Training were probably being fed the ‘C’ rations that were the closest to the end of their shelf life. They were equitably distributed. (The labels of the boxes were not visible and we were told to take the first one that came to hand.)
I will never forget the first two ‘choices’ that I made or the can-opening tool that I received that became my favorite multi-purpose tool for the next 10 years. The first meal had a main course of ‘Ham and Lima Beans’. (They were usually called ‘Ham and Baby Ears or Ham and Motherfuckers.) I like Lima beans, but I didn’t like these. They had the consistency of gristle and tasted like wax. They were easily as big as the ears I’ve seen on any baby. The few pieces of ham were just cold. (I often wonder what a WWI soldier would think of the things that we issue as food now. McConachie stew sounds a little grim from what I have read about it.) The meal, as have all that I ate later, included a small packet of paper that was supposed to be toilet paper. I have a big ass. I would have had to steal every one of those packets from my whole platoon, for three days, to get enough toilet paper to be comfortable with. The package also included a packet of four Lucky Strike unfiltered menthol cigarettes. I had heard of the Lucky Strike brand, and knew that they had made unfiltered cigarettes at one time, but had never seen any Lucky Strike menthol cigarettes before. These cigarettes were amazing. Before I got through coughing from the first puff, they had literally burned up. (They were extremely dry) These meals, and all of the versions that I ate later, also came with a plastic spoon that was very valuable since it could be used to either kill sentries, or, with the addition of a little WD-1 (comm wire) make fabulous but impractical radio antennas
The second meal was slightly different. The accessories were the same, but the main course was ‘Ham and Eggs, Scrambled’. This became my preferred meal, morning noon and night, as long as I ate ‘C’ rations. It was . . . acceptable, as food and always included crackers and peanut butter. (The unknown fruit jelly that came with the other meals was terrible.)
After Infantry training, I never ate any more field food during my first enlistment, but some of the other things that I ate were at least as interesting. Since I worked 24 hour shifts at least one a week I received authorization to eat ‘mid-rats’ at the mess hall. Even as austere as the menu can be at a Marine mess hall, mid-rats have always been very special to me. I would start off with a few serving spoons of scrambled eggs, put two fried eggs on top of them, then try to fill in the rest of the plate with hash-browns, bacon, sausage or ham and cover it up with milk gravy. At the table I covered this with, as well as possible, with red-hot sauce and ketchup. I used toast to clean the plate. I avoided the coffee because it was rumored that it could make one sterile or injure your health in some other way. (I don’t think that cholesterol had been invented then.)
My two favorite mess hall meals, besides breakfast, in later years, were liver and onions and corned beef. If I had only one intact bone left in my body and knew that there was corned beef at the mess hall, I would be there. Believe me. I cook, and my wife is a wonderful cook, and we have made corned beef a number of times, but it has never been quite right. Our efforts at liver and onions have lacked merit.
While I was in the Army, I avoided the mess hall as much as possible. When we were in the field we ate what I called the ‘C’ ration, Mark II. No more beans and baby parts. Still, I only ate ham and eggs, scrambled. I would trade three to one to get them if necessary, but it was seldom necessary because most people didn’t like them. There were meals like beans and meatballs, and things like that, and the cigarette brands were recognizable and even had filters. Talk about progress!
The last time I was in the Marine Corps the whole concept of military food changed. We had salad bars, without bugs, which had previously been referred to by mess hall personnel as ‘extra protein’. We had MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). I even got the chance to eat Arctic rations and some LRRP (Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol) rations. I was in heaven, except that the breakfasts were not as good.
There are several things that any person in the military should know:
1. While in Germany, order the most or least expensive item on the menu. Either way it will be good.
2. While in Korea, avoid the monkey pizza and eat the greasy deep fat fried veggies that the street vendors sell. (Also avoid the gin-roe soju which will make your head hurt worse than a concussion.)
3. If stationed at MCAS Futenma, Okinawa, try out Ghengis Khan’s Mongolian BBQ. It is the best I’ve had. (BTW, don’t get your hair cut on the barracks side of the flightline. The barbershop on the hanger side is much nicer.)
4. If stationed at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, there were also several things to remember in 1976. If you like ‘Bloody Mary’s that are not made with clamatoe juice, take your own red stuff. If you want the best bouillabaisse in the world, Fisherman’s Wharf, in Monterey, is less that an hour away, and they do serve Chablis, for free, to people that have to wait in line, or they did then. The sea otters also provide a spectacular display even though they are not paid or fed for it. Also, stay away from any blondes that come up from the lowlands to dance on Wednesday nights, or any brunettes that work at the Post Exchange. They’re already taken.
5. If you like Mexican food, try Yuma, Arizona.
By the way, armadillo is not bad, when cooked in ammunition can, if you cut off the fat underneath the shell. I’ve always liked armadillos as people, but the one I ate part of at Primary NCO course was better than going hungry for the night. But then again, I have been known to eat cheap caviar in the field.
I have to mention one of the strangest meals that I have eaten since my mother got off of the Europe on $15 a day kick. One day, just before Basketcase got stuck in the mud, I had the opportunity to eat with the infantry that we were working with on that particular exercise. We didn’t like them very much. They had a nasty tendency to stay in their vehicles while we were in the woods. Everyone knows that a tank in a wooded area is helpless without infantry support.
Anyway, my platoon sergeant worked out a deal with the infantry so that we could get a hot meal with them one day. Since we (the tankers) were only a platoon, we didn’t rate ‘hots’. So Frank and I got up (actually we went from our watch positions down into our turrets to polish our boots) and walked down a long, nasty hill to get to the infantry area. The infantry did not show up. I soon understood why. The ‘meal’ was green eggs (too long in the mermite can) and maple syrup. Numma-numma.
We never made that mistake again.
My thanks yet again to Rory.
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