I do! As an infantry soldier in Vietnam, C-Rations was my sole source of nourishment for at least 300 of the 365 days I served in-country.
When out on missions, infantry units were re-supplied with food, water, ammunition, clothes and other items by helicopter every three to five days. Cases of C-Rations are assigned and split among a squad of soldiers – there’s an ample supply to cover three meals per person – 4.5 pounds of canned wet food for each day’s adequate nourishment. However, none of us wanted to carry that much extra weight on our backs, instead, most settling for a single complete meal per day and extra cans of crackers, cakes and fruit to supplement their diet until the next resupply – all stuffed into a sock and tied to the back of a rucksack.
C-Rations are commercially prepared meals, used in the field and at times when hot meals were not available. These meals came in a case containing 12 meals. Each meal was in it’s own cardboard box, which contained the individual items sealed in cans. A can opener (called both a “John Wayne” or a “P-38”) was needed to open the cans.
The accessory pack with each meal was sealed in a foil pouch.
Some of the meals weren’t too bad, especially if somebody from home sent Heinz-57 Sauce or Hot Sauce to doctor them up.
Others were downright awful (Ham and Lima beans) and passed over – left behind for the Cherries when it is their turn to pick out meals. In an effort to keep things fair, I’ve witnessed squad leaders dumping cases of C-Rations upside down (hiding the name of the meal) and mixing them up to give everyone an equal chance of selecting a popular meal. Not sure how the armor units split their meals. I can only remember seeing cases of C-Rations stacked inside APC’s along with several five-gallon containers of water when we came upon them in the jungle.
I remember having to eat my C-Ration meal cold because we were either on the move or rushed to leave in the mornings. Honestly, the scrambled egg chunks or beans and weenies weren’t bad cold, but the rest needed to be heated in order to be palatable. Heating the meals and water required a small stove (see article below) with Sterno tabs or C-4 plastic explosive, the later burning very hot and fast – preferred for quick meals. The C-4 was safe to use as long as it wasn’t compressed or using too much at one time.
The popular meals and cans of pound cake, peaches and fruit cocktail were prized and worth their weight in gold – many soldiers hoarding them to barter for items during evening chow breaks; only one of each are included in every case of meals.
All individual empty cans and trash were buried prior to leaving the “table” – unless he had another use for one of the cans.
Coffee, tea and hot chocolate were plentiful and everyone had a stash. The dilemma here is that water is required for these and at almost three pounds per quart; the extra weight is a consideration. We already carried 4 – 5 quart canteens to keep hydrated until the next resupply. During the monsoon season or in areas with rivers and streams, this is a moot point as water is plentiful!
As I recall, only about 30% of the soldiers in my platoon did not smoke. Every C-Ration meal contained a single four-pack of cigarettes; ten different brands were primarily offered, but like the meals, some were more popular than others. If somebody liked Lucky Strikes, Parliament, Chesterfields or Pall Mall’s, they would never run out. The popular brands like Winston, Marlboro, Kools and Salem were always in short supply and benefited the non-smokers who used them to barter.
Division base camps and some larger firebases had staffed mess halls, serving three hot meals every day. The line units were pulled out of the field on occasion, usually about once a month for three days, to enjoy “home cooking”, barbecues and ice-cold beer and soda – a reward we always looked forward to.
Forgot to mention earlier that battalion sometimes surprises us during resupply and brings out hot food in thermos containers. The menu is comprised of one meat (meatloaf, beef tips, chicken, etc), mashed potatoes, veggies, cake or pie, ice-cold milk, lemonade and steaming, hot coffee.
There was always enough for seconds, but most of us passed as our shrunken stomachs have already overextended from a single helping of this gourmet meal. The Army also sends out a Sundries Pack or SP for each platoon, containing writing paper, envelopes, blue ink pens, foot powder, toothbrushes and paste, chewing gum, m&m’s, Hershey bars, Almond Joy, Mounds, Three Musketeers, Snickers and assorted cartons of cigarettes – providing us with many of the simple articles that helped make life a little easier. One SP was intended to meet the requirements of 100 men for one day, but we usually saw one SP per platoon (30 men) every two to three weeks. The Red Cross also distributed letters from school children, church groups and others for us to read and respond in kind. An afternoon like this was a celebration, unfortunately, it only happened about once or twice a month.
Toward the end of my tour, we began having access to the freeze-dried LRRP meals. Meals such as beef stew, spaghetti and meatballs, chili and others were a wonderful diversion from the mundane canned food we were subjected to. The only drawback was that hot water was needed to make the meal edible, however, the weight of extra water was offset by the lightweight meals.
This is the official Quartermaster’s description of C-Rations used in Vietnam:
“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.”
|B-1 UnitsMeat Choices (in small cans):
Ham and Eggs, Chopped
Candy Disc, Chocolate
|B-2 UnitsMeat Choices (in larger cans):
Beans and Wieners
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Beefsteak, Potatoes and Gravy
Ham and Lima Beans
Meatballs and Beans
Cheese Spread, Processed
|B-3 UnitsMeat Choices (in small cans):
Chicken and Noodles
Cocoa Beverage Powder
The locals loved C-Rations…sometimes trading for live chickens, rice and other items and accommodating prisoners.
Individual Meals – complete
1 – Beef w/Spiced Sauce, Halved Apricots, Peanut Butter, B-1 Unit – crackers, candy
2 – Tuna Fish, Quartered Pears, Peanut Butter, B-1 Unit – crackers, candy
3 – Ham and Eggs, Chopped, Quartered Pears, Peanut Butter, B-1 Unit – crackers, candy
4 – Pork, Sliced, Cooked with Juices, Halved Apricots, Peanut Butter, B-1 Unit – crackers, candy
5 – Beans w/Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato Sauce, Blackberry Jam, Fruitcake, B-2 Unit – crackers, cocoa beverage powder
6 – Beef Slices and Potatoes w/Gravy, Pineapple Jam, Orange Nut Roll, B-2 Unit – crackers, cocoa beverage powder
7 – Spaghetti w/Beef Chunks in Sauce, Peach Jam, Cinnamon Nut Roll, B-2 Unit – crackers, cocoa beverage powder
8 – Beans w/Meat Balls in Tomato Sauce, Grape Jam, Pound Cake, B-2 Unit – crackers, cocoa beverage powder
9 – Beefsteak, Sliced Peaches, Cheese Spread, Cheddar Plain, B-3 Unit – crackers, candy
10 – Chicken or Turkey Boned, Cheese Spread, Cheddar Plain, Fruit Cocktail, B-3 Unit – crackers, candy
11 – Ham Sliced, Cooked with Juices, Cheese Spread, Cheddar Plain, Fruit Cocktail, B-3 Unit – crackers, candy
12 – Turkey Loaf, Cheese Spread, Cheddar Plain, Sliced Peaches, B-3 Unit – crackers, candy
How to make a C-Ration Stove
The small cans included in the meal were ideal for making a stove. Using a “John Wayne” (a P-38) pierce a series of closely spaced holes around the top and bottom rims of the can. This stove was satisfactory, but did not allow enough oxygen to enter which caused incomplete burning of the blue Trioxin heat tablet, causing fumes which irritated the eyes and respiratory tract. A whole heat tab had to be used.
A better stove was created by simply using the can opener end of a “church key” (a flat metal device designed to open soft drink and beer containers with a bottle opener on one end and can opener on the other commonly used before the invention of the pull tab and screw-off bottle top) to puncture triangular holes around the top and bottom rims of the can which resulted in a hotter fire and much less fumes. With this type of stove only half a Trioxin heat tab was needed to heat the meal and then the other half could be used to heat water for coffee or cocoa. A small chunk of C-4 explosive could also be substituted for the Trioxin tablet for faster heating. It would burn hotter and was much better for heating water.
A stove was usually carried in the back pack or cargo pocket and used repeatedly until the metal began to fail.
Vietnam Veteran Keeps Vow, Eats 40-Year-Old Cake
Friday , July 24, 2009
The Army colonel popped open an old military ‘C’ Ration can of pound cake from 1969 at his retirement ceremony, and dug in.
Moak got the drab olive can as a Marine helicopter pilot off the Vietnamese coast in 1973. He vowed to hang on to it until the day he retired, storing it in a box with other mementos.
After a formal retirement ceremony, dozens of friends and relatives joined Moak in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes as he opened the can to cheers. Moak joked earlier this week that he hoped the can wouldn’t explode. It let off a whooshing sound as the pressure seal broke.
“It smells good,” Moak said as he put a handful in his mouth. He jokingly staggered back a few feet and loudly cleared his throat, while one person yelled out, “Eeww, gross!”
Moak pronounced the cake “good.”
“It’s even a little moist,” he said, wiping his mouth. He dared anybody “gutsy” enough to join him, and retired Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, who was the U.S. ArmyEurope commander when Moak served overseas, took an even bigger piece.
“Tastes just like it always did,” Mikolashek mumbled with a mouthful of cake as Moak laughed and clapped.
Moak said he wasn’t worried about getting sick from any bacteria that may have gotten into the old can, because it looked sealed. But the military discourages eating from old rations.
“Given the risks … we do everything possible to ensure that overly aged rations are not consumed,” said Lawrence Levine, a spokesman for the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.
Levine named the threats as mold and deadly botulism if the sealing on the food has been broken, which isn’t always visible.
Moat says though he warned his children over the years not to touch his pound cake, he did let them eat some other rations when they were growing up in the 1980s, including canned spaghetti and crackers.
And how did those taste? “Fine. Well … not like from our great restaurants.” Forty years later, Henry A. Moak, Jr., still loves his pound cake.
Everybody liked Pound Cake, but there was only (1) box per case that had it.
If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about the Vietnam War – subscribe to this blog and get each new post delivered to your email or feed reader. A directory of all published posts is located to the right of each article and lists them in chronological order – links are live – just click and read. If you’d rather scroll through every post, then click on the Cherries title at the top of this page and be redirected to my main page…page features the most recent posts – a navigation bar at the bottom is available to help move between the pages.