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MARK R. HENRY, MIKE CHAPPELL
Medical orderlies wore a set of large pouches (M1942) to hold their supplies; they could be attached to the pistol belt as a pair, and came with special shoulder yoke suspension webbing. Some medics preferred to use plain haversacks or musettes instead.
All GIs carried a field bandage in a M1910/1942 pouch (LTD) on the front of the waist belt; a single-snap (non-LTD) version of the M1942 pouch was also made in England. The dressing was contained in a brass, canvas or plastic case. In the Pacific a more extensive 'jungle' first aid kit came in a larger, two-snap flapped pouch usually worn on the back of the belt.
The issue stainless steel M1910 canteen was based on the World War I aluminium version and held one quart; the World War I type had an aluminium cap, the M1942 version a black plastic cap. The one-pint canteen cup was carried in the bottom of the insulated canteen carrier the canteen nesting into the cup and carrier. Early in the war some canteens were also made with a black or dark blue enamelled finish. In the Pacific it was not uncommon for GIs to carry two canteens into action. The company and year of manufacture is usually marked on both the canteen and cup. Small air bladders and later specially made bladder canteens were uncommon but popular in the Pacific for holding potable water. Water purification tablets and chlorine were sometimes carried.
Messkits based on the World War I pattern were used by all GIs for hot chow in the field. The two plate sides and the utensils could be hooked together and dipped into hot water for cleaning; the plates were made to clip together so that both could be balanced in one hand. In combat the most common mess items carried were canteen cups and spoons only. A small, simple hinged can opener usually came in the ration packs but was sometimes kept on a GI's 'dogtag' cord.
Soldiers initially used the voluminous green cotton barracks bag to cany the rest of their clothing and gear; this was soon replaced by the long strapped canvas dufflebag. Normally stamped with the owner's name, this was left behind when a soldier deployed to the front A smaller waterproof tie-top bag was also issued to protect packed items (a similar bag is still on issue to this day).
The GI's food came up to the front lines as B-, C-, D- and K-ration packs If the soldiers were lucky their food would be prepared by company cooks and brought up in thermal marmite cans. Small squad stoves, 'canned heaf or G2 explosives could also be used to warm rations' Toiletries, tobacco and candy were usually issued free to GIs in the divisional area.
The stainless steel 'dogtags', rectangular with rounded corners, were issued two per man and were worn around the neck on a chain or cord. Upon death, one tag was left with the body and the other was returned to unit headquarters or used to mark the grave. (It is a macabre myth that the dent on the edge of the tag was provided so that it could be easily driven between the teeth of the dead.) Dogtags were stamped with the soldier's name, service number, religion (C, P or H), blood type, year of tetanus shot, and next-of-kin address - this latter was subsequently deleted.
Upon entering the Army a GI was assigned an eight-digit service number. Regular Army soldiers' numbers began with a '1', National Guardsmen's with '2', and draftees' with '3'. Officers' serial numbers began with 'O', and their ID tags were sometimes stamped with their rank.
The B-rations were group canned meals in large quantities - 5-in-l, later 10-in-l (i.e. five meals for one man or one meal for five men). They were popular with the GIs, but too bulky to carry in combat unless you had a vehicle.
The D-ration was a 4oz chocolate and wafer bar, commonly included in the other ration packs. It could withstand temperatures of 120В°F without melting, and was originally designed as an emergency ration. It was intended to taste bad to prevent it being eaten casually; this concept was soon reversed, though to little discernible effect. One veteran described it as 'very difficult to eat, hard as a rock, and rather bitter... I would shave it into small fragments to prevent tooth fracture'. It was nicknamed "Hitler's Secret Weapon' due to its effect on some GIs' bowels.
The Oration was originally limited to a range of only three canned meals: stew, hash, and pork and beans. In addition it usually included a D-bar, crackers, hard candy, dextrose (energy) pills, and coffee, cocoa and lemonade mixes. GIs found the very acidic lemonade powder mix to work excellently for scrubbing floors, but rarely took it internally. The Oration pack was heavy (51bs - 2.26kg) and bulky. Its contents were intended to be eaten only for a day or so, but front line GIs often had to eat them for weeks at a time, and rapidly grew to hate them.
By mid-1943 an accessory/condiment can of cigarettes, gum, toilet paper and water purification tablets (halazone) were added. A spaghetti meal was also added in 1943, and the range was extended until ten meals existed by mid-1944, with hash being dropped; and caramels were substituted for the dextrose pills. The Orations were especially hated by Pacific GIs who had been dealing with them since 1942; the up-dated C eventually won acceptance, if no admirers. A soldier of the 37th Division said of the Cs, 'We hated them until we ran out and started to starve. Then the hash, wiener and beans, beef stew with a biscuit and condiment cans became winners'.
The K-ration became available in 1943 and was designed (initially, for paratroops) as an individual combat ration that was easy to carry and consume; two Ks could be carried for every C. They came in breakfast (veal), dinner (spam), and supper (sausage) meals, with condiments, cheese and crackers, candy and gum, drink mixes, toilet paper and smokes. The waxed ration boxes would burn just long enough to heat coffee water; they were originally issued in plain buff with black lettering but were later printed with colour-coded patterns. One veteran's summation was that '... usually the K variety was favoured over the C, but both were rather unappetising after weeks of the same'. (Units in Europe temporarily assigned to the British sector received English 'Compo' rations, much to their dismay.)
In the Pacific special jungle rations were tried out in 1942-43. They included spam, dried fruits/peanuts, crackers, cigarettes and gum. This ration required too much water, and was too bulky, though GIs appreciated the fruit. In intense combat GIs usually ate only the candy and gum and dropped the rest. The Pacific theatre assault (candy) ration addressed this fact with 28 pieces of assorted hard candy, gum, cigarettes and a chocolate peanut bar. It was first issued in February 1944 and remained popular. Rice was also issued to GIs in the South-West Pacific.
This GI photographed in the USA in 1942 seems less than enthusiastic about his canned rations and chocolate D-bar. He wears the prewar blue denim fatigues under his early-pattern Parsons jacket; his wool overseas cap is piped infantry light blue and bears the enamelled regimental crest of the 29th Infantry.
Canned composite/luncheon meat - or as it was universally known to GIs, 'spam' - was a component of most of the rations, and they tired of it quickly. The main advantage of this meat was that it kept without refrigeration. It was provided to Britain and Russia in huge quantities during the war; Kruschev later declared that this 'Roosevelt sausage' sustained the Red Army. Unlike some other foods in the wartime USA it was never rationed.