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World Food Day 10/16 – Eating in the Army

In honor of World Food Day tomorrow, and since I’m a food historian (yes, it’s a real thing), today’s blog is all about eating in the Army during World War II.  This article is an excerpt from a longer Monmouth Message publication.

 The United States fed its citizens, Armed Forces, and Allies during World War II thanks to government programs and grassroots home front efforts, which included an enormous home or “Victory” garden campaign. The diets of those in the service often improved both qualitatively and quantitatively when they answered Uncle Sam’s call. Some called America’s WWII Army “the best fed Army the world has ever seen.”

Fort Monmouth did its part to uphold that reputation, with the average recruit gaining between nine and twelve pounds in their first six weeks stationed here.  A motion picture school instructor, Dr. Bill Ryan, fondly recalled his days at Fort Monmouth.  When asked about the quality of the food here, he replied, “The Signal School had the best of any in the Army!”

Cook grilling steak for Organization Day, 1944.

The United States army had approximately 174,000 soldiers in 1939. This number had increased to over 8,000,000 by 1944.  The average soldiers in WWII were more than an inch taller, 10 pounds heavier, and had greater physical endurance than the soldiers of the First World War.  This was the result of a concentrated effort on behalf of the US government to keep soldiers well-fed.

Major H.B. Monroe, the Mess Specialists Division director at Fort Monmouth in 1942, recalled his own experiences with food during his time in the First World War.  He said: “Plenty of times I sat down to a meal of cold coffee, baked beans, and goldfish (salmon) in the last war.  And believe me, this Army is the best fed Army the world has ever seen.”

Men icing cinnamon rolls in one of the bakeries on post.

Mess Captain F.J. Coffey, here, reported that the typical monthly offerings at the base mess halls included 22 servings of beef, 11 of cured ham, 4 of chicken, 3 of veal, and 3 of lamb.   This is not to mention all the eggs, butter, baked goods, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables that were served every day!   Dr. Ryan spoke of the variety, too.  “We had spaghetti and meatballs, and there was very often fish.”

The Signal Corps Message, one of the weekly newspapers at Fort Monmouth during the 1940s, reported  just how well fed military men were.  The Army alone received 15 percent of all the food in the nation during 1944, and soldiers were told it was their patriotic duty to make sure that those fighting had the best food available.

The health of American soldiers was far better during WWII than during World War I or the inter war years.  The experiences of soldiers at Fort Monmouth were typical of other soldiers who were stateside during the war.  Those stationed here fondly recalled the good food from their time at Fort Monmouth. 

If you’re interested in Army food, you can always send a research request to me (Chrissie Reilly, chrissie.tate.reilly@us.army.mil) or any of the CECOM historians.  And if you’d like to explore the topic on your own, the US Army Quartermaster Foundation in Fort Lee, Virginia, has a great website at www.qmfound.com, and the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, also at Fort Lee, has an excellent site at http://www.qmmuseum.lee.army.mil/ , too.

French chef Alex Abbatte brought years of experience cooking for royalty and dignitaries before coming to Fort Monmouth.

Happy reading, and happy eating!

Posted in From the Archives, This Day In History.

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