By LT COL. Coy W. Baldwin, Q.M.C.
Quartermaster Review May-June 1953
The primary target of a soldier’s gripes since the start of warfare, has traditionally been “Chow.” Today, however, in Korea things are different. Men from a score of nations complain about the country, the dust, their lot in life, but whenever their food appears their troubles are temporarily forgotten.
Still more surprising is that old campaigners learn to realize the truth of a saying that has become axiomatic in Korea—”the farther forward, the better the food.” But when one considers the items served in all parts of southern Korea, including the front line, it is easy to see why the food is one thing that satisfies the soldier. For instance, he ordinarily gets fresh meets and vegetables, salads, rolls once a day, pastry products several times a week, ice cream at least weekly, and even such items as bananas regularly.
The fact that the meals served in Korea are better than any served before under battle conditions in something in which the Quartermaster troops of the Far East Command take great pride. This pride, in turn, results in a conscientiousness that means an ever more efficient operation. It took much effort to achieve the present high standard. Some of the problems encountered and surmounted were unique in military history.
Of course, the usual difficulties were present—poor roads, mountainous terrain, and a long supply line from the States. Unprecedented was the difficulty inherent in supplying troops from a score of nations, many with tastes and religious dietary laws unfamiliar to Americans.
Still the problems were worked out and today all the food served to the United Nations forces fighting in Korea, with the exception of the non-perishable items used by most of the British Commonwealth troops, is supplied by the Army’s Quartermaster Corps.
Foodstuffs destined for Korea are requisitioned as part of the over-all requirement for the Far East Command when the X-ration scale (prescribed allowance of ration components in ounces per man per day) is made up by General Headquarters in Tokyo. This scale may be used in any way the individual command sees fit so long as it doesn’t exceed the over-all allowance. For most of the commands, such as those in the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan, the procedure is much like that followed by stations in the United States.
The differences lie with the Eighth Army in Korea which is responsible for supplying the various Korean forces supporting the United Nations’ effort, such as the Republic of Korea Army and the Korean Service Corps, as well as the American troops and the troops of other United Nations.
By far the greater portion of the food supplied to the Eighth Army comes form the United States. However, there is some procurement in the Far East. The items purchased there are those peculiar to the Korean forces as well as eggs, apples, tangerines, fish and bananas.
Another source of food is the United States-operated hydroponic farms in Japan, which provide both chemically-grown and earth-grown vegetables. These farms, believed to be the only ones of their type now in operation, were developed because the Japanese practice of growing produce in earth fertilized with nightsoil was frowned upon by American medical authorities.
These items are supplied in addition to the usual menu. Normally, this ration, minus the hydroponic vegetables, provides 4,350 calories a day. When it is necessary to go on the B ration, the caloric count is maintained at 4,250 calories. In an average month, the infantryman will have fresh meet served 50.5 times a month and canned substitutes 9.5 times.
During the winter months, the caloric count is increased by a supplemental issue. On the basis of 1,000 rations this supplement provides 23 pounds of cereal, 16.67 pounds of dehydrated potatoes, 20 pounds of whole dry milk, 67 pounds of jam and jelly, 30 pounds of oleomargarine, and 60 pounds of bread. In this manner, an additional 450 calories are provided each day.
In the summer, this supplement is not necessary. Instead, to round out the C rations, when served, juices are provided. Twelve No. 3 cans are supplies with each 100 rations. The addition of the juice is desirable because of the limited water supply and to provide a source of extra vitamins.
The large proportion of perishable items can be served only by adhering to a careful scheduling of refrigerated ships from the zone of the interior. Cold storage facilities in Korea are practically non-existent and items what must be kept under refrigeration are stored in space erected for the Quartermaster Corps at depots and supply points.
It is the division Quartermaster who is most concerned with supplying the allied forces with the items they desire but which are not normally supplied in the American ration. With the exception of the British Commonwealth Division, which is treated as a separate case, all the United Nations fighting forces are attached to American divisions and draw their rations just as any other divisional unit. However, both the Army supply points and the division Quartermaster keep records of the amounts drawn so that the accounts can be settled on an inter-nation basis. Some of the allied units, such as the Swedish and Danish hospital units, are supplied the standard American menu. The remainder of the United Nations forces start with the American issue and vary it with supplementary items.
The Turks, for instance, obtain additional bread, vegetable oil, salt, olives, and dehydrated onions. The Thailanders have different tastes and ask for additional bread, rice, salt, and hot sauce. They do not require the full American issue of potatoes, flour, sugar, and shortening.
The Ethiopians ask only that the regular rations be increased with issue of rice, potatoes, and hot sauce. Greek troops eat more bread, rice, potatoes, vegetable oil, and macaroni but do not require so much salt, flour, sugar, and shortening.
As far as the Italians are concerned they receive additional bread, rice, vegetable oil, macaroni, flour, cheese, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Forces from Columbia, the Philippines, and our own troops from Puerto Rico all ask for more rice and require less potatoes as a result. Additional bread and potatoes are supplied to French, Netherland, and Belgium forces with the latter also getting more sugar and evaporated milk. The Canadians eat the standard American ration, plus extra bread.
Although most of the United Nations forces are assigned to American divisions and draw their rations like any similar unit in the divisions, the cooks add distinctive touches.
In the Turkish Brigade for instance, where pork is forbidden, all other meat is first boiled, regardless of the final type of cooking. The meat is chopped up in small pieces and boiled in large pots with other ingredients. The Turks also are fond of a potato ball made of mashed potatoes. A hole is punched through the ball, the ring is dipped in egg batter, and fried in the extra vegetable oil supplied the brigade.
Among the South Americans, as least as far as the Colombians are concerned, bread is ever more important and desirable that it is for U.S. troops. The Colombians bake a type similar to French bread. Their breakfast menu includes rice every day but bacon is not well liked. The cooks for the Colombian battalion have attended the 24th Division cooks’ school and follow the same standards set for U.S. messes. Several times they have won the best mess plaque in the regiment to which they are attached.
Rice also is a popular dish with the Netherlanders. Another favorite consists of mashed potatoes as a base with sautéed meat chunks and boiled lima beans added. The members of the Netherlands battalion eat at a consolidated mess. Corn and sweet potatoes are not favored and when they are issued as part of the American menu they are traded for flour and Irish potatoes form some near-by unit.
The French live up to their reputation of demanding top-notch food preparation. They use the issue bread for toast but draw extra flour for preparing their own French bread. They do not care for hamburger. Ground meat, which they call hash meat, is made instead into meat pies. However, they like C rations and will eat them for a longer time than American troops will before complaining. Like the Dutch, they will trade corn and sweet potatoes for flour and other foods more acceptable to them. One item which they are perfectly satisfied is the wine ration they receive directly from France. This consists of a half-pint per man per day and is augmented by the American issue of coffee, tea, and fruit juices.
Early in the Korean campaign it became necessary to supply food for the Republic of Korea Army. At the same time, the United Nations forces were finding the going tough. The enemy held most of the war-torn peninsula. Most of the usual source of supply for thousands of Korean soldiers was in the hands of the enemy. The nearest alternative source was Japan. A ration corresponding to the American B ration was devised providing in terns of per-man-per-day, 1.75 pounds of rice .6 of a one-pound can of fish ¾ of an ounce or 1/3 of a pack of biscuits, salt and red pepper and 500 won. The 500 won, one-twelfth of a dollar, can be spent for any available supplementary food.
Another rations supplied by the Quartermaster Corps is that provided the prisoners of war. Each active prisoner receives 1.4 pounds of grain (of which at least 50 per cent is rice), .1 pound of dried fish, .6 pound of fresh vegetables obtained from Korean sources, .2 pound of dried peas or beans, and condiments.
Typical of the steps constantly being take to improve the menu of the United Nations fighting man was the recent decision to provide hot rolls or biscuits instead of bread at one meal a day. These are baked in unit messes. Other baked products make use of canned fruits. Such an item as peach upside down cake frequently is carried to the most forward outposts in insulated cans by Korean Service Corps troops.
Universally welcomed by troops of all nations is the American favorite, ice cream. This is served once a week in winter and from two to four times weekly in warm months. It is prepared form ready-made mix by utilizing the special machinery supplied to the division Quartermaster companies. The basis of issue is five gallons per 100 men compared with the usual zone-of-the-interior factor of three and a quarter gallons per 100 men.
With such food being supplied regularly it is only natural that the field commanders have been unanimous in their praise of the Quartermaster Corps’ operation. What pleases the food service men even more is the fact that the man in the fox hole—whether he relishes steak or shish-kebab—is satisfied with his chow.