US Infantry in Vietnam - GI Beans and GI Gravy, Food in the Boonies

GI Beans and GI Gravy

The subject comes from a line in an old GI ditty that I cannot remember completely: 

"GI beans and GI gravy, gee I wish I 'd joined the Navy!" 

It comes as a surprise to discover that most folks, American and foreign, had no idea as to the effort the US Army, US Marines, and US Navy/Coast Guard went to to feed the troops in the field and in isolated outposts, firebases, and even NDPs something other than C-rats. I can speak with first hand knowledge of the efforts put forth by the US Army.

In the field, we poor dawgfaced grunts lived at the crappy end of soldier life in the RVN. Most of our time was spent in the middle of nowhere, with just map coords to tell us where we were and nothing else!

Inside the temporary NDP we lived in shelters made from ponchos or shelter halves (mostly ponchos to save weight!) with an inflatable air mattress for a bed and a poncho liner for a blanket. The rucksack was our pillow. Two or three soldiers lived in this shelter (which was barely large enough for 2 men), with 1 man always being outside the shelter on watch at night unless the squad was on AP that night or the soldiers were on OP duty outside the NDP providing an early warning of gook activities (hopefully). The 3rd soldier, on watch, used his poncho to rig a roof extension from the front of the shelter to keep off rain, or to cover the M-16 rifle with bipod/ammo set up on the Dupuy fighting bunker roof. Other weapons/ammo were inside the shelter with the sleepers.

The shelter was erected using locally obtained wood from tree limbs and small trunks, with the tent ropes and pegs from our shelter halves (which remained in base camp with other heavy and unused stuff). Beside the shelter was a "drying rack" made from the locally available wood (2 upright wooden Ys and a straight piece of wood) lashed together and stuck in the ground with several sand bags for extra support (the same system used to erect the frame of the poncho shelter) this rack was where the 3 soldiers hung up their web harness, belts, and pouches to "dry" at night.

Not much but it was "home" for grunts, even in the large and permanent FSBs.

Back to chow.

Everyday, in the field (and in base camp prior to patrolling duties or prior to air assaults), the squad leader or a fire team leader from each squad would bring it to the squad area of the perimeter, then use his M-16's three pronged flash suppressor to break the wire on a case of C-rats, then slice it open with his knife, and dump it upside down on the ground at his feet.

The case held 24 C-rat boxed meals, and was dumped upside down so everyone chose their breakfast and patrol meals at random. Since the meals were packed in the boxes randomly with a prescribed number of meals of each type per case, this insured that no soldier or NCO was able to deliberately select the "good ones" and leave the "bad ones" for his buddies to enjoy. If a squad was at full strength (LOL! very unlikely!) it would be 2 cases of C-rats instead of one.

If the unit had not been able to provide a hot cooked breakfast, the breakfast meal was eaten right away, and the patrol meal removed from its box, and stacked inside a woolen boot sock which was then tied to the soldier's harness for transport. The boot sock was selected as it worked well, was light weight, and easily carried the stacked cans "quietly" in the field. All soldiers were welcome to take more than 1 breakfast and patrol meal. A soldier was constantly burning calories in the jungle.

Some C-rats were truly bad, hot or cold, others passable and the best good, but all were bland except for salt.

I cannot remember all of the types now but I think there were 24 of them. The ones that stick in my mind are:






These meals were all ID'd by a type number and had various desert packs, bread, crackers, etc, so there was some variation. All contained cigarettes, gum, candy, water proof matches, instant coffee mix, salt, pepper, and a TOILET PAPER ROLL containing a couple of feet of a soldiers next best friend! B-3, was the designator for a boxed ration contents. Each ration case also contained about 2 dozen small paper envelopes, each holding a wonderful folding GI can opener called a "P-38" by the Army and a "John Wayne" by the Marines.

The Army issued special 1 man stoves to each soldier to cook his meals on as well as fuel tablets to use for fuel. These were left in the base camp or thrown away as excess weight. Meals were either eaten cold (outside the NDP) or heated with a disposable home made stove (an empty C-rats can with 3 or 4 holes made around the bottom sides using a knife or a "devil's passkey or church key" - a common back in the world beer can opener that made a triangular opening in a beer or C-rats can) inside the NDP or FSB.

In the First Division, a great effort was made to fly out the company cooks and a hot evening meal with real coffee and real iced tea to the NDP every day on the log chopper flight. Some times this was simply not possible, and it was C-rats for supper with canteen water. If the cooks made it out to the NDP for the night, they cooked a hot meal with real food for the troops breakfast the next morning. This was the same as the breakfast served in the base camps and permanent FSBs and outposts. These meals were muchly appreciated too!

Special holiday meals, like Christmas and Thanksgiving were made up in base camp and flown out to the NDPs by the daily log choppers. This was done without fail, unless the grunts were engaged in a life and death struggle at the NDP with the gooks on these days! These meals were then re-prepared and sent out as soon as possible to the unit if real life prevented the meals delivery on time!

And these meals were first class, all a soldier could eat and drink, coffee, iced tea, food, same as would be served in a unit mess hall (sans Class A uniforms, white mess jackets for the cooks and KPs, and the officers, NCOs, and EM and their families as would be normal in the States and Europe). And they were very much appreciated!

The First Infantry Division also attempted (and succeeded most of the time) in supplying soldiers in the field with 2 beers and 2 sodas per man per day, along with a 100-lb block of ice for each platoon to cool these treats. This was part of the daily log chopper flights Soldiers were free to swap soda and beer amongst themselves BUT DRUNKENESS WAS NOT TOLERATED! If a soldier abused this treat, not only did his fellow soldiers beat is ass really good for him as a lesson, but he was removed from the beer and soda ration - PERMANENTLY!

To cool the beer and soda, a hole was dug in the ground, and lined with a canvas shelter half. The ice blocks were chopped into chunks with a GI entrenching tool, and then placed inside this shelter half with the beer/soda, and covered over with the upper portion of the shelter half. Within an hour or so, cold drinks for all!

But when none of the above was available, it was C-rats and canteen water.

We also had the so called LRRP rats issued for a while to us in the place of canned C-rats. These were all very good dehydrated meals to which was added cold or warm water (for a hot meal) that was made and eaten in the pouch it was carried in. These rations were not so good when eaten dry however, and more than a little "chewy". They were lightweight when dry, but a soldier had to choose between water and nice chow in a pinch! And water always won out!

And what of the waste products of GI beans and GI gravy? In the NDP, the cans, bags, and left-overs were burned daily in a burn pit, and buried when the NDP was abandoned. The human waste went into Platoon 2 or 3 seater open latrine pits (including urine) made with sand bags and logs. Outside the NDP, soldiers dug "catholes" and buried their garbage and bodily wastes in concealed holes.

Well, so much for this burning topic of GI life as a grunt in the First Division in the RVN.

Delta Mike Two, Out!


1st Infantry Division TAOR (1969)

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