Fine Dining – 1970
The mess situation was pretty good if you were in the rear – two or three hot meals a day. On a firebase it could be almost as good if they had a mess hall bunker. If not we usually ate C rations (canned precooked food) for two meals and had a hot meal flown in if the birds (helicopters) were available once a day.
The C rations came in large cartons with a dozen or so boxes. There was not much variety and were marked like “A-1”, “B-2”, or “C-1”. We got pretty good at memorizing the contents. You knew A would have some fruit, or B-3 had chocolate, or C-1 had cheese for example. When the cartons were distributed, we had the individual boxes face down as the troops picked so you would not get stuck with the lima beans or whatever you hated but had to take a “blind draw.” There was only one real breakfast – ham and eggs mixed in a can.
You also got several small metal folded can openers, P38s, with the rations. These were very effective and had a hole so you could attach it to your dog tags. Each soldier had one. Sometimes you would also get a sundry pack, filled with a lot of PX goodies. Unfortunately these were often liberated by the rear guys before they were flown out to the field.
C-rations had a number of things in each box – including a small pack of toilet paper. There were chicklets (gum) sometimes, cocoa mix, sugar, and candy. Every box had one more thing — a small pack of filter-less cigarettes, usually “Lucky Strike” or “Pell Mall” or another brand. I started smoking in Vietnam – mostly to add to meal time.
If you were humping a ruck sack, you discarded most of the packaging and put the food cans in your extra socks. They were easier to carry and made little noise. Recon units got dehydrated stuff in plastic bags like today’s dried MREs (Meal Ready to Eat) that were called LRPs (Long Range Patrol) and with the right amount of hot water they were very tasty. The chili and rice comes to mind as pretty good. They did give you heating tabs, something like sterno, to heat a can of C-rations sometimes. At other times troops would burn C4 plastic explosive. When not confined the C4 did not explode if lit and gave off a very high heat. One problem (other than wasting explosive) was that the fumes were toxic.