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Survival food : A morale-booster lesson from World War II

battle of the bulge, world war two, frances buck
549 400 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

One reader wondered why I categorize hot, tasty food as a survival item, and why I claim quick, tasty recipes are survival tools.

Well – that’s a really good question! So here is a story from World War II about food and its affect on morale.

Knives Ship Free Delivers Direct

by Leon Pantenburg

Some background here first: I am a history nerd, particularly fascinated by World War II. When I was growing up in Iowa in the 1960s, it seemed as if every adult male I knew was a veteran.

Dad, at home on leave,before shipping overseas in 1944.

Dad, home on leave, before shipping overseas in 1944.

In my immediate family, my Dad was an infantry captain in both the European and Pacific theaters; my uncle John Lynch, US Coast Guard, drove landing craft on Iwo Jima and Okinawa; uncle Harold Lindeman was an infantryman in the European theater; uncle Fred Varnum was a baker in the U.S. Army in Europe and uncle Fredrick Wirth served in the Aleutians. (In the 1950s, my uncles Vincent Wirth and Henry Adams served with the U.S. Army in Korea.)

In 2003, I wrote “Vanishing Heroes,” a special edition tribute to World War II veterans that published in the Bend, OR, “Bulletin” on Veterans Day. I wrote stories about a variety of  service members from all branches and who served in every theater.

I was fascinated with the coping skills service members used to survive the horrors of combat. To my surprise, I found that hot food was considered vital to morale. This was particularly evident during a major winter battle in 1944.

On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans launched a surprise winter offensive through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium that caught the Allies completely by surprise. One of the keys to the battle was in the town of Bastogne, Belgium. Whoever held Bastogne controlled the roads needed for further penetration of Allied lines.

I am fascinated with the Battle of the Bulge because of a family connection. My uncle Fred was in Bastogne during the siege, which  lasted from Dec. 20 through Dec. 27. The besieged American forces were relieved by elements of General George Patton’s Third Army, which included my dad. Neither Dad nor uncle Fred ever talked about that battle.

So interviewing a Bulge veteran, Corporal Francis C.  Buck, (Headquarters Company, First Battalion, 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division), was an incredible privilege!

Buck made four combat jumps with the 82nd, which included drops at Sicily, Salerno, D Day and Operation Market Garden.

He had been wounded at the La Fiere Bridge on D Day. Upon recovery, Buck was one of the reinforcements rushed to Bastogne to prop up the disintegrating American lines. When it came to survival gear, the troops were not prepared at all.

What food they had was cold, canned K rations, Buck said, with no way to heat them. They didn’t dare make a fire, and the soldiers had to tough out the long, frigid nights.

To quote Buck from “Vanishing Heroes:”

“The only jump we made during the Battle of the Bulge was from the back of a truck,” Buck said. “We didn’t have any heavy weapons equipment and very little ammunition. No gloves and no winter clothes, just jump boots. We put up a tent and each of us had a blanket.”

Buck and his comrades set up a defensive line, and Buck periodically would take off his boots and massage his feet.

“I used my boots for a pillow,” Buck said. “I woke up to two inches of new snow.”

The Germans attacked at dawn, and Buck went on to describe the intensity of the fighting that day.

“So what was the worst part?” I asked. (Before the words were out, I regretted how insensitive that question must have seemed!)

Buck thought a few moments.

hot meal, world war two, battle of bulge

A hot meal might be the high point of the day.

“It’s tough – really tough – to fight in snow and cold. We didn’t stay warm, and my feet froze. One man shot himself in the foot to get off the line,” Buck said. “But the hardest part is the cold, frozen chow.”

Buck saw my raised eyebrows and  elaborated.

“Sometimes, the only thing you have to look forward to is a hot meal,” he said. “The day may have gone to hell, but if you think there’s  a hot meal coming, that may be the high point. It gives you something familiar in a really bad situation.”

In one instance, during a brutal  artillery barrage, Buck said he was crouched in the bottom of his foxhole, “scared to death and shaking from more than the cold.”

“It was funny, what comes to mind,” he said, chuckling. “I remember thinking how good a cup of  hot coffee would taste.”

“Vanishing Heroes”  went on to win the 2004 American Legion National Journalism Award and numerous other local and regional awards. It was all due to the incredible stories the service members were willing to share. It was a privilege and honor for me to be involved.

Napoleon said an army “marches on its stomach.” And the interview with Buck re-enforced what I had learned from several other “Vanishing Hero” participants: Hot, tasty food is vital to helping maintain a survival mindset, be it in a battle or a wilderness emergency!

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