Beer & War
Posted by Bob Skilnik on July 29, 2007
Awhile back, I was watching a reporter from Fox wrapping up an interview with an Army colonel when he concluded the live shot with this afterthought of a question.
“Colonel,” asked the media guy, “if there was one thing you and your men could really use out here, what would it be?”
“A cold beer,” said the field grade officer without hesitation, a single bead of sweat running down his brow. “I think we’d kill for a cold beer!” With an M-16 slung over his left shoulder and an M1A1 Abrams tank behind him, I couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not, but still, I figured, a poor choice of words given the circumstances.
But moaning about a beer? Same old army, I thought. I’m sure you’ve heard it before that an army travels on its stomach, but after all, they also need something to wash down their daily rations.
As a matter of fact, General George Washington’s troops had the same thing on their minds during the early part of the Revolutionary War, and the newly formed United States government knew it. One of the first laws passed by the Continental Congress directed the army quartermaster to ensure that all soldiers received a daily allotment of beer. Since good-quality English malted barley was unavailable for brewing purposes during the war, all sorts of beers were made using indigenous American ingredients. Whether these brews were made from spruce, corn or a combination of bran and molasses, they all served the purpose of putting a smile on the face of every Continental Army “grunt.” At the same time, beer also kept troops away from the more debilitating effects of cheap rum and whiskey, a problem that cropped up whenever beer rations stopped.
During the Civil War, things weren’t much different for troops on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, though beer was no longer part of their authorized daily rations. Instead, a cottage industry of so-called “Sutlers” followed the troops around with wagons loaded with beer and whiskey. A soldier writing home to his family once noted that if a Sutler’s wagon of lager beer was nearby, and “…as long as the money lasted, comfort was taken.”
By the time World War I rolled around, having a beer on a military post proved impossible. As a matter of fact, because of the hysteria surrounding anti-German sentiment and the fact that so many brewers were of German descent, it also became impossible for a serviceman to find a beer hall or saloon within miles of a military post that could legally serve beer. Prohibitionists had lobbied a weak-kneed Congress to not only ban alcohol from stateside military posts but to also establish saloon-free zones around the posts!
When America went to war in 1941, however, G.I.s found conditions much different than their Doughboy counterparts did in WW I. Beer was no longer banned on military posts; it was actually encouraged. Mindful of the problems that had arisen from National Prohibition, the Feds decided that beer was now a morale booster and decreed that all U.S. breweries allocate fifteen-percent of their production for the enjoyment of the Armed Services.
While the packaging of beer in metal cans on the home front was prohibited beginning in 1942 for conservation purposes, servicemen continued to enjoy canned beer while serving overseas. Many of the cans were colored in camouflage green, including the tops and bottoms. This was done to lessen the possibility that light reflecting off a can during the evening might give a sniper the chance to make that canned beer your last one.
On a tiny South Pacific atoll chain is an island called Mog-Mog that served as a recreational stop for sailors and marines from 1944 until the end of the war. Its primary purpose was to serve as a supply and repair port but became more famously known amongst servicemen as a place where they could spend a couple of hours and drink refreshingly COLD beer rather than the warm brews they normally had tolerated. Generator-powered refrigerators kept huge stocks of beer chilled, causing ships to make passage to the island for just about any reason. Even President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was said to have found an excuse to make a pit-stop at the three-quarter by one-half mile island. I don’t know if it was nothing more than the cold beer that enticed FDR to swing by or not but I certainly don’t remember any top secret war conferences going on at Mog-Mog.
With V-J Day ending war with Japan on August 14, 1945, the returning troops that passed though the island port on September 2, 1945 had loosened up enough to really enjoy a cold beer or two. On that day, over 51,000 cans of cold beer were consumed on Mog-Mog, prompting Admiral Chester Nimitz to refer to the island as the “Navy’s secret weapon.”
Lately though, our fighting men and women have had to contend with the “sensitivites” of other nations as they fulfilled their military duties. During the Bosnian peace-keeping efforts, military officials prohibited the displaying of the American flag at their outposts, trying not to antagonize the local populace. Though some of the troops agreed with the higher-ups on this decision, when beer also went on the list of prohibited items, the shit hit the fan. A ferocious letter-writing campaign by G.I.s to the Stars and Stripes newspaper complained that not only was beer prohibited on the front lines in Bosnia, but also in the supply and support bases in Hungary and Croatia. Eventually, things loosened up in the rear areas of the conflict when discipline started to become a problem.
When the Gulf War kicked-in in early 1991, G.I.s found themselves in Saudi Arabia where alcohol is banned for religious reasons. War is hell, they say, especially for beer drinkers in the land of shieks.
Now we’re in Iraq. Amazingly, this country has a brewing industry. As a matter of fact, Mesopatamia, an ancient Middle East country where Iraq is located today, is considered by many archaeologists to be the area where beer was first brewed. Hopefully, if the situation ever stabilizes there, our fighting men and women might be able to relax a little and possibly enjoy a brew or two in a pacified downtown Baghdad.
Like the Colonel said during the Fox News interview, “I think we’d kill for a cold beer!”
Now that I think about it, I don’t think he was kidding.
In the meantime, if you’d like to help put a cold beer into the hands of our troops in Iraq or elsewhere, Six Packs For Soldiers might be the answer. According to the site, if you send them “…a photo of yourself toasting the troops with a beer (or non-alcoholic alternative, if you prefer)…we will deliver one real beer to a soldier (thanks to our sponsors for springing for it).”
I don’t know anything about the site so do your own due diligence. It would be nice, perhaps, if a craft brewery or two made contact with them. Brewers, if they’re on the up-and-up and you’re willing to help them out, contact me and I’ll write the story.
Everybody, including a thirsty G.I. or two, can win here.
WHERE ARE THE U.S. BREWERIES ON THIS?
German Brewery Donates Beer to Hampton Roads-based Ships
Story Number: NNS031001-09
Release Date: 10/1/2003 3:16:00 PM
By Journalist 3rd Class (SW) C. Grant Johnson, Commander U.S. Atlantic Fleet Public Affairs
NORFOLK, Va. (NNS) — German brewer Spaten donated 600 cases of its namesake lager to the U.S. Navy Sept. 3, to thank U.S. Sailors and Marines who deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In a brief ceremony on the loading docks of the Fleet Technical Support Center Atlantic, USS Kearsarge (LHD 3) Commanding Officer, Capt. Terence McKnight, accepted the beer on behalf of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet. Louis Sieb, president of Spaten North America, Spaten’s U.S. distributor, was on hand to present the gift to McKnight and some very appreciative Sailors.
“After what our servicemen and women did for us,” Sieb said, “now it’s time to do for them.”
Spaten, one of Germany’s oldest and most respected brewers, donated a total of 2,400 cases of beer to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines at the request of Sieb. The Navy’s share was issued to Sailors that served on Hampton Roads-based ships and submarines deployed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“I just said ‘you know what, why don’t we donate some product to our [servicemembers].’ I talked to the brewery and they gave their support,” said Sieb.
“I did this from my heart,” he said. “The Navy’s done an excellent job. They’ve done just splendidly.”
As happy as the company was to give it, it was the Sailors at the event that looked more excited.
“It’s really nice of them to do this,” said USS Bataan (LHD 5) Sailor, Electrician’s Mate 1st Class Gordon Hemphill. “It’s appreciated.”
“I think it’s great,” said Chief Fire Control Technician Donald Bennet from USS Montpelier (SSN 765). We’re going to use it for an awards party for the crew.”
The beer is just the latest gift from a public that has been all too happy to donate to American troops overseas.
“When we were deployed, it was unbelievable,” said McKnight. “We received 47 pallets of Girl Scout cookies. Forty-seven pallets! We got skittles, shoeboxes full of toiletries and CDs, boxes and boxes of letters and emails. The American public has been very generous.”