WWII (1943-46)

Navy Chow—The Ups and Downs of It

Memory from: Andrew J. Jancovic and others

Setting the Scene

Food. There are very few things more subjective. To paraphrase from a popular saying, 'One man's fine meal is another man's slop.' Nothing is more true when talking with the crew of the KIDD. The following is a small collection of various shipmates' memories of Navy chow aboard ship and the adventures (or misadventures and antics) surrounding it, including the viewpoint from the other side of the soup ladle. We start out with an interview of Torpedoman's Mate 3rd class Andrew J. Jancovic as he tells KIDD historian Fred G. Benton, Jr., about the bread prepared by the ship's bakers.

The Recollection

Fred Benton: How was the bread that they baked aboard ship? Andy Jancovic: Well, the bread, … we put the slices of it up to the light to see where the bugs are at. Then, you’d pick ’em out. That usually was good, yeah. I had a chef tell me one time, he says, “Andy, when you strain that flour,” he says, “them bugs go on in and they go right through the strainer.”

[Watertender 2nd class Amelio P. Juliano also remembers the protein—uh,…bugs—in the bread.] Amelio Juliano: The food, at times, … it wasn’t that good. Most of the time, it was very good. The bread had those little weevils. Just pick them away and cut around it, that’s all. It was good.

[Gunner’s Mate 1st class Nello V. Caporale liked the food as a whole—particularly the eggs—but was not quite so forgiving of the extra “protein” found in his daily bread.] Nello Caporale: The food was very good, except that some of the cooks were … we called them “Asiatic.” [They] would not prepare ’em with much effort until we got some of the strikers who prepared the eggs. They beat the eggs and put some baking soda with it or baking powder and fluffed ’em up and they tasted like fresh eggs. But as a whole, it was pretty good. Now, we had a period of time when we had bole weevils in our bread; in our flour. And I just couldn’t eat it, because it was just nothing but weevils through the whole slice of bread. And I had a buddy aboard with me that would tell me that it wasn’t Friday, so it was alright to eat it. It wasn’t Friday and it’s alright to eat the meat. [Editor’s Note—This is an inside joke amongst those of the Catholic faith.] Fred G. Benton, Jr: Is it true that some of them would hold the bread up to the light to see if they could spot the bugs? Nello Caporale: You didn’t have to hold it up to the light. You could spot the bugs without holding it up to the light because the whole slice of bread was filled with ’em.

[Radarman 3rd class Andrew J. Hart had no complaints about the food. Here, however, he remembers one notoriously bad meal.] Andrew Hart: Well, I had no gripes about the food. And I think the best thing I liked was the pancakes they had aboard the ship. And I had no trouble at all, but I was one of the fortunate ones. When we [were] on the East Coast and we was going down to Trinidad and then on our way back, we got [food] poisoning on the ship. And I was one of the very, very few that did not get any of that ham. Did not get sick. This was, … oh, … Easter Sunday, 1943. That’s when practically everybody was sick on the ship. So I was very fortunate. From bad ham. That’s when they had—so we were told,… It was rumored they had seven freight car loads of ham that went to Europe plus other ships and vessels, stations,… I can imagine how many other people got sick also. Fred G. Benton, Jr: Do you remember the ice cream machine? Andrew Hart: Yes, I remember the geedunk machine. I remember it very well. … The best part of it was I liked the Coke that they used to have. It was a plain, simply syrup and you add your own water, which you cannot get today. Fred G. Benton, Jr: That is the Coke that you’re talking about? Sort of flat Coke with a marvelous— Andrew Hart: Yes, yes, right. “Simple Syrup” is what they used to call it.

[That case of food poisoning on the 1943 Trinidad run is remembered by an Unidentified Cook in this next section. In addition, this gentleman shares some other experiences from his side of the chow line.] Unidentified Cook: It was shortly after I got aboard ship. I think it was around July when I got aboard ship in Norfolk, Virginia. I was assigned to the KIDD. We were making a few runs to Trinidad. And we were coming up with a lot of contact with submarines at the time and we were using a lot of K-guns, especially at night with no actual oil slicks or anything on the water that we made contact. But we had contact with submarines a lot going to Trinidad and back. And only a handful of men were allowed to go ashore at Trinidad. But on our trip back up there one day, which was about three or four days after I got aboard ship, one of our runs, we had canned ham for lunch. It wasn’t an hour later that I was seasick. At the time, being a new recruit aboard ship, I was handed a paintbrush to do some painting and get my mind occupied. Between the paint—the odor of the paint—and the seasickness, I was really fit to be tied.

But it was shortly after we had lunch that I noticed a lot of men were going into the lavatory and it wasn’t long before I was in there myself. I found out that we all had [food poisoning]. I mean, if you’ve ever seen a mess of 303 men aboard ship and only three men that hadn’t eaten lunch…. The three men that hadn’t eaten lunch were the lucky ones that had to clean the mess. And if you know what a person is like when they have [food poisoning], … It’s an awful thing to describe because your stomach is poisoned to no end and everything is just coming out of your body. There was an instance where there was five G.I. cans on the fantail of the ship. These G.I. cans on the fantail were supposed to be tied down to the life lines and they used ’em for rubbish. The rubbish would be dumped at night so that other ships couldn’t see your garbage being thrown overboard and follow you to any particular area. You could see one man sitting on each G.I. can on the fantail and these cans became loose and these men were just floating around the deck with the roll of the ship and they didn’t care whether they went overboard or not. It was quite a sight to see. In fact, I had my head over the side and the water was three feet away from my face and I just wanted to jump overboard; that was so sick…. We found out later on that the canned ham had been punctured and that’s what caused it to be poisoned. You see, being in the food business, I find out the only way that perishable food could turn bad is if air gets at it.

If you can keep it away from air, it will last forever. But it’s the air—the bacteria in the air—that turns food bad. And that’s what happened in that instance. Fred G. Benton, Jr: What happened to the cook in charge of that? Unidentified Cook: I never heard what happened to the cook. Never did. Fred G. Benton, Jr: Was there any way to have discovered that can was punctured? Unidentified Cook: I imagine he could have looked at it and seen that it was … the slime would be there, because I have come across instances where it was ready to occur again and I noticed that the slime was on the ham and the odor…. You can smell the odor. But, evidently, it wasn’t detectable by this particular cook that let it ride. Fred G. Benton, Jr: Those guys in the G.I. cans: were they in the cans? Unidentified Cook: They were sitting in the cans and they were doing whatever they could because the lavatory was so loaded with personnel that they went anywhere they could see fit. It got to a point where these three men that hadn’t eaten, they had to go throughout the bedding compartments where the beds were messed up. Everything was messed up. The shower stalls were loaded with people who [had] been in there using that as a lavatory. And they had to wear gas masks in order to do this. It was an awful mess. Fred G. Benton, Jr: They were down in the Crew’s Quarters throwing up and— Unidentified Cook: Both ends. They were throwing up and they had diarrhea and it was a complete mess; a complete mess. When we were out around the islands—the Kwajalein Islands, I believe it was—we came across an English, … or Australian ship, rather, and they signaled to us that they would like to exchange some fresh beef for a case of fresh eggs. We asked the Captain at that time and the Captain says “Sure. If you can afford it, why not?” We had just gotten some fresh supplies and we could afford to do this for them; showing good public relations to another country. And we did ship over a case of fresh eggs for six cases of fresh beef, or frozen beef rather.

A few days later, when I decided to use this frozen beef, I thawed it out and much to my amazement, when we went to cook it, we found out that it was all mutton. And the odor was so bad aboard ship that people wanted to know if I was cooking a dog in the galley. And all we could do was cook it up. And we had prepared for this meal and all we could do was bring it down to the—after putting it in the oven and cooking it, … more or less bones, … we brought it down to the galley to serve it. And as the people were coming through the chow line, they were hit with a bone on their plate; something to chew on. Well, at that particular time, I think I had to put the boxing gloves on with two or three different people, because they weren’t very happy over this meal. Fred G. Benton, Jr: It sounds like you had the same problem our cook had: that we held him personally responsible for anything that we didn’t like. Was that true? Unidentified Cook: That was very true with us. If they weren’t happy with the meal, they took it out on you. And I tell you, I spent an awful lot of time at the smokers with gloves on. Being a cook is no joke. It had its ups and it had its downs. [In the following recollection from Lieutenant (j.g.) William T. Barnhouse, we see that each department or division aboard ship was extremely apt at supplying their own little secret stashes of food.] Bill Barnhouse: We took our supplies in the middle of the night, because the big ships got their supplies in the daytime. So, in the middle of the night, taking on stores was an all-hands … everybody. Nobody could sleep. … It was like ants. You’d put something on your shoulder and head out. The thing we were real short of that we could keep was canned cream. Like eggs, … you couldn’t keep.

But canned cream you could, if you could hide it. Well, in the Shipfitter’s Shop … we had rag bins. We had these huge bins full of rags; wiping rags, cleaning rags. So in the middle of the night, when every one of our men would come by carrying a case of canned cream, we’d give him a signal and he’d cut out of line, take his case of canned cream, and we’d pull all the rags out of the rag box and we’d stack this canned cream in. Then we put all the rags back in. One day, we were sitting in the Wardroom and the captain said, “I’d give $10.00 for a can of cream for my coffee!” We had run out of cream by then. So I got up and left the table and went back and told one of the shipfitters, “Bring me a can of cream.” So he brought me a can of cream. I took it in, poked holes in it, and took it in to the captain. He said “Where’d you get this?” And I said, “Captain, I can’t tell you.” Tim Rizzuto: By ‘canned cream,’ you mean evaporated milk? Bill Barnhouse: Yeah. Evaporated milk. It was the only thing that you could carry that would stay. Everybody drank it in their coffee. But it was really the bane of the ship’s Deck Division. At night, they’d take two big five-gallon containers of coffee around to everybody on watch. They would take only two or three mugs for the whole crew. Everybody drank out of the same mugs. They’d put sugar and cream in it. They’d bring it to you on watch; pour you a cup of this in a mug.

Everybody in those days, nearly, drank sugar and cream. You’d put sugar and cream in it. Then, because they would drink it out of the same mug that everybody else drank out of, they wouldn’t drink it all. They’d drink it down about a half-an-inch and then they’d throw it over the side when you were underway. So when they’d throw it over the side, the wind would catch it and you had coffee, sugar and cream in it, … and it would just whip down the side of the ship and it just made a mess! [Our Unidentified Cook makes one last contribution to our look at food and drink aboard ship. This time, we focus on the aftermath of the kamikaze attack of April 11, 1945, and the mysterious disappearance of beer.] Unidentified Cook: At the time when we were hit, it was decided … to throw overboard most of the heavy equipment that was bogging us down to get the ship out of the water as much as we could. … And there’s an interesting story that I’ve told time and time again. We were passing out some of the liquor from the … for medicinal purposes … for some of the people in shock and some of the people that had been working throughout the night. … I asked the officer in charge at the time, which was Dick Kenny, …. I told him that I had the only key for the beer locker and I was wondering if it would be alright to pass out some beer in an emergency case like this. He said it would be alright. So I went down to the beer locker, which was about five or six decks down below in the bow where this beer is kept.

We had a compliment of [up] to 300 cases of beer to start with. What we would do with this at times [was that] we would allow 20 men to go over on an island and have a couple of beers each … and then come back. But we wouldn’t let any more than 20 men go over at a time in case we came under attack or had orders to shove off, … We would not lose too many men. But when I went down to the hold to get this beer, I didn’t find a single case of beer and I thought there should have been at least 75 to 100 cases down there. And it was really a puzzle to me where these beers could have gone because I had the only key. But after the war was over, there was a group of us that were mulling around, playing cards and shooting pool at the USO barracks, waiting for our discharge. And a fellow asked me if I was still puzzled about that situation of the beer down in the beer locker. And I said “I certainly am, ’cause I had the only key.” And he says, “Let me put your mind at ease.” He says, “We were helping ourselves to the beer.” I say, “But how?” He says, “We were taking the pins out of the hinges.”

[Lieutenant (j.g.) William T. Barnhouse recalls that one of his worries concerned similar problems with the emergency food rations in the life rafts.] At nighttime, from midnight to four in the morning, [you] generally got hungry. So the group that you were with, generally, one or two of ’em knew the cooks down in the galley. So one would go down and come up with coffee and the other one with a loaf of bread or two. Another guy had a key to the Boatswain’s Locker where he’d swipe out the fruit cocktail or fruit or something like that. I always prayed that we would never be shipwrecked because you’d starve if you had to depend on the food on them life rafts, because they had canisters on there with rations of some sort in ’em, you know. Spam, … they had some kind of a hard biscuit and the chocolate bars and a couple of cigarettes and stuff like that. They all had to be empty, those cans….”

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