Heroes: the Army


"...Packages from home were always welcome. Homemade cookies were a favorite with most everyone. Those packages came by slow freight and they took six to ten weeks to arrive. Sometimes they never did arrive..."



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 Joseph J. Szalay

  • Branch of Service: Army
  • Unit: 380th FA Btn.,
    102nd Infantry Division
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: CWO, Bronze Star Medal
  • Birth Year: 1925
  • Entered Service: Paris, TX



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Food a critical item during WWII

by Joe Szalay, 380 FA Hq.


     Food was a critical item in most countries during World War II. France was desperate for food. You couldn't buy a hamburger if you were willing to pay $20 for it. The local citizens of France probably had food buried in the ground on their property. Many valuables were hidden from the Germans during the occupation. (An interesting book which includes hiding French wine is titled "Wine and War")

     Belgium seemed to be more prosperous during the war than France or Holland. We didn't see any buildings that had been damaged in Belgium. Apparently there were few items of military value that the Germans wanted in Belgium.

     Holland had very little food items that the Germans didn't take. They took what cattle and sheep they could round up. After Holland was liberated by our 102nd Infantry Division, the sheep were rounded up and returned to Holland.

     Liquor seemed to be in good supply. Wine was plentiful in France, Belgium and Holland. The national drink of France was cognac, and it was readily available.

     The German army managed to confiscate a good supply of Three Star Hennissey Cognac from France. Our troops found most of the cognac on barges along the Rhine River. The German Army left in a hurry when our troops got to the Rhine.

     Most of the barges had a good supply of liquor, wine and cognac. Several of our infantrymen managed to liberate five gallon bottles of Three Star Hennisssy Cognac.

     As our troops battled their way through the Siegfried line from Holland through the villages in Germany near the border, they found food from houses that were apparently abandoned in a hurry. Our infantry men found fresh eggs and other food items left on the table in several of these farm homes. The chickens were still doing their thing since they didn't know there was a war going on.

     One of our first sergeants found a fat hog roaming the area. It didn't take long for some of our farm boys to butcher the hog and get it ready to cook.

     Our battalion medical officer, Dr. Harden, inspected it to make sure it was free of any disease. He declared the hog fit for human consumption, and pork was on the menu the next day.

     As the war progressed, it was not uncommon to find cattle that had been killed by artillery fire. We knew when we were approaching these dead animals since we could smell them a couple of city blocks away.

     When we reached the Rhine, the Germans had retreated across the river to regroup and set up defense. Many civilians left their homes and businesses to get away from the advancing allied armies. We managed to get to a post office that was recently abandoned. Packages were stacked several feet high and cash registers were left open. We all got a handful of German marks for souvenirs. We learned later that this money was still legal tender when the war was over. The money had value, but you couldn't buy much since there was very little available to buy. We threw the currency out of the second story window where we were housed and watched it flutter to the ground.

     We decided to open some of the packages in the post office just to see what they contained. Some contained various types of food and German sausages that were intended for sons and fathers who were in the military.

     We always had "K" rations in reserve. Most everyone had plenty of "C" ration stew which was OK of you were real hungry. Some called it kangaroo stew.

     Packages from home were always welcome. Homemade cookies were a favorite with most everyone. Those packages came by slow freight and they took six to ten weeks to arrive. Sometimes they never did arrive. The German submarines took a toll of our merchant shipping and others who traveled the North Atlantic sea route.

     Many of our letters didn't arrive either. We would write the folks back home and tell them that if they were sending letters, we were not receiving them. We accused them of not writing often enough. Letters from home were just like money in the bank.

     I remember when we were located in a town near the Rhine River, the bakers set up shop on a city street. They had several ovens used to supply bread to the various units in the area. The aroma of freshly baked bread would make your mouth water.

     A piece of this Gl bread was as good as any steak I remember eating.

     After the war was over, we had somewhat better meals. Some of the guys would go fishing and bring back a mess of fish. (Historian, John Emerich, never made corporal because his mother sent him fish hooks which he used and was considered AWOL.) We could usually get the local butcher to clean the fish and fry it for the troops. He would be rewarded with a mess of fish for his efforts.

     Some of our troops enjoyed hunting, and there were plenty of wooded areas to hunt deer. Young doe seemed to be plentiful in several areas. Venison prepared and cooked properly is a real treat. A local butcher would dress (or undress) the deer and get it ready to cook. He got all the parts we didn't want.

     During occupation, usually only routine administrations and guard duty were carried out. We had plenty of time to have organized athletics, although some were not too well organized. It was great to have relief from the rigors of living in a combat zone.

     Joseph Szalay is the author of a recently published book, From the Great Depression to World War II. Contact him at his home address for more information. It's a great book!


     ----- Joseph Szalay




(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)


Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...

United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division

102 Infantry Division

History of the 102nd Infantry Division

Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944

Gardelegen War Crime

image of NEWGardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn

American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll

National World War II Memorial



The above story, "Food a Critical Item During WWII", by Joseph Szalay, 380 FA Hq., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 54, No. 4, July/Sept., 2002, pp. 12-13.

The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.

We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.


Original Story submitted on 25 March 2005.
Story added to website on 26 March 2005.


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    Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST