Army Food And Gratitude On Service: Stories Of Hunger And War

WWII Infantryman Eating With Goverment Issued Fork

Service: Stories of Hunger And War is a new podcast hosted by food writer Jacqueline Raposo, exploring the food stories of veterans and wartime volunteers from World War II to today. For the first episode, she talks with her own grandfather, Pasquale D’Ambrosio, about being drafted into World War II, his time in the Philippines, how he felt about army food, and other memories from his time in the service. Born in the small factory town of Keene, New Hampshire in 1926, Pasquale was only 15 years old when the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 — not old enough to be drafted into the World War America was about to enter. Still, the human cost of the war hit Keene hard; many young men from Keene never returned from their tours of duty, including Pasquale’s older brother Michael. “Five of his classmates that graduated in 1941 were all killed in World War II. The five of them in that one class.”

 

By the time Pat, as Jacqueline calls him, was drafted into service, the war was almost over; it was July of 1945. Pat was in the 96th Division, whose mission was to invade Japan at southern Kyushu on November 1, 1945. “Someone said, I don't know if it was true or not, that...they had barrels and barrels and barrels of oil and gas with lines out into the Japanese Harbor,” Pat tells Jacqueline. They were planning to release the fuels and set them on fire in case of an invasion. “Truman found out that the invasion of Japan would have been worse, twice the size of Normandy. So this is when President Truman says drop the bombs.” 

After Japan surrendered, the army celebrated as best they could: with a slain caribou, as well as some salami and homemade wine Pat’s mother had sent in a care package. “That salami had mold on it. So one of the cooks, he said no, no, no, no. He washed it with vinegar. So we ate the salami, and we drank my father's wine. That's how we celebrated.” Food is intimately tied with Pat’s army memories; he talks fondly about the “s**t on a shingle” and the jerky the soldiers ate, less fondly about the macaroni. He also remembers being stationed in the Philippines and witnessing firsthand the tragedy that country was experiencing, watching starving locals pick the soldiers' food scraps out of the trash. “So instead of that, we used to just not eat deliberately, and give these people the food from our mess kits because they were so hungry and so destitute for food. They had it tough. Oh, they had it hard. People don't realize the trouble they went through with the Japanese and all.” 

Young WWII Infantryman Sitting On A Cot In His Tent

Other celebrations stand out: “I remember one time I was on KP. The sergeant says, let's do something special...we put the bed sheets on the tables...put celery in glasses and put them on the tables like bouquets of flowers. Then the guys came in, sat down, and that was my first Thanksgiving.”

Jacqueline reflects that this is the first time she’s gotten the details of her grandfather’s service; that she had never truly realized that had the atomic bombs not been dropped, had “Operation Downfall” gone through, perhaps her grandfather wouldn’t be here today. “I guess that means neither would I. It’s part of the discomfort in talking about winning a war: an unsettling gratitude.” Join Jacqueline and Pasquale for more details on his war memories, how easy it was to sleep on Pullman cars, and what he did when he found out he was going home, on the debut episode of Service: Stories of Hunger and War.

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Photos: Getty Images

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