USS GENERAL D. E. AULTMAN (AP-156)
By Jim Gill
Dining at the Waldorf it's not!
How do you provide meals for almost 5,000 people aboard ship on a prolonged voyage across an ocean? Not easily, might be an answer but we're not talking about gourmet cuisine. The ship's officers, of course, took their meals in the wardroom and the captain dined in his own quarters. Troop officers maintained their own mess, almost equal to the wardroom. Chief petty officers also had their own mess. That left the unwashed rabblethe white hats and the troopsto battle it out on the mess deck.
Meals were provided twice a day from 0600 to 0900 and again from 1500 to 1800. The line began to form as early as 0400. Fortunately, the ship's crew had head of the line privileges. Access to the mess deck was via a very long steep ladder at the bottom of which stood three stalwart U.S. Marines. Each Marine grimly held a bucket, one filled with Atabrine tablets, one filled with salt tablets and the last filled with water. The Atabrine was a precaution against malaria. The marines dolled two of each tablet out. You then plopped the tabs into your mouth and picked up a dipper of water to wash them down. There was no way in hell you could fool those marines and fake swallowing the pills Everyone hated the Atabrineafter prolonged use they turned your skin a sickly yellow.
Once past this hurdle you picked up your tray and started through the service line. The food was probably nourishing but it was far from tasty. Most everything was either dehydrated or powdered. Breakfast was more than likely chipped beef (dehydrated) with gravy on toast (called "shit on a shingle") or powdered eggs with canned Spam on the side. Cooked cereal was a frequent visitor and hotcakes were a special treat.
The second and final meal of the day was usually of the bean variety with dehydrated potatoes and a hunk of ham thrown in. Meat was served occasionally but tended to run short on the longer trips. The only thing consistently pleasing to the palate was the bread, produced in the ship's bakeshop.
You shoveled down your food standing at a table at chest high level. This clever idea was to prevent people from getting too comfortable while eating and discourage lounging around afterwards. The message was, bolt your food and get the hell out. Everybody got the message.
There was seldom a lack of help in the galley for a large number of troops were assigned to assist in the preparation and serving of the food and in "pot-walloping" and keeping the galley clean. These people were mostly volunteers who wisely assumed that working close to the food meant more of it for them. The white hats suffered right along with the "dog faces" in this manner of taking meals but the silver lining came when we were not carrying troops. On those occasions the crew took their meals in comfort sitting down and ate like kings. Steak, real eggs, and gallons of ice cream.
The Quick and the Unwashed
The other large problem was fresh water. The ship was equipped with evaporators of course, which distilled huge amounts of seawater each day, but it was not nearly enough. The engine room demanded first priority in the form of feed water for the boilers. That water was double distilled for it had to be absolutely devoid of any mineral content. Next came water for galley use in preparing meals. Drinking water was provided throughout the ship and it's consumption encouraged.
What about personal hygienetaking a shower once in a while to keep from stinking? Oh yes, plenty of water for that. Take all the showers you want for as long as you wantthere was plenty for that, but it was salt water. Great! If you have experienced the wonderful after-effects of bathing in salt water you know that itchy sticky feeling. But not to worry, for fresh water was available to flush off the saltfour times a day for ten minutes each. Just don't get trampled in the stampede! None of this water was heated; on the other hand, it was not extremely cold either for all of it came through miles of piping which ran through heated spaces and picked up some warmth along the way.
USS GENERAL AULTMAN departed Marseilles, France 26 July 1945 and arrived at Manila, P.I. on 11 September by way of Hollandia, New Guinea, covering about 15,000 miles, which constituted one of the longest troop movements in history. Aside from a brief layover in Panama, the 4,000 troops had been jammed into the AULTMANs stifling holds for 49 days. A major portion of the trip passed along the equator for 7,000 miles, the sun burning down fiercely and turning the ship into a gigantic oven. It was a voyage to remember.
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