By a weird coincidence my sister, Annemarie, came across this story that my father, Henk van Hemmen, wrote on Veteran’s Day in 2004.
Looking into the history of warfare and battle ground victories it is a well-known fact that in general terms, the army that is well-fitted out and well-fed will have a tremendous advantage over the poorly equipped hungry enemy.
This is a story about the ingenuity that comes natural to the American individual, particular in time of distress and under the pressure of facing the sheer impossible. An achievement we can be proud of.
One particular story that sticks in my mind is one I heard in a New York City Lunch Club when I had just been transferred to the USA some decades ago. I grew up in Europe during the German Nazi occupation. At lunch my colleagues inquired about our experiences, which of course included conversation about the US military liberating that section of Europe where I lived. The enormous supply bases to keep the Second World War going and which were established along the US East, Gulf and West Coast were the topic of conversation.
One of my friends walked over to a gentleman on the other side of the bar, brought him over to our group and introduced him as the man who kept our soldiers overseas well “provisioned with hamburgers”.
The military was faced with one of many enormous problems namely “How do we get deep frozen meat from the Midwest slaughterhouses to the boys in the front line?”
This gentleman, a low-key man and stevedore supervisor, developed the key to that problem.
There were hardly any fully refrigerated cargo vessels available. In the years before WW II there were fruit and banana carriers but sophisticated deep freeze, high-speed reefer ships were still in the far away future. Besides those fruit carriers were totally useless to carry deep frozen meat products. The transportation across the ocean was maintained by the pre-war existing General cargo fleet and tank vessels and … the “Liberty” ships that were built in great numbers to assist the war.
The plan that was developed by this single person’s brain wave and in a very short period of time was the following:
Meat could be deep frozen in Chicago and other meat production centers. However, how to get it to the frontline soldiers somewhere remote in Europe and the Pacific? Peace time mattress manufacturers were engaged to produce ordinary bed mattresses at a high speed of production. Saw mills were engaged to produce large quantities of sawdust.
A “Liberty” ship cargo hold which only has a 5/8″ steel hull plate between the inside cargo hold and the ocean was lined with these mattresses. Simultaneously the meat was extra deep frozen to the bone in the slaughterhouses and transported by train to the ocean loading terminals where the large sections of beef and pork were loaded in a bulk cargo fashion. While filling the cargo hold layer by layer with arbitrarily dumped meat the void spaces in between were filled by blowing in sawdust. In that manner, the full load of meat that was still deep frozen and far away from thawing, became one big solid block together with the sawdust that had turned wet because of the surface condensation on the meat.
Once the hold was closed and the vessel went underway to the discharge point, of course due to the difference in temperature inside and outside the hull of the vessel, the cargo temperature increased somewhat. However, the absence of internal air circulation due to the first wet, later frozen sawdust practically eliminated, certainly retarded the thawing process. Actually the load had turned into one big block.
Upon arrival at the unloading port or beach landing location the meat had to be removed by jack hammers and was quickly distributed to the various spots in battle zone. Manpower not being a real factor in the army, an efficient transportation battalion certainly got the meat unspoiled where it had to be, namely in the stomach of the GI who was encouraged by realizing that there were people at home who fought besides them by just using their brains, applying hard work and good old USA ingenuity.
Be proud of that in today’s hard trying times!
Henk van Hemmen
Veterans Day 2004