On the Front Lines With Coca Cola Pt. 1

WWII Coke backyard barbecue illustration

Vintage Coca Cola Ads (1953) (R) WWII ad 1944 Coke in New Zealand

During WWII the boys overseas were fighting for Mom, apple pie and a bottle of Coke.

Coca Cola, as much a part of the American Dream as a white picket fence and baseball,  has symbolized the American way of life, no more so than during WWII when Coke aligned itself with blatantly patriotic themed ads.  Coca Cola went to remarkable lengths to make sure their soft drink was never far from the front lines, and the fighting men never forgot.

Years later, long after the boys had returned home triumphant from the war, Memorial Day was a day for remembrance, backyard barbeques and in my family, consuming lots of coca cola.

What better way to honor our fallen heroes than with a patriotic, freedom loving frosty bottle of Coke that sweet elixir that had helped the greatest generation win the war.

Memorial Day Barbecue

vintage coke ad illustration

Vintage Coca Cola Ad 1949

Like today, Memorial Day in 1961 was the opening salvo for summer in the suburbs. The season’s first barbecue was always a joint operation among my family members, handled with the precision of a war maneuver.

The base of operation was our suburban backyard.

Like clockwork, the convoy of cargo carrying relatives arrived loaded with essential supplies. My Aunt Judy’s peppy whoop-de-doo potato salad was always popular  and Aunt Helen’s picnic perfect double dutch slaw  habitually a hit.

 But the most eagerly anticipated contribution was the cache of Coca Cola courtesy of Moms cousin Milton who schlepped wooden cases of Coke straight from the bottling plant he managed in Maspeth Queens.

Barbecue Brigade

vintage illustration suburban barbeque 1950s and WWii  soldiers

While wives stayed safely behind the lines, the men folk were recruited and deployed to the front, where Dad was CO in charge of the Barbeque Brigade.

 Well fortified to do battle with cokes firmly in hand, they mobilized around the Weber grill in a primal huddle of their own as they anxiously awaited orders.

 Like the infantry sent to do battle, these buttoned down bar-b-que enthusiasts, combat ready in their comfort-in-action-perma- press Bermuda shorts, gathered on all sides of the roaring fire while my older, Great uncles stylishly at ease in their Decoration day best white leather Italian styled slip on shoes, remained safely under the striped awning, offering tactical assistance like battle-scarred retired officers from the comfort of their glider aluminum lawn chairs.

 The torch had indeed been passed to a new generation, our war hero President Kennedy had  informed us, and passed directly into the hands of these bespectacled men in clingy ban-lon, all of whom had served our country in the Second World War.

 Only 15 years earlier, this bunch of balding band of brothers, blissfully barbecuing in my backyard, had returned war-weary but triumphant in their GI issued haircuts, to confetti and parades from that greatest of all wars.

 Strategically wielding the Big Boy barbecue tongs, Dad was ready for any barbecue maneuver. A king size cigaretteYou get a lot to like with a Marrr-boro/  fil-terrr/fla-vvor/flip top box- dangling from his lips, barbecue apron round his regulation plaid Bermuda shorts, his smart masculine styling rated a fashion 21 gun salute.

With the precision used to plan a bombing mission in the south pacific, Dad calculated the wind velocity, temperature and cloud coverage when making the perfect fire, skills learned as a meteorologist in the Army Air Corp while serving in New Guinea.

WWII Vintage coke ad photo man and hot dog

Hot Diggety Dog (R) Vintage WWII Coke Ad 1942

Eagerly biting into a tongue scalding frankfurter hot off the grill, Moms cousin Milton, a short and stubby man, his GI regulation washboard abs having long gone AWOL leaving his ever-expanding belly stretching the outer limits of his Acrylan shirt, never failed to offer up war stories and his contribution to winning the war. “I have just one word for you-Coca Cola!” he would state firmly, gobbling his hot dog with gusto.

During the war Milton had been a “Coca Cola Colonel” one of 148 Coke employees sent abroad to oversee the installation and management of  makeshift bottling plants to serve the US Army wherever they served. With his US Army uniform and rank of Technical Observer this four-eyed kid from Brooklyn  was treated as an officer, and was deemed as vital as those other TO’s who fixed tanks or airplanes.

The Pause that Refreshes

WWII Coke Ad illustration Soldier

WWII Coca Cola ad 1944 “Have a Coke =Soldier, refresh yourself, or the way to relax in training camp”

In 1941 Coca Colas president  Robert Woodward made the famous order declaring that “everyman in uniform gets a bottle of Coca Cola for 5 cents wherever and whatever it costs.”

However for many men serving overseas, a soda fountain would be something they could only dream of. The logistical headache was the problem. To reach GI’s overseas in significant numbers the company would have to build bottling plants where the fighting was going on in the combat theaters.

The boys could thank General Eisenhower for getting the ball rolling. In 1943 in an attempt to raise morale, he sent a classified cable from Allied headquarters in North Africa asking for 10 bottling plants and enough syrup to provide his men with 6 million Soft drinks, No wonder the boys “liked Ike.”

The Coca Cola company was more than happy to comply with Eisenhower’s orders.

WWII Coke 1945 Phillipines  illustration soldiers

WWII Coca Cola Ad 1945 Phillipines. The ad shows a Coke jungle dispenser painted green for camouflage

Wherever the American Army went so did Coca Cola. “Anywhere for a nickel,” Milton boasted. “From the jungles of Admiral Islands to the officer clubs in Riviera. There would be a convoy of army trucks carrying a complete bottling plant from Calcutta into  China, on the Burma Road climbing mountains and crossing pontoon bridges. “

In the remote island of New Guinea, the land of C rations, Spam and dehydrated foods, where Coke would remain a distant memory of home for my father.

The South Pacific was one of the more difficult problems for Technical Officers like Milton. After considerable brainstorming, a portable soda fountain that had been used at drugstore conventions was re-commissioned, painted green for camouflage and enlisted to help quench the thirst of jungle bound soldiers like Dad. The army quickly ordered  hundred more of these jungle fountains 

Nearly 1,100 of these units were used in the Pacific. (The Philippines ad shows a jungle dispenser painted green for camouflage

Have A Coke and a Smile

WWII coke ads baseball illustration

Vintage Coca Cola Advertisements (L) Seventh Inning Stretch (R) WWII ad 1945 Battle seasoned Seabees turning in refreshments on the Admirality Isles

The excitement caused by a coke and its reminders about the local corner drugstore to homesick GI’s on a tropical island halfway across the world from the US  was unparalleled, When the war started the soldiers craved a piece of home to remind them what they were fighting for. Soldiers wanted 4 things from home: mail, cigarettes, chewing gum and coke.

 “For these homesick boys to have a Coke was like having home brought near you” Milton would explain. “Sometimes its just one of the little things of life that really counted, the familiar sweet taste turned it into a poignant reminder of home, instantly bringing back memories of maybe Ebbetts Field and hot dogs or a pretty girlfriend back home in the drugstore over a Coke. I can truthfully say, he would comment wistfully,” I hadn’t t seen smiles on the boys faces as they did when they saw Coke in those Godforsaken places.”

 

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6 comments

  1. Pingback: On the Front Lines with Coca Cola Pt II | Envisioning The American Dream

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