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Memories of MREs and C rations

  • Story Highlights
  • CNN readers recall good and bad memories of MREs
  • "They get the job done but always needed a bit of spicing up"
  • Meat-vegetable-loaf "left a very heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach"
  • Canned sponge cake an "acquired taste"
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(CNN) -- Meals Ready to Eat, or MREs are used by the military to provide nutritious and compact meals for the troops. The meals spark memories good and bad, for those who ate them in the military and even for some civilians who used them during disasters, when food was not readily available.


Harald Schweizer was 19 when this photo was taken in the summer of 1968 in Vietnam. He is holding a C ration. readers shared their stories and memories of MREs and C rations. Some of the responses have been edited for clarity and length. Here is a selection:

Michael Reimers of Gresham, Oregon
MREs are the fancy ones. We had C rations. Probably left over from WWII! For my 21st birthday in 1982 I was on border patrol at the Czech border and my friends snuck in two beers and made a cake for me out of what was available. They took a fruitcake that was in something like a tuna can tin and they mixed hot chocolate mix with grape jelly to make the frosting and added a candle and two German beers and we were in business out in the woods. It was very cool being with all my buddies and them doing that for me.

Ronald Mervyn of Burton, Michigan
I served in the army from April 1985 to February 1988. MREs were not all that bad. I liked the chicken ala king, the dehydrated potatoes patty and the chocolate chip cookies the best. They were all edible. I wish I could have brought some home to share with family and friends.

Steven Carrigan of Salina, Kansas
I served in the U.S. Marine corps. Did I eat MREs? You bet and a lot of them. They get the job done but always needed a bit of spicing up, Tabasco sauce that someone would bring to the field, usually. Cold weather affected them more than anything. Nothing worse than getting the beans and franks in cold weather. The beans would be semi-hard and the franks rock solid. The preservative that they are in gels up and looks like petroleum jelly. Had to carry them next to your body to get them warm. To me the worst one was the chicken ala king, disgusting. The desserts were always good. Some guys had recipes that you could mix together two or three MREs and have a pretty good meal if you had heat and the time to cook it. Even though I thought I left them behind when I left the military, I still have them in the car during the winter and when I do ice fishing. They are great in a pinch.

Annette Sweet of Leavenworth, Kansas
This is a different side of life all together; I believe the best memories were how to heat your MRE before they came out with the heating pouch. Spaghetti, wow that was a good one, the best way to serve it was to take your MRE cheese, a mini bottle of the Tabasco that came in the pack and mix it all together and place on the hood of your Humvee on a hot day or by the heater on a cold day. Umm good. Now, the worst ever that I believe they came out with was the loaf, I can't even say whether it was meat or vegetables but it really left a very heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach. You can never forget the ham slices; unfortunately they forgot to slice it, it was about inch thick filled with gristle and very salty, very hard to digest. The different assortments of all the MREs were, as I call them, Charms candy, hard as a rock and stuck to your teeth; Tootsie roll, huge and didn't taste like chocolate; Chicklet gum, send you straight to the throne; the peanut butter and crackers, well, a bit oily but I considered a keeper. Oh, by the way, they did have real coffee. I believe it was Tasters Choice, not sure though. And fruit loaf, what can you say about a loaf? Once a loaf, always a loaf, and staying with tradition of blended items, you mixed a pack of the powered cream they gave you for the coffee in with just a smidgen of water and you had peaches ala mode. I never went hungry, but sometimes I never was full. I have retired now and have come to appreciate what is good food. It's being a civilian, sitting at a real table, with silverware, plate and glass, looking back on where I came from and knowing that I can't go back in body but in spirit. From a retired soldier, just keeping it real. To all my comrades that came before me, with me and after me, God Bless you and thank you for all that you do.

Suzanne Yeltnuh of Ahwatukee, Arizona
I was a victim of Hurricanes Jeanne, Frances and Wilma. We had no power for 21 days and the stores were out of food. I stood in lines for hours for ice and MREs and was very thankful. I actually think they are very good! Now that I moved to Arizona, at least I don't have to worry about hurricanes!Watch as civilians taste MREs

Clarence Ragland of Tucson, Arizona
I not only had MREs, but I also had their predecessor, the C ration! C-rats, as they were called, came with a can opener called a P-38, and were OK. The MRE has come a long way since its inception, and the chicken ala king was one of the best. Still have some at home, although I retired from the Air Force in 2000.

Megan Sterrett of APO, New York
While I was in the Middle East in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, I sent an MRE to my children so they could see what they were like. My daughter, who was in the second grade, took it in to school for show and tell. One of the girls in the class declared that she would rather eat sand, to which my daughter replied, "Well you can chose to eat this or choose to die." It's always interesting to get a child's perspective on things. You never know what they will come up with.Explore the history of U.S. combat rations

Gary Burton of Clarksville, Tennessee
My father served in Vietnam and related this story to me about the old C rations they were served to eat. He said the canned sponge cake was an "acquired taste," so instead of eating it, they opened a petcock valve on the nearby helicopters and filled the cake and tin with aircraft fuel. When lit, the sponge cake would burn for hours and allow the men to heat the rest of their meal with it.

David Hollingsworth of Baltimore, Maryland
I was a member of the 18th Airborne Corps F.A. b 5/8th Artillery in August 1990; among the first troops from Fort Bragg to deploy in that area. MREs were considered pretty OK meals to eat until my unit was linked in a special mission with the French troops. Their rations were of something that came off of our dinner tables. (Real food!) We would trade them every night for food until they realized what the big fuss was all about. I know real sardines and things of that nature might not sound as appetizing as other foods. However, compared to the MREs we were eating, the French troops' food was a delicacy to most.

Mark Grocki of Birmingham, Michigan
I have not served in the military, but I have eaten MREs on backpacking trips through Michigan provided to me by a friend's cousin who serves in the Marines. I've always looked forward to them, and have found the entrees like Mexican rice, beef stew, and ham and cheese omelets rather tasty. The crackers and various snack items are good on the go, too, but don't drink the water from the heating element! When asked by other people, "What do they taste like?" I have only one word for them. "Freedom." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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