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Friday, April 17, 2015

Dad's War Stories: The can of fruit cocktail on Guadalcanal.

The can of fruit cocktail on Guadalcanal. 

One day, when I was a child, approximately 10 years old, I was helping my mother and father put groceries away. 

One of the bags of groceries that I was carrying had the bottom rip out and all of the canned foods crashed onto the floor. 

As I picked up the canned foods from the floor and put them on the shelf, I noticed that there was a can of fruit cocktail that had received a large dent in the bottom of the can. I asked my father if this would still be okay to eat. 

He said oh yes it should be fine as he had eaten from cans that were far worse off than this one. 

Then he told me the story about the can of fruit cocktail on Guadalcanal, during the war. 

During the time when my father was stationed on Guadalcanal, probably around 1942 to 43, there was a delay in the resupply operations due to the island hopping campaign that was ongoing in the Pacific theater.

What that meant for my father was that there was no ammunition, food, fuel or anything else that they needed to sustain operations on the island. Things got tough very quick.

After they ran out of food, they had to go into the jungle to find anything that was edible. 

They would hunt for animals, they would fish in the lagoons and in the ocean and they would pick vegetation, coconuts and any type of fruit that they could manage to find. 

This helped for awhile but with the large numbers of personnel that they had to feed, it became very difficult to sustain.

While the Japanese land forces had been defeated on the island, there was still the constant threat from air attack and they would receive nightly bombing raids from the Japanese Air Forces. 


During this period when there wasn't any resupply operations, there were numerous health risks involved in sustaining daily life. 

Extreme weight loss, malaria, dysentery, jungle rot, immersion foot, heat injuries and a number of other medical conditions plagued the troops. 

My father suffered from the extreme weight loss, malaria and dysentery. 

He often spoke of how extreme the conditions were and how tough it was to just make it through each day. 

One day, while they were standing on the beach after failing to catch some fish, they saw ships on the horizon and they thought the ships were coming to resupply them but the ships sailed on right past their island. 

After scouring the island for supplies one day, they came upon an old storage depot that was bombed by the Japanese and they found a bunch of destroyed food items. As they searched through the wreckage, they found a large can of fruit cocktail. 

The can of fruit cocktail was deformed and charred by fire and they contemplated whether or not they should even try to open it. They thought that surely it must be bad after sitting there for so long. 

They didn't find any other salvageable food so they had no choice but to open the can of fruit cocktail and see if it was even edible. 

Surprisingly, after they opened the can of fruit cocktail, it appeared to be okay, so they gathered their platoon together. 

The fruit cocktail was then distributed around as equally as it could be. 

Everyone in the platoon received approximately one canteen cup full of fruit cocktail. 

My father thought it was the best tasting food that he ever had at that point. 

Shortly after enjoying the fruit cocktail, the resupply ships finally arrived and supplies were offloaded to the troops.

Life got a little better, but things were still hard, as they still suffered from the numerous medical conditions. 

My father always taught me to be thankful for any food that we had and that one can never be too picky because sometimes that could be all that there was. 

Many years later in the southern desert of Iraq, I would recall my father's story about the fruit cocktail, when we were not resupplied for several days and suffered similar hardships. 

Take home point: Remember that things can always be worse. Be thankful for everything that you have, every single day.

Image credits:



Eric Dempsey
Master Sergeant, 
U.S. Army Retired
MS, NASM-C.P.T.

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