|Marine PFC Sterling G. Patterson of Eagle Rock, California guards a shipment of beer rations forwarded to the front lines.|
The U.S. Army's initial contribution to the Korean War included a preponderance of teenage boys. About half these troops, like PVT Philip Hughes, were age 20 or younger. Quartermasters were accustomed to providing beer rations, but word of this treat filtered back to the U.S. in letters that the boys sent home. A domestic cry of indignation arose from the Women's Christian Temperance Union, among others, who lobbied Congress to cease and desist in the provision of beer, lest the American youngsters fall prey to alcoholism. It was also true that cigarettes were integral to Army rations, but that's another story.
The Army initially reacted to pressure by instituting a beer ban. General Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the U.N. forces in Korea, had other ideas. Nominally a Milwaukee native, MacArthur ordered that fighting men would continue to receive one free can of beer per day. Complicating the issue was the fact that taxpayers footed the bill for battlefield brew. Back in Washington, D.C., Secretary of the Army Frank Pace Jr. prevaricated for days over the brewers' offer. A compromise was reached on September 27. The Army would accept the beer, as long as its alcohol content by volume was 3.2% or less.
It took a while for the beer to transship to Korea. The first rations were served to the intended recipients along with chow on Christmas Day. Many of the boy soldiers wrote letters of thanks to the brewers. At the end of the Korean War, Army troops found that empty beer cans were perfectly dimensioned to store unused hand grenades. This became standard operating procedure which, according to the United Press, saved the Army $20,000.