Marines Have a Secret Weapon

MARINES HAVE A SECRET WEAPON


Active Duty U.S. Marines Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez write about the history of the Marine Corp’s secret weapon, that’s been helping Marines fight America’s wars since the first days of the revolution: Coffee!


August 19, 2013

Every American knows the story of the Boston Tea Party and its implications on the Revolutionary War. Lesser known, but perhaps of greater relevance to a nation recognized more for coffee breaks than tea time, is the fact that America’s taste for coffee is inextricably linked to the history of its military.

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We weren’t aware of it until just recently. But in hindsight, it made perfect sense that we would become obsessed with coffee when we joined the Marines. As we later discovered, we were part of a long line of men whose enthusiasm for the drink was closely tied to their experiences in the service.


Battle-weary Marines of the 22nd Regiment drank coffee after heavy fighting on Einwetok Atoll in the Pacific Theater in February 1944.

As Capt. Robert K. Beecham wrote in his book, “Gettysburg: The Pivotal Battle of the Civil War”: “The power of the soldiers to endure the fatigue of the march and keep their places in the ranks was greatly enhanced by an opportunity to brew a cup of coffee by the wayside.”
By the time of World War II, American servicemen were consuming 32.5 pounds of coffee per capita, per year, with the Army Quartermaster Corps going so far as to roast, grind, vacuum pack and ship its own beans overseas. Meanwhile, legend has it that when soldiers in Italy encountered espresso, they watered it down to make a concoction similar to the coffee they drank at home. There are many competing accounts, but some people surmise that these were the humble beginnings of the drink we now know as an “Americano.”

Years later, when it was our time to join the Marines, Vietnam veterans told us stories about burning C4 explosive to make their coffee in the jungle. We weren’t as cool – the rations we were issued came with a flameless chemical heater – but like those before us, coffee would serve as one of the few constants in our otherwise nomadic existence.

There usually wasn’t much time, and more often than not we would simply choke down a packet of dry instant coffee for its caffeine. But, when possible, we would sit for a few minutes and bond over a cup with another Marine.


The authors, First Lt. Harrison Suarez, left, and First Lt. Michael Haft,  brewed coffee during down time in training in Camp Lejeune, N.C., in September  2012.

 
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