Throughout history, our veterans have marched for miles and days with heavy packs and fought in awful conditions – often without a ready supply of clean, great-tasting drinking water. Below is a brief look at the drinking water supplies for soldiers from the Revolutionary War through today’s military actions.
During the Revolutionary War, beer or cider, especially in colonel cities, was a better choice than water as often local water sources were contaminated. As such, each soldier was rationed one quart of spruce beer or cider per day. As the war drew on and rations grew short, soldiers were unofficially rationed vinegar to help make water from nearby creeks, rivers, and lakes more potable. They would store their water in canteens made of wood, tin or glass or would shout for military camp followers, often wives of soldiers, for pitchers of water.
Soldiers during the Civil War were not rationed water and often took to drinking whatever water they could find. Many times, the water was contaminated either on purpose by the opposing side or because latrines were dug too close to streams. Finding clean water was a constant goal for many soldiers, as Pvt. John Pardington of the 24th Michigan wrote in his letter from June 1863, “A soldier has to drink anything. Sara, I have drank water out of a ditch where there has been a dead horse lying a few rods above the same water and glad to get it.” Because of the scarcity of clean water, two-thirds of all casualties from the Civil War died because
Soldiers during World War I were provided with water, however, the water was often heavily chlorinated. Soldiers on the frontlines were issued Lister Bags to carry water. Created by Army Surgeon William John Le Hunte Lyster, the bags were rubber-lined, heavy canvas bags with a tight-fitting cover. Those not on the frontlines had access to water that have been filtered using a gravity-fed filter. This filtering process would include an alum solution to let foreign elements heavier than water drop to the bottom of the filtering chamber. The water would then be filtered through sand and stone before being forced into the air where it was believed that sunlight and oxygen would reduce the number of bacteria in the water.
Soldiers during World War II still carried their heavily-chlorinated water in Lister Bags, but many would boil the water before adding the chlorine to remove any impurities. To combat the smell and taste of chlorine, the U.S. army also provided a lemonade flavored powder in soldiers’ rations. Many soldiers did without the lemonade flavor and followed in the footsteps of Revolutionary War soldiers and drank local cider, wine, or even champagne.
During the Korean Conflict, soldiers drank heavily chlorinated water from Lister Bags and received emergency water rations in aluminum cans.
Water supplied to soldiers during the Vietnam Conflict was also heavily chlorinated as often the local water was contaminated with raw sewage, industrial waste or even fecal pathogens. Soldiers in the field were rationed iodine tablets to clean local water. Those stationed in larger base camps drank purified water from purification units though years later, Vietnam veterans would learn this water was contaminated with Agent Orange and other chemicals.
More recently, soldiers no longer had to drink heavily-chlorinated water. The U.S. Army deployed Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Units (ROWPUs) and collapsible water storage tanks and drums for soldiers during Operation Desert Shield/Storm in the Persian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. However, many soldiers felt this water had an off-taste and requested bottled water. To prevent the logistical burden of transporting water from the United States, during Operation Iraq Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the United States established contracts with local water plants to bottle water purified through reverse osmosis The military also uses a self-contained water purification system, the Lightweight Water Purification System (LWPS) that fits in a Humvee and produces up to 125 gallons of potable water in one hour, or the Tactical Water Purification System (TWPS), which is carried on a 7-ton truck and filters and cleans almost 1,500 gallons of freshwater in one hour. Even if the water is no longer heavily-chlorinated, it certainly isn’t cold – water in Humvees is often exposed to 150°F temperatures.
So, this Veterans’ Day, make sure you take a moment to thank a veteran and offer him/her a tall glass of fresh, cold, clean drinking water.
Quenchonline blog contributed to this Water Drop