The First Time I Saw Paris by Norman Spivock

We arrived at Camp Lucky Strike (the nearby camps also were all named after cigarettes). We found the grounds covered with snow. My outfit was lucky; we were assigned to live in a tent large enough to hold two platoons. Cots were already set up on the dirt floor. Because there was one potbellied wood-fired stove in the center, cots near it were grabbed first.

Those arriving after us were assigned to tents that had been put up so recently there was still snow on the ground inside them. Those guys considered themselves lucky, as their followers were given a plot of snow-covered ground, a bunch of cots, a rolled-up tent, and someone to tell them how to put up the huge tent by nightfall if they didn't want to freeze under the stars. Everything at camp was at the setting-up stage as we were the first troops to arrive in France directly from the States, rather than from England. The last thing we had been told before leaving our stateside camp for the port of embarkation was that we had a space in our bags for whatever we chose to take. That space was a little larger than a normal-sized cigar box. We had been told the soldiers overseas complained of shortages of soap, cigarettes, and shaving cream, so most of the guys filled their spaces with those items. I couldn't be bothered and so took little.

In Camp Lucky Strike, the first thing that happened the morning after we got settled in the tent was the announcement that we were immediately getting our week's "rations" from the PX. Each man received four cartons of cigarettes, seven candy bars, and four bars of soap. You saw guys who had brought soap from the States (some with a dozen bars, one with five dozen) trying to figure out what to do with them all. Others had four or five cartons of cigarettes and wondered how to carry all that bulk. Another situation where wealth is a problem, and people like me who had little, were footloose and free, without the burden of carrying wealth.

Soon after came mealtime, but there was no mess hall-just a tent that served as a kitchen. As in the States, the guys on kitchen patrol (KP) were selected randomly from the ranks of privates to serve a day in the kitchen. At mealtime, they stood behind the tables of food and served each soldier in the chow line as he passed. Supplies were limited, and the food was less than adequate. If the guys on KP passed out all the food to the soldiers in line, they themselves would have nothing to eat. There were no seconds for anyone. But the guys on KP could make sure they had enough food, including seconds, by limiting the size of the portions they served from the chow line. The result was almost everyone felt underfed and hungry, though our spirits were otherwise good in this out-of-normal-routine life.

Market forces that would have delighted an economist soon came into action. At first, in the morning as soon as we received the PX rations, nonsmoking fellows like me would trade a pack of cigarettes for a candy bar. By evening after dinner, it took a carton of cigarettes to get a candy bar if you could find someone to trade.

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