“Jungle Juice” – Letter X
In Dobodura, New Guinea, the 457th began to notice severe shortages in their sugar supply. As it turned out, there was a major boot-legging operation in progress. With the absence of alcohol, the men felt necessity would be the mother of invention, but they were caught with their stills in production. The makeshift liquor companies were immediately put out of business.
My father had other ideas. The following letter was one I never tired of reading; it always gives me a chuckle or two. My father’s ingenuity was unfailing. He used to tell me, “If you think hard enough, there’s a solution to every problem.” After years of having tended bar, this was going to be right up Smitty’s alley.
Letter # 10 has been previously published by “Whistling Shade” magazine in 2007. I submitted it during their war story inquiry.
Letter X “Jungle Juice” Monday 7/17/44
Dear Mom, The title of this letter, at first glance, will no doubt puzzle you, but I suspect at the end you will know more than you do now. Before going any farther with this, allow me to explain the whys and wherefores of its origin and purpose.
The Army has been telling us, for some time now, that any day (they mean year), they are going to issue us hot, dry soldiers some beer. They haven’t told us the percentages yet, but never fear, it will be 3.2. In the meantime, we’re here in New Guinea patiently awaiting the day. We know, because our eyes and nostrils do not lie, that there is good whiskey slyly floating about. Try as we may to lay hold of some, as yet, none have succeeded.
There is an old saying, told to me by a much older and wiser veteran of this man’s army that goes: “Take something away from a soldier and he will, in time, make or find a better substitute.” Hence and forever after – Jungle Juice.
To begin the making of this liquor substitute, one must first overcome a few minor details in order to secure the necessary equipment and ingredients. First: You may try to cultivate the friendship of the mess sergeant. This is easily accomplished if one is well endowed with currency. Second: You may try getting on guard duty and taking a chance of getting the job of protecting the mess hall. (The odds against this working out is ten to one against you.) This is the hard way of acquiring the friendship of the mess sergeant and we will continue. With your new buddy’s help, you now have in your proud and cherished possession a quantity of raisins, dried prunes or apricots and some sugar. (Very rarely will one come up with any yeast, so we will forget it.)
Now, we need something to put all this stuff into. To make matters worse, it cannot be metal and it must be waterproof. A nail barrel will do the trick, if we soak it in water, thereby allowing the wood to swell. You could go to the supply sergeant and get a saw, hammer, nails and boards, but in taking this route, you risk your supplier discovering your idea and you will have to pay him off with the promise that, when finished, he will receive a share. Not only is this undesirable, but now you will have to sit out in the hot sun and build a cask. My first suggestion of a nail barrel will not only save you labor, but also add an extra drink of this wonderful alcoholic beverage.
Now, we are ready to begin. Into the empty cask, put your fruit and sugar, making certain to add water. With your hands, (clean ones are advisable) stir everything around while crushing some of the fruit with your fists. This is what’s called the “rapid juice extraction process.” When finished, cover the cask with a clean piece of linen long enough to drape over the side. Here, you can also use a G.I. handkerchief or undershirt. (This is just a sanitary precaution and it in no way affects the product.)
Now, dig yourself a hole (under your bunk preferably) large enough to receive the cask and conceal it. This is a necessary precaution as the manufacture of Jungle Juice is frowned upon by the Army and especially you C.O. or Inspection Officer. The finding of such might cause embarrassment. This way it will only be found if someone should trip you C.O. and he inadvertently falls face down on the spot.
All you have to do at this point is use some self-control and patiently wait out the next two or three weeks as the fruit, sugar and water do their stuff. We all know from experience that you will only sit out two weeks, so let’s get on with the last step. Surely you have kept busy locating empty bottles and cleaning them, so dig up the cask.
To accomplish the final phase, it is wise to get your mattress cover and put it over a clean, steel helmet. You will find that the Army had supplied you with a damn good filter. The whole parts stay on top and the liquid freely pours through, without blemish to the helmet. Pour the juice into the bottles and seal with candle wax, making them air tight. Here is the most difficult step because by this time, not only your curiosity, but your craving for a taste is so high — you’re almost completely out of control. But, you must put your contraband away for one more week.
As the expected day approaches, I want to warn you to be on the lookout for newly acquired friends who start calling on you, regardless of the fact that they never came near you before. Yes, you are suddenly becoming the most popular guy in camp. When the hour approaches, marked as the time of reckoning, I would advise you to make up your mind that you are not going to finish it all in one sitting. Actually, this precaution is really unnecessary, as the Jungle Juice will decide that for you.
I won’t describe the taste. For some it is bitter and others say sweet. No two batches are alike and in fact the Juice has no opposition. Even its most adamant foes agree that for variety, the Juice has no equal.
This recipe is given free of charge.
I hope to hear your hiccupping in your next letter soon. Your brewmeister son & never to be dry again, Everett
General Swing decided, after the stills were destroyed, to bring ice cream machines and set up sports competitions. Teams were made up for volleyball, softball and tackle football. This proved not only to lift their spirits, but the activities kept them in top physical shape.
It always amazed me that such a letter as “Jungle Juice” made it through the censors without Smitty ever getting into trouble. His little operation was never discovered.
Posted on October 31, 2012, in Letters home, SMITTY, Uncategorized, WWII and tagged "Angels", 11th airborne, Army, bootlegging, Dad, Everett Smith, History, Military, New Guinea, Pacific War, paratroopers, war, war letters, WWII. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.