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US Army

Don't Drink the Water!

Don't Drink the Water!
Let me tell you about a crazy thing that happened while I was riding in a convoy somewhere near St Vith.  We'd stopped in a small village for a break and the street was lined on both sides with our troops—most of them standing around shooting the breeze.  Two GIs in a weapons carrier just ahead of us jumped out and walked over to talk with an old Belgian who was welcoming his liberators.  The Americans had finally driven the hated Germans out and he was mighty happy to see us.  He spoke to the GIs for a minute or two, nodded his head and pointed up the village street behind him.  The two soldiers walked back to their vehicle, undid some straps that held a five gallon water can to the side of it and handed it and a pack of cigarettes to the elderly villager.
Off the old gentleman went, shuffling through the mud and snow to a house down the street; returning in short order lugging that same five gallon can.  It was pretty heavy on the return trip and he was having difficulty carrying it.  The two soldiers walked over, took the can and were toting it back to the weapons carrier when a command car with a red flag flying on each front fender came chugging slowly down the village street past our vehicles.  There was a small white star displayed on those red flags and as it rolled past, all the GIs standing curbside sprang to attention and gave a snappy salute.  Seated in the rear of the open vehicle was a brigadier general enjoying all of this attention.  He returned the salutes as he passed but when he came up even with the two fellas carrying the five gallon can, he had his driver pull over and stop.
The two shoppers put their heavy load down and saluted.  I was standing near enough to hear the general ask how they were doing and asked them if they were getting enough to eat.  He also said a few other things that he thought would keep their spirits up.  He said they were doing a great job in the Battle of the Bulge.  As he spoke, his eyes wandered to the five gallon water can sitting on the pavement between them and said, "Boys, what do you have in that Jerry can?"
Hoping that the general wasn't thirsty at the moment and wanting to hide the fact that the container was full of locally produced apple jack with the kick of a Missouri mule, they desperately searched their minds for an answer.  That booze had just cost them $15, a considerable amount of money in 1945.
After a short pause, they told their lie!  "Sir, some water we just got from that village hydrant over there, sir!"  They answered.

"Now boys," the general replied, "you know you shouldn't be drinking the water you find in these villages.  Most of the time it's contaminated with all kinds of bacteria and you could get sick if you drink it!Y  ou men wouldn't want that to happen would you?  We need to keep every one of you men in fighting shape!  Open the jerry can and dump that water out on the road right now!"

The two hapless GIs realized that the jib was up!  That general was going to sit right there and make sure they followed his orders.Unscrewing the lid, they slowly and reluctantly tipped the five gallon can of happy juice on its side and all of that lovely, belly warming booze went flowing down the slush-filled street; turning that cobblestone pavement into one big aromatic puddle!It was a heart wrenching sight and I felt sorry for the guys who had been lucky enough to find it and unlucky enough to meet a general at the point of purchase.

"Don't drink the water" isn't a rule made just for tourists traveling in Mexico, it is also a rule for GIs in combat areas during World War II.  In retrospect, I believe if they had leveled with that one star general and told him it was filled with local apple jack they'd bought from the friendly natives, he probably would've laughed and driven off, pleased with the morale of his troops and the way things were going in his sector.  The two GIs would have enjoyed those five gallons of distilled apple squeezing for quite a while.Oh, well, c'est la guerre.

Bill is the author of the book "A Time to Remember, a Combat Medic looks Back—World War II in Europe"

Source: Battle of the Bulge: February 2010

William W. WENZEL


Medic 2nd Battalion

290th Infantry Regiment,

75th Infantry Division


Battle of the Bulge,