Pappy’s Canteen

(This was cross posted from The Ration Project blog. The Ration Project, of which I am a co-host, is a year-long experiment in living history. We are living on World War 2 rations for a year and exploring the history of the war both overseas and on the home fronts. The Ration Project is available as a podcast wherever you consume your podcasts, on Facebook at The Ration Project, and as a blog at www.rationproject.com.)


I (Mrs. Hart) don’t remember much about my grandfather. He died when I was ten — my memory is bad enough that I barely remember things from a week prior, let alone two decades ago. I have one vivid personal memory — I asked him for some peanuts, and he said he would give me five, and somehow I ended up with ten in my hand. I told him he counted wrong and he recounted, again somehow ending up with ten peanuts that he claimed were five. It was hilarious at the time — remember, I had to be less than ten — and it’s still the one thing I most clearly remember about him.

There are other things I “remember” — memories that are not truly mine, memories constructed from hearing stories and seeing pictures. I “remember” stories that my dad told me, that my sister told me. I “remember” how he looks from pictures of him in a plain blue work shirt — the kind my dad still wears — and plain tan slacks — the kind my dad still wears — and a plain ball cap — the kind my dad still wears. Actually, a lot of my “memory” of my grandfather, my Pappy, is tied up in my dad.

Since starting the Ration Project, I’ve had the opportunity to talk to my dad about Pappy and Grammy, about what they told him of their experiences during the war. I also have the letters that Pap wrote to Gram when he was overseas, back when they were younger than I am now. It’s fascinating. It’s touching. It’s weird. It’s beautifully strange, opening up a whole chapter of my family’s history that I only barely knew about.

We have some of Pappy’s war memorabilia still, most of it in almost perfect shape. His tie, his jacket, some medals and pictures…and this.

His canteen.

We like writing things down, my family. We make notes and keep journals and make sure that the stories of our family are able to be passed down.

On this canteen, through this list of names, my Pappy drew us a map of every place he was during the war. They couldn’t censor his own water cup, and secrecy didn’t matter any more when he came home.

I love this. I love that he did this, as a way of remembering and making sure we were able to know where he was, what he went through, even though he never talked about it. Oh, he told my dad some stories, but they were mostly funny ones. We don’t like dwelling on sad things, my family. We like to keep it light when we can.

But looking at Pap’s canteen, I can see that he was at Anzio. That he was in Italy in 1943. That he was in Algers, and Cassino, and Roma. And Naples. And Bari. And I can imagine the stories he didn’t tell, the ones that were anything but light.

We’ve been talking the last few weeks about the Italian campaign, about the Allies sweeping through the penninsula. I can hold that history in my hands now, and it makes me wish I had known enough, thought enough, to ask Pap about it before he was gone.

It makes me wish he was still here to ask now.

My pap (in the middle) and two others making music on a hay cart in Italy.
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