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FORT LEE, Va. – Nov. 10 is the 243rd anniversary of establishment of the United States Marine Corps by the Continental Congress to create a seafaring infantry for the Navy to be called upon during battles at sea and ashore.
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) takes this occasion to salute the Marine Corps community, acknowledging a legacy of valor, sacrifice and distinguished service during conflicts from the American Revolution to the ongoing conflicts today.
From the time of the American Revolution through 1908, service men aboard warships found the daily rations not only tasteless and monotonous but usually not very nutritionally sound. In the late 18th century, the weekly ration for troops aboard naval vessels included individual rations of 3 pounds of salted beef, pork or fish; a sack of flour; a sack of dried peas; a pound of coffee beans and a wad of chewing tobacco.
Marines and sailors alike subsisted chiefly on ships’ biscuits, which were tasteless hard biscuits made from flour and water. Unfortunately, weevils and maggots managed to infest the barrels of biscuits soon after the ship set sail. Troops had to bang the biscuits on a table in order to knock the weevils off before eating them, and usually had to dip the biscuits in a hot beverage in order to soften them, or they risked losing a few teeth at each meal.
It was difficult for the crew to procure fresh fruits and vegetables, and even if they did manage to find them, it was hard to keep them onboard without the produce rotting in the barrels. The crew looked forward to pulling into a harbor because they could likely obtain some fresh fruit and vegetables there.
Vendors rowed bumboats out to visiting ships and conducted business with the Marines and sailors, selling them fruit, vegetables, rum, leather and fabrics, shoelaces, coffee and tea and other goods – but usually they charged exorbitant prices. The troops, desperate for these goods, were willing to pay the high prices.
By the time the Great White Fleet returned from its historic voyage in 1909, the Navy Department had come to realize these bumboat operators were not sufficient in meeting the needs of the larger ships and crews. Congress established ships’ stores onboard each ship and at ports throughout the U.S. Ships Stores Ashore became the first brick and mortar commissary buildings for the Navy. These stores were similar to those established by the U.S. Army in 1867.
The Marines Corps established its own commissary sales stores in 1910 in facilities that resembled warehouses. Initially, customers had to approach the counter and ask the clerk to retrieve items for them from a shelf behind the counter. By the 1920s self-service stores had started to gain popularity and by the 1940s they were the norm. After World War II, there were just under two dozen Marine Corps commissaries in existence.
In 1949, with the adoption of the Armed Services Commissary Regulation, military commissaries began to resemble civilian grocery stores with professional, permanent store staffs. Beginning in the early 1950s, the USMC Installations and Logistics department, Facilities and Services Division, and later the Services Branch’s Commissary Stores Section, supervised the Marine Corps stores.
With the consolidation of all the armed forces commissaries under the newly created Defense Commissary Agency in 1991, the Marine Corps commissary was no more.
Today, DeCA continues to provide the commissary benefit for all the armed forces, saving individual authorized patrons thousands of dollars annually when compared with civilian supermarkets.
Members of the Marine Corps community, along with their peers in the other armed services, may shop at any of DeCA’s nearly 240 commissaries at U.S. military installations around the world. Today, there are 16 DeCA stores at Marine Corps bases, including three in Okinawa and one in mainland Japan.