World War II vet explains the acronyms

Army veteran shares words and phrases that bring back memories.


As Veterans Day approaches, I decided to memorialize some of my U.S. Army World War II experiences. For some veterans still with us, the reporting may bring back memories. For others, the information may explain what family members, relatives, or other veterans, those who have passed on, experienced or talked about.

According to Veterans Affairs data, there were 16 million women and men serving in the armed forces in WWII. Presently, there are 496,777 WWII veterans still alive, with 248 dying every day. As a veteran still kicking, my enlistment was completed with HQ. Co. 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, in Sasebo, Japan, with our three battalions in Nagasaki. We Army guys at that time were called GIs, and we traveled on troop trains and troop ships.

Combat infantrymen were pictured by editorial cartoonist Bill Mauldin’s drawings of Willie and Joe. Interestingly, Bill Mauldin was in the Federalized 45th Infantry Division that landed on the North Shore of Martha’s Vineyard during maneuvers here in 1942. Around that time, my brother Jerry was wounded fighting in Italy with the 85 ID and had sent me some of Bill Mauldin’s books. After the war, Bill Mauldin lived in Rockland County, N.Y., where my late wife, Anita, and I lived. Bill ran for the House of Representatives, and Anita and I spent time sitting and talking with him. I still have a bumper sticker from that election, as well as a sign. Featured below are some of the colloquial expressions and standard procedures familiar to WWII vets.

Army of the United States/Regular Army

If you were drafted, you served in the Army of the United States. If you enlisted, you were in the U.S. Army. You could be a captain in the Army of the United States, and after the war you would revert to your prewar Regular Army rank.


The Army Specialized Training Program was organized by the Army to develop officers, technicians, and specialists. The program also replaced the low numbers in ROTC programs and provided higher-education enrollments. Around 200,000 members of the Army attended 227 colleges and universities.

Counting cadence and Jody cadence

Soldiers march to a cadence count. For example, “hup, two three four.” “Your left, your left.” Jody cadence, created by black soldiers, is another count that may start with a story: “You had a good home when you left, count off.” The Jody cadence can get very raunchy, and marched to a cadence wherein your wife or girlfriend is wooed sexually by Jody, who stayed home. About three years ago, we veterans marched from the Legion Post in Vineyard Haven into the cemetery and back to the Legion Post. As we marched back, someone from the first Cavalry with spurs on his shoes and a big Cavalry hat started leading us in a Jody cadence. We marchers suddenly came alive, the pace picked up, our bodies started to move as one, and there was an electricity to our marching. It was beautiful to watch and to participate.


A C-Ration pack, for combat troops, contained small cans that could contain a main course like franks and beans, plus some cigarettes, canned fruit, chewing gum, chocolate bars, instant coffee, and toilet paper. Additionally, some biscuits, processed cheese, and a matchbook.

Dear John

Dear John was the generic name given to a break-up letter received by a GI.

Dog tags

We were issued two dog tags to wear around our necks for identification. Stamped on the dog tag were your name, identification number, blood type, and religion: C-Catholic, P-Protestant, and H-Hebrew (Jewish). The religious classifications were a holdover from WWI.


K-Rations were an individually packed daily combat ration about the size of a box of Cracker Jacks, with a waxed container. To open the enclosed can, a P-38 can opener was enclosed, with a few cigarettes, crackers, and a small bar of chocolate.

Kilroy Was Here

Kilroy was a humorous image graffitied wherever American servicemen and women served. Kilroy, with many variations, was a bald man with a prominent nose peeking over a wall with his fingers clutching the wall.

Maggie’s drawers

Basic to any army is the rifle range. For safety, there is a process of arranging yourself lying on the ground and holding your rifle — in my case the M1 — properly and waiting to fire. Out of the loudspeaker came, “Ready on the right, ready on the left, ready on the firing line, Maggie’s drawers, commence firing.” When the words “Maggie’s drawers” were sounded, a long, thin pole was waived back and forth with a pair of women’s bloomers attached. A very sexist activity that indubitably is not used today. In some instances, I’ve read “Maggie’s drawers” was shouted, but a red flag was waved. My marksmanship qualification was Expert.

M1 Garand Rifle

The M1 rifle was used in WWII and the Korean War and was semiautomatic, had an eight-round clip, and weighed around 9½ pounds. Sometimes someone was not careful loading a clip into the rifle, and the bolt closed and smashed the thumb — referred to as the M1 thumb. The M1 was superior to the bolt-action rifles used by the Germans and the Japanese in WWII. When I was in the Army at 18, I could sling the M1 around. Now at 91 and firing three rounds at a veteran’s memorial honor burial, getting the M1 up for firing is work. General Patton called the M1 rifle “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”


Everyone serving was assigned an MOS that designated your “Military Occupation Specialty.” Usually, the MOS is listed on your discharge certificate. My MOS was Radio Operator, High Speed, Manual.

Segregated armed forces

I served in a segregated Army. The 92nd Infantry Division had all black soldiers, and fought in Italy as part of the 5th Army. Also serving in Italy was the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised of Nisei soldiers — Americans of Japanese descent. Here and there, depending upon the section of the country and the officers, there were integrated units. In WWI, American black soldiers fought with the French. However, after basic training at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, our football team was desegregated. The troop ships I was on were segregated, with the black troops fore and aft. Interestingly, there were a minority of GIs from both sides that had problems relating to one another. In 1946, while I was at Camp Crowder, in Joplin, Mo., I went to a baseball game in Kansas City. As I sat at the ballpark, I kept thinking something wasn’t kosher. Finally, in the seventh-inning stretch, I realized I was in a segregated ballpark. Back home, the Brooklyn Dodgers, Yankees, and Giants all played in integrated parks.

TS ticket

The TS ticket was often invoked when someone’s kvetching (Yiddish for constant complaining) became unbearable. TS stood for “Tough S___.” When someone’s complaining became unbearable, you would tell him to go to the chaplain to get his TS ticket punched. I have often thought of developing a TS ticket on the Vineyard, to be punched by veterans for someone looking for an electrician or plumber.


Just prior to WWII in 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt united several service groups into the USO to boost the morale of our servicemen and women. The USO provided services that included snack bars, clubs, sports activities, and additional services depending upon location. Bob Hope toured wherever there were servicemen and women, presenting entertainment, including specialty acts, monologues, celebrity appearances, dancers, skits, and singers.


The V-12 Navy College Training program was for Navy and Marine recruits. The purpose of the program was to provide bachelor’s degrees for future officers. About 125,000 participated in the program at 131 institutions of higher education.


In WWII there were two P-38s. One P-38 was a very fast and highly regarded two-boom fighter plane. The P-38 referred to in K- and C-rations was a small can opener. To this day, the P-38 is sold everywhere, and in many sizes. I always had a P-38 on my dog tags. Many veterans still have the P-38 on their key rings.


Situation Normal All F_____ Up. An acronym used to denote there was a screwup of some sort.


SOS was shorthand for “sh*t on a shingle,” usually a breakfast meal that consisted of chipped beef in a white sauce on a piece of white toast. I must confess, I loved SOS, because eggs and potatoes were packaged in dehydrated form, and when the cooks added water —

it did not make for a very appetizing meal.

Zippo lighter

The Zippo cigarette lighter was constructed so that the wind did not blow out the flame. Just about everyone who smoked wanted to own a Zippo.

Post-service phrases

Mustering-out money

If you served overseas, upon discharge, you received $300. If your service was all stateside, you received $200.

GI Bill and college

For college, you were awarded one year plus the time you served. If you served for two years, you had three years for college. However, a college year was less than 12 months. If you used your GI bill to purchase books, that was subtracted from the time you were awarded. To contend with this policy, when a course required three books, three of us purchased one book each, and shared books.

52-20 Club

To help veterans financially, the government provided us with $20 for 52 weeks.

Ruptured Duck

Upon discharge, you were given a lapel pin to note your service. In my Brooklyn neighborhood, for whatever the reason, veterans did not wear the pin. Consequently, after the war, a cloth ruptured duck was developed, because veterans wearing their armed forces jacket or coat, the only clothing they had, were being arrested by overzealous army MPs (military police) or Navy SPs (shore patrol) for being out of uniform. Hence, the cloth ruptured duck was developed, which could be sewn onto any clothing to note your discharge. Now, interestingly, I do see some WWII veterans wearing their ruptured duck.


Today many Army veterans, not in uniform, salute the flag, standing ramrod straight, rather than placing their hand over their heart. For so many veterans, saluting our flag provides a positive emotional feeling.

It is my fervent wish that the information presented above brought back positive and thoughtful memories for veterans; and for nonveterans, served to inform them what a loved family member or friend experienced and, sometimes, talked about.

Herb Foster is an Edgartown library trustee and the author of “Ghetto to Ghetto: Yiddish and Jive in Everyday Life.” Thomas Dresser, Herb Foster, and Jay Scofield wrote “Martha’s Vineyard in WWII.”