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Chewing Gum, Candy Bars, and Beer

The Army PX in World War II

James J. Cooke

Publication Year: 2009

Veterans of World War II have long sung the praises of the PX—a little piece of home in far-flung corners of the world. Though many books on that war tell of combat operations and logistics in detail, this is the first to tell the full story of the Army Exchange System.


The AES was dedicated to providing soldiers with some of the comforts they had enjoyed in civilian life—candy, beer, cigarettes, razor blades, soap—whether by operating an exchange close to where they were fighting or by sending goods forward to the lines, free of charge. The beer may have been only “3.2,” but it was cheap and, unlike British beer, was served cold, thanks to PX coolers. And a constant supply of cigarettes and chewing gum gave GIs an advantage when flirting with the local girls.


In chronicling the history of the AES, James J. Cooke harks back to the Civil War, in which sutlers sold basic items to the Yankee troops for exorbitant prices, and to the First World War, when morale-building provisions were brought in by agencies such as the Red Cross. He then traces the evolution of the PX through World War II from the point of view of those who ran the service and that of the soldiers who used it, blending administrative history with colorful anecdotes and interspersing letters from GIs.


Cooke views the PX as a manifestation of American mobility, materialism, and the cultural revolution of mass consumerism that flourished in the 1920s, serving soldiers who were themselves products of this new American way of retail and expected a high level of material support in time of war. He emphasizes the accomplishments of Major General Joseph W. Byron, chief PX officer from 1941 to 1943, and his deputy, Colonel Frank Kerr. He also tells how the PX dealt with the presence of large numbers of women in uniform and the need to meet their demands in exchange offerings.


By 1945, General Byron could boast that the Army Exchange Service operated the world’s largest department store chain, serving the grandest army the United States had ever put in the field, and today the PX is still a central factor of military life. Yet as Cooke shows, the key to the AES’s importance was ultimately the way it bolstered morale—and helped give our fighting men the will to keep fighting.

Published by: University of Missouri Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. 1-9

For Warrant Officer Paul E. Wesely of the 334th Harbor Craft Company stationed at Rouen, France, it was a fine day. In early May 1945, two weeks earlier, he had gone to Paris for a few days, and while there visited the Post Exchange (PX) and bought a new hat and a pair of GI shoes. He went to the Paris Officers’ Club and then to eat at the Red ...

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1. From the Sutler’s Tent

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pp. 10-23

Today every Army, Air Force, and Naval base has a PX, a Post Ex‑change, or Base Exchange. It is the soldier’s department store, selling everything from clothes to cleaning supplies and television sets. By the end of the twentieth century most Army and Air Force installations had a PX that resembled fashionable civilian shopping malls. The...

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2. Preparedness and War

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pp. 24-41

George Catlett Marshall became the Army chief of staff in September 1939. A graduate of the Virginia Military Institute in 1902, Marshall attracted the attention of his superior officers and was the star of the staff of the 1st Infantry Division in the Great War. His staff work as the division’s operations officer during the fight at Cantigny, which was ...

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3. Regulations and Agreements

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pp. 42-59

Staff Sergeant Charles B. Linzy of the 459th Mobile Anti‑Aircraft Battalion was on maneuvers in Louisiana. Linzy had heard rumors that his unit was about to go overseas, but no one seemed to know where. On a hot August day near Shreveport, Linzy, who was from Little Rock, Arkansas, was disgusted. He wrote to his wife, Sibyl, that ...

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4. Expansion and Shortages, 1943–1944

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pp. 60-76

Sergeant William E. George worked in the headquarters of the 415th France. He was a constant visitor to the Post Exchange and found that some items were always in short supply. He wrote to his parents in Little Rock, Arkansas, that toothpaste and tooth powder had not been in stock for several weeks. However, he did tell his mother and father ...

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5. No Beer!

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pp. 77-94

It had been a very good day for Master Sergeant Elmer Franzman of the Headquarters Squadron, 329th Service Group, who was by June 1944 in India. This young man from Cannelton, Indiana, had served in England, North Africa, Sicily, Italy, and now in India, in the China, Burma, and India theater of operations. He wrote to his parents, “We ...

Photo Section

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pp. 95-104

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6. To Final Victory

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pp. 105-122

T-Sergeant Charles B. Linzy of the 459th Mobile Anti‑Aircraft Battalion tried to write every day to his wife in Little Rock. For two weeks he could not find the time to communicate because his battalion had been attached to the hard‑fighting, fast‑momentum, 29th Infantry Division. His battalion had entered France at Omaha Beach, ...

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7. 1945 and V-Days

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pp. 123-141

It was an especially hot and humid Easter weekend of 1945 in the Philippine Islands for Captain William C. Hurt of Company C, 108th Medical Detachment, 33rd Infantry Division. His division, formally of the Illinois National Guard, had fought in New Guinea, and after landing at Lingayen Gulf on February 10 went into combat against an ...

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8. Consequences and Aftermath

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pp. 142-162

Sergeant William George of the 415th Night Fighter Squadron was stationed near Darmstadt, Germany, and with the war in Europe over friends with British families and became something of an Anglophile, and he wanted a visit before his unit left for the United States, when‑ever that might be. He went to the local PX, and “I bought me one ...


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pp. 163-174

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 175-180


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pp. 181-186

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9780826272027
E-ISBN-10: 0826272029
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826218674
Print-ISBN-10: 0826218679

Page Count: 198
Illustrations: 15 illus
Publication Year: 2009

Edition: 1