The History of the Army Canteen – A tribute to Phillip Dockter, US Army Vietnam Veteran


I hope that in your life you have had a good friend.

In my life, I have been blessed with more than my share but one of my favorites is Phillip Dockter. I met Phil when I went to work at the Ford Motor Company Indianapolis facility as a training and development leader. Phil was the Human Resource Manager. Within a very short time we became friends and we often kidded each other about the superiority of our own specific service. Phil had served his country in the US Army during the Vietnam War and of course, I was Navy through and through.

Over the years we have kidded each other endlessly about each other’s branch of the service and the kidding approaches near warfare in the lead up to the Army Navy Game. This year, Phil surprise me with an early gift that he found at a Cracker Barrel store. Cracker Barrel always has a section devoted to Military Pride and Phil had found the perfect gift which he sent to me.


The Gauntlet had been thrown down!!!  

The next move was mine!!!


I spent a few hours thinking about this and decided that the best way to reward my old friend was a similar gesture. But I never do anything in a small way. My research led me to the History of the Canteen (an excerpt of which is included below)

The History of the Army Canteen

Lieut.-Col. Philip Reade, 1901$b16359;view=1up;seq=9

“At the beginning of the last century, and for some years after, the soldier’s canteen was a wooden, drum-shaped affair, provided with a nozzle.

To now return to that shape and adopt a hollow cylinder, modeled after a drum for packing figs in, would be an advance backwards.

The history of mankind is the history of the development of weapons and equipment for war by improvements, in which one nation has overcome another and survived.

Within a few months from now our military organization will have been readjusted. The arms and equipments to be necessitated by the increase in numbers of our permanent military establishment should be new and not of the nineteenth century pattern.

By July, 1901, perhaps 60,000 canteens now carried by, or in the possession of, United States Volunteers and Regulars will have been turned in. Some of these canteens will be suspended by the returned volunteers beside the obsolete muzzle-loading firearms of the civil war period, and some may find their way into the museums for the collection and display of archaic military weapons and equipments. From being an inconsequential article of a soldier’s personal equipment the canteen has become, in fact, one of the most important articles, because connected with hygienic considerations; in other words, because it carries water and because the majority of our troops are in localities where good water is of prime consideration to health.

Those who live a comparatively fixed life can hardly weigh aright the importance of a good canteen.

Since the microbe or germ theory has come into the discussion of hygienic conditions, we have learned why it is that bad water is the most dangerous liquid one can drink ; that the denizen of places fitted with filtering devices, sterilizing appliances, faucets, hydrants, water valves, pipes, aqueducts, cooling refrigerators, icehouses, etc., can guard against micro-organisms and temper the water to suit his palate; the soldier cannot so guard himself in the field or on campaign, or on the march.

If the former could only get water by journeying to the town pump, or well having a pole, or piece of timber, moved on a fulcrum or post, used to raise and lower a bucket in the well for laboriously drawing water by hand, he would feel it an -annoying hardship. We have relegated the well-sweep, but hung on to the canteen of contemporaneous antiquity.

People who always live in houses and sleep in beds and walk on pavements and ride in street cars, and who get their food from butchers, bakers, grocers, or restaurants, and who always have access to unlimited quantities of good water, don’t appreciate—they can’t appreciate—water, because it is as free as air. The circumstances of their existence are too mathematical and secure. They are boarders in this world. Everything is done for them by somebody else. They live at second or third hand. They get their excitement out of the newspapers. If the weather is bad, they are snugly housed. If it is cold, there is a furnace in the cellar. If they are hungry, the shops are near at hand. They might as well be brought up in an incubator.

But where man abides in the fields, after the manner of soldiers in campaign, he learns that his best friends are his arms, his blanket, and his rations; the last named are not any more important than his rilled canteen.

Napoleon said: “There are five things from which the soldier must never be separated—his gun, his cartridges, his knapsack, his provisions for at least four days, and his pioneer tool. Let the knapsack be reduced to the smallest size; let him carry in it a shirt, a pair of shoes, a stock, a handkerchief, a tinder box, but let him have it always with him, for, once separated from him, it never returns.” It is submitted that a man will retain things for the preservation of his own life longer than he will retain things for the taking of life. Hence he will hold on to his provisions longer than he will retain implements, such as his gun, cartridges, knapsack, pioneer “tool, or even his “stock.” In other words, the soldier will include his canteen as one of his best friends. He is never prodigal with his water when inured to war experiences.

City dwellers who know that there is always plenty more in the pipes do not appreciate this last fact.”

As it turns out, neither do sailors. They have plumbing.


Beat Army

(I also fixed the box that included the Army Cup and Canteen Story… Phil seems to have enjoyed the new decorated box – see below.)


“Chief Bob MacPherson just when I thought I’d trumped you out, I get a package from the Quartermaster General! Even before I can open the package I’m assaulted with some of the stickers on the box…some, not all. Nice tag to the USS Indianapolis. You did owe me the Army Brat sippy cup and I was expecting that. I was also impressed with the document on the “Military Canteen”. Only a ground pounder or Marine would enjoy the article. But as Jerry Seinfeld once said, “…the best joke is one that ends in a totally different way than it starts.” Which is what you did to me with the article…damned Photoshop!! Sadly I’m starting to believe what you tell me about the Navy having lobster, fresh Navy beans and hot/cold running water!! Of course, no communication from you would be complete without a final shot over the bow. We’ll see come December!

PS…please post the article on your site, I’m sure all of your East Coast Navy peeps would enjoy it. Besides, all they’re doing is sitting around singing Anchors Aweigh!”

Mission Accomplished Phil.

Mister Mac

Postscript: You will never meet a finer man than Phil. It is an honor to call him friend.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s