Belle was making cocktails and mentioned that the one bottle was a "dead soldier". I got her another bottle and my memry went back to the summer of 1976.
I was a shavetail lieutenant, a fantastic example of military manhood, and a platoon leader in the 4th Battalion, 37th Armor at Fort Knox. My platoon Sergeant, "Big Al" Senese, was an E-7 recently out of Germany, but had entered the service from The Bronx, New York. His military bearing was exemplary, and his grasp of profanity was graduate-level. At this particular time, he was "going off" on the hapless crew of my 25 tank. I heard the term "dead soldier", and my interest was piqued. I was sure that if there was a corpse in the tank, my company commander would probably want a name. Sergeant Senese fixed me with a baleful glare, a snappy salute, and informed me that this particular dead soldier was in the form of an empty pint gin bottle, that he had found in the driver's compartment of the tank. This offended his military decorum and he truly wished that I would go away so that he could take remedial action.
I spun on my heel and left Big Al to his remedial action. I had work to do in the company, and he seemed to have this well in hand. Sergeant Senese was the first of a long line of stellar NCOs who taught me more about the military than all the books ad Army regulations could ever teach a young officer.
You were a wise young officer. We enlisted swine in the float bridge company could help or hinder the new officers. Example. Senior officers walking through the motor pool could be greeted loudly with, "Good morning sir" at a level that alerted everyone in earshot. Or, you could keep your head down and concentrate on a job and be silent. Let the inspectors walk up on the unaware 2nd Lt.
I've only ever seen the term used once, and that was in Farley Mowat's wonderful book The Boat Who Wouldn't Float. Mowat, a Canadian writer, wanted a cheap sailboat for summer yachting purposes, and found the titular boat in a small Newfoundland fishing village. Repairs being necessary, he hired the original boatbuilder and an assistant to do the work, but disovered that those two would only work after being "primed" with a particularly vile and cheap type of rum known as Newfoundland Screech (which is still sold, by the way). Empty bottles of Screech were dubbed dead soldiers, and at one point a case of the stuff destined for ship's stores was discovered by the repair team and quickly drank down in an epic blow-out which Mowat described as "slaughter of the soldiers." Well worth reading.
I heard that first from a friend in the Boy Scouts (more specifics I cannot say) who said HE first heard it from some interview David Niven did.
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