Mission: Turkey! Thanksgiving Dinner and the U.S. Military

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? If it’s your turn to cook, no doubt the next few days will be stressful. But imagine trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner for an entire ship or regiment, or being a mess sergeant tasked with cooking and bringing the meal to troops in the field. Do you know how you’re cooking your turkey yet? According to a Navy chef in 1956, the best way to roast your turkey is upside down.

The following films show how the mission of providing Thanksgiving dinner is accomplished in the U.S. military, using examples from 111-DD, Filmed News Releases of the Department of Defense. I have included a transcription of the release sheet that describes each film. For more on the series and how to use these films for research, read through to the end!


111.DD.224-56 (1956)

From the release sheet:


(Official Dept. of Defense footage released by Dept. of Defense)

Not one housewife out of a hundred really knows how to roast that Thanksgiving turkey, so says the Navy! They always roast it upside down, with the breast sticking up. The right way to do it is to turn the bird over and keep the meaty breast and legs out of the drying heat at the top of the oven. That way the meat is more succulent and tender.

Film depicts a Navy Chief Commissary man demonstrating the Navy way of preparing, roasting and carving a turkey. Slices of savory turkey served with a generous portion of stuffing and gravy is one of the finest and most popular dishes in the Navy.”


111.DD.274-66 (1966)

From the release sheet:

“November 22, 1966


(Official U.S. Army film released by the Department of Defense)

A Thanksgiving Day dinner including the traditional turkey and all the trimmings was enjoyed by members of A Detachment, 5th Special Forces located at Xom Cat, thanks to Sergeant First Class Lonnie Mitchell (Supply, North Carolina).

Sergeant Mitchell prepared the tasty repast at the 5th Special Forces Headquarters at Bien Hoa, and the meal was delivered in hot steaming containers by helicopter to the 12 men of A Detachment at Xom Cat in the War Zone D area.

The team at Xom Cat is composed of three officers and nine enlisted men. Their only means of resupply is by air.

Sergeant Mitchell is Mess Sergeant of Detachment C-3, 5th Special Forces.”


111.DD.342-69 (1969)

From the release sheet:

“November 25, 1969


(Official U.S. Navy Film Released by the Department of Defense)

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military men and women around the world will receive their Thanksgiving turkey, even men in remote posts in Vietnam.

With the official menu announced by Department of Defense including the traditional bird and all the fixings, only those personnel assigned overseas and on board ships will enjoy shrimp cocktail due to the devastation of most of the U. S. gulf coast shrimp during Hurricane Camille last August.

These men, stationed at Little Creek, Virginia board LCU (Utility Landing Craft) 1625, partake of just a portion of the holiday foods which will be served to the American fighting men and women around the world.

A total of approximately 2,800,000 pounds of turkey, 192,000 pounds of shrimp, 787,500 pounds of potatoes, 383,933 pounds of cranberry sauce and 350,000 pounds of fruitcake await the U.S. military personnel on this American holiday.

According to the Department of Defense, the same basic menu will be served on Christmas Day.”


Using 111-DD for Research

The series 111-DD, Filmed News Releases of the Department of Defense contains short, edited pieces that were released to news organizations by the Department of Defense between 1951 and 1980. Hundreds of these press releases were issued each year. The item number tells you exactly when the film was released—for example, the first featured film, 111.DD.224-56, was the 224th filmed news release of 1956. Each item also has an accompanying release sheet which provides a description of the film and sometimes a shotlist.

The series is a wealth of interesting stories covering a wide assortment of topics. As one might expect, a large portion of the filmed news releases are human interest stories that portray the military in a positive light. The releases include stories about the demonstration of a new piece of technology, like a shark shield in development by the U.S. Navy, or showing how military personnel were training for the recovery of the Apollo 8 capsule. There are also stories of soldiers providing Christmas gifts for Vietnamese orphans or setting up civilian hospitals in a war zone. One particularly intriguing release from 1960 features an “Impromptu Fashion Show in the Aerospace Age”.

The release sheets for 111-DD are available in the Archives II motion picture research room in College Park, Maryland. Access copies are made upon request.

Also, check out our playlist of Thanksgiving-themed government films and have a great holiday!


3 thoughts on “Mission: Turkey! Thanksgiving Dinner and the U.S. Military

  1. It doesn’t appear that any of the records for 111-DD items are in OPA database when I searched 111.DD.224-56, is that correct? Will they soon be?

    Were DBVT made of the above items put up on your You Tube Channel?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Bob! It’s true that the individual items are not in OPA. I think it’s a fascinating series, and is worthy of more research, which is partly why I highlighted the films with this blog post. We transferred these with our HD scanner in the motion picture lab for upload to YouTube. Unfortunately, this is currently one of our less accessible series, but the release sheets are available in the research room in College Park and we make access copies of the films upon request. I’ll probably turn to this series for interesting stories again, but there are thousands of films in the series, so I’ll only be scratching the surface. If you have any specific research interests, please e-mail mopix@nara.gov with your questions. Thanks for your interest!

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