The K-ration (also known as "Ration K") was an individual daily combat food ration which was introduced by the United States Army during World War II. It was originally intended as an individually packaged daily ration for issue to airborne troops, tank corps, motorcycle couriers, and other mobile forces for short durations. The K-ration provided three separately boxed meal units: breakfast, dinner (lunch) and supper (dinner).
While he is on the lookout, Norman Ellison is seen snacking on the biscuits from a K-ration carton. K-ration crates are also seen at the camp near the beginning of the film when Ellison first meets Don Collier.
The K-ration originally came packed in an unbleached tan-colored rectangular cardstock box with black lettering. The outer box was printed on its top in bold capital sans serif block letter type with the text: "US ARMY FIELD RATION K", with the meal unit type (BREAKFAST, DINNER, or SUPPER UNIT) printed underneath it and a capital letter on each end (B, D, or S). While it was intended that the three meals be eaten in their named order, they were not always consumed in this manner. The inner box had the meal unit type printed across its top and a capital letter on each end (B, D, or S).
- Breakfast Unit: canned entree veal (early version), canned chopped ham and eggs (all subsequent versions), biscuits, dextrose or malted milk tablets (early version), dried fruit bar, pre-mixed oatmeal cereal (late version) Halazone water purification tablets, a four-pack of cigarettes, Dentyne or Wrigley chewing gum, instant coffee, and sugar (granulated, cubed, or compressed).
- Dinner Unit: canned entree pork luncheon meat (early version), canned processed American cheese, Swiss and American cheese, or bacon and cheese, (cheese entree all subsequent versions) biscuits, 15 Dextrose or malted milk (diastatic malt) tablets (early) or five caramels (late), sugar (granulated, cubed, or compressed), salt packet, a four-pack of cigarettes and a box of matches, chewing gum, and a powdered beverage packet (lemon (c.1940), orange (c. 1943), or grape (c. 1945) flavor).
- Supper Unit: canned meat, consisting of cervelat sausage, (early version), either pork luncheon meat with carrot or apple (first issue), beef and pork loaf (second issue); biscuits; a 2-ounce (57 g) D ration emergency chocolate bar, (early version) Tropical bar, or (in temperate climates) commercial sweet chocolate bar (late version), a packet of toilet paper tissues; a four-pack of cigarettes; chewing gum, and a bouillon packet (cube or powder).
In total, the three meals provided between 2,830 and 3,000 calories, depending upon components. As it was originally intended as an "assault" ration to be issued for short durations, the K-ration was designed to be used for a maximum of 15 meals. The K-ration was mass-produced by several major U.S. food production companies, including H. J. Heinz, Patten Food Products Company and The Cracker Jack Company.
The rest of the meal came packed neatly in a waxed paper or laminated cellophane pack. The pack always contained two packages of 8 rectangular K-1 or 4 square K-2 calorie-dense cracker biscuits each, a 4-pack of commercial-grade cigarettes, and either a flat rectangular stick of chewing gum or a square piece of candy-coated gum. Special items (like matches or Halazone tablets) were packed in one unit but not the others due to space limitations. Late production meals added a paper-wrapped paddle-like disposable wooden spoon and used the standard P-38 can opener instead of the "twist key". K-ration crates were either wood (43 lbs./20 kg each) or fiberboard (41 lbs./18.5 kg each) and had a volume of 1.4 cubic feet. Each crate contained 12 daily rations (each daily ration consisting of one Breakfast unit, one Dinner unit, and one Supper unit) for a total of 36 units per crate. They were packed one unit deep, three units wide (one of each unit), and twelve units long (all of the same unit type).