By Jeremy Borden
On June 29, 1943, General Dwight Eisenhower sent an urgent cablegram from North Africa to Coca-Cola executives. He wanted Coke to send enough material to build ten bottling plants to serve the troops overseas.
“(Eisenhower) thought it would be a great morale booster if the GIs could have a Coke,” said Coke archivist Phil Mooney. “It was like bringing a piece of home to them. The question was could the company deliver on that kind of commitment?”
They could and they did, sending bottling operations not only to the front lines in Western Europe, but also where troops had taken up defensive positions, such as North Africa and parts of South America. The operations were simple -- little more than Coke syrup, carbonated water and a capper. USO centers were often used as distribution points.
But what happened along the way set the stage for Coke's global prominence worldwide.
"During the war, many people enjoyed their first taste of the beverage, and when peace finally came, the foundations were laid for Coca-Cola to do business overseas," Mooney said. When the troops were victoriously shipped out, Coke stayed.
It was also during that time that the Coke brand was cemented as a true piece of Americana. Through its advertising -- such as a GI receiving an ice cold Coca-Cola -- Coke reemphasized its brand and found an indelible place in the military community.
"We've got literally hundreds of letters from GIs that came to us talking about what Coke meant to them (during World War II)," Mooney said.
A longtime supporter of the USO and the troops, Coca-Cola's latest campaign to raise money for the USO kicks off Thursday with a concert headlined by country music duo Montgomery Gentry. The promotion will continue through November and December with camouflaged-wrapped bottles of VAULT -- the company's citrus-flavored energy sports drink. Check out MyRewards.com for more information.
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