Few things are as important as coffee, tobacco, and ice cream in today's Navy. Though coffee offers caffeine to get through long days and the tobacco provides opportunity for smoke breaks, ice cream acts on a separate level of physiological necessity. Studies demonstrate that ice cream is a "comfort" food that ranks above all others. Aside from being the only food to lower the human startle response, the frozen treat is thought to invoke nostalgia that reminds individuals—especially those on long demanding, deployments—of childhood innocence, of security, and of family vacations—memories that can be relaxing.
In 1914, with new the ban on alcohol on Navy ships, naval leaders sought alternative methods to keep morale high. Researchers found that sailors were extremely fond of ice cream. In order to keep up with demand, the Navy turned two Army refrigerated concrete barges into maritime ice cream factories. The barges supplemented "small-boys" that lacked the ability to supply their own ice cream. The barges' output was about 1,500 gallons a day.
When the USS Lexington (CV-2) sank in the May 1942 Battle of the Coral Sea, sailors grabbed ice cream as they jumped overboard. Listen to the CO of the Lexington, Admiral Noel A. M. Gayler, tell the story to a U.S. Naval Institute historian:
Ice cream still remains an important tool in keeping U.S. morale high.