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Sunday, 10 April 2011

The spaghetti sandwich. Near the DMZ: South Vietnam, 1969

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The spaghetti sandwich. Near the DMZ: South Vietnam 

I did quite a bit of flying around the country here and there fixing the diesel generators. I was never an expert on them so Fred gave me a week's crash course. He was one of those rare people who are natural teachers even if they have never been in the profession. He could take a complicated problem and reduce it to its ABC components before passing the information on allowing even my brain to understand it. He was of Italian origin and I feel I bitterly offended his national esteem one day.

We had flown up to a US army camp not far from the DMZ, that is the demilitarized zone (so called) between the north and the south. It was a long flight and we had to stay overnight. I think the problem had been minor. Anyway our secret knowledge was where the restart button of the generator was. None of the military knew and it wasn't in our interest to tell them.

The following morning we had a flight back to Saigon about midday. We would miss lunch and probably had not had a good breakfast. We had to wait at the end of the airstrip on the far side of the camp away from the mess. The C130 was late. Waiting was an interminable business and why I never carried any hard rations I don't know. At one time I'd had some dried rice taken from the Viet Cong and did as they did. A handful of rice and a mug of water. It would swell in the stomach and take away the hunger. Anyway I had nothing and became decidedly hungry. I said I was going to the mess to get something to eat. Fred said I would miss the flight and get stuck overnight. There was only the one flight and we were both on the same travel order.

Anyway I went off to the mess, Fred having asked me to bring him something back, and wolfed down the meal. I took a portion back for Fred. He was deeply offended by what I had offered him and nearly didn't eat it. The food that day had been spaghetti bolognaise and the only way I could carry it was to make a sandwich of it. Evidently it is very offensive to give an Italian a spaghetti sandwich. The English, who invented it anyway, will put anything between two pieces of bread. So will the Vietnamese. Their street vendors made some of the most delicious sandwiches I have ever tasted.

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