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September 30, 2021 By Bill Rawlinson

You Wanna Sandwich

Of the hundreds of aircraft flown in Vietnam, there was a single special aircraft that sat on the ramp at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon — a VC-118 Liftmaster. The aircraft had been in the Air Force for decades, but this one had a modified interior for the U.S. ambassador to South Vietnam, thus the designation VC. The aircraft did not sit idle. When available, it was used for special missions flown throughout Vietnam and Thailand. It had 24 extra seats that could carry passengers, including GIs, looking for a ride to Saigon or elsewhere. To their surprise, senior NCOs wearing “blues” or civilian clothing met them at the rear door.

A strange welcome: “OK, corporal, take off those boots and leave them by the door. We don’t want to get the carpet dirty! Don’t worry, you’ll get them back when we land.” As the young GI moved up the aisle, he heard a booming voice over the intercom, “Take any empty seat and buckle up!” Soon the aircraft was airborne.

At cruising altitude, the young GI saw a multi-striped flight attendant in blues hovering over him saying, “Hey, corporal, you wanna sandwich?” There was hesitancy. Before the young man could answer, the voice said, “How about a BLT?” A nod. “You want it on toast with mayo?” Another nod! “You wanna beer with that?” A third nod! “OK, drop your tray and I’ll be right back.” The young soldier lifted himself up and looked around. “Is this a joke?” Then settling back, leaning his head against the window, he stared at the puffy cumulus clouds, nodding off.

Ten minutes later, the NCO reappeared with the BLT on a plate with a napkin and a cold San Miguel beer. As the soldier bit into the perfect BLT, his mind rushed back to his hometown and Dottie’s Diner in Mobile, Alabama; Topeka, Kansas; Cheyenne, Wyoming, where there were no rations, no artillery, no clattering of a Huey on take-off, no war. After half a dozen swigs of beer, his head was back against the window, and he was sound asleep. The next sound was the PA system announcing preparation for landing at Saigon: “Trays up, seat belt secure.”

After landing, the young man walked in stocking feet to the rear door and the same NCO handed him his boots and wished him well. As he walked across the tarmac, he kept looking back, wondering if all of this was just a dream.

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