|Members of Brummer family, owners of Hobby's Delicatessen in Newark, N.J., box up beef salamis|
Nearly two tons of hard salami - cured, dried, spicy beef sausage - are en route to U.S. troops in Iraq, thanks to a delicatessen in New Jersey. Sandwich meat might seem like an odd choice for a gift to American soldiers serving in harm's way. But there are practical and historical reasons for sending salami.
Marc Brummer is a busy man. The owner and manager of Hobby's Delicatessen always has one more customer to tend to, and one more order to fill. But busy hardly describes this son of a World War II veteran. Nowadays, "harried" or "frantic" seems more apt.
Mr. Brummer is on a mission to send 23,000 salamis to Iraq - one for each soldier in the U.S. Army's 42nd Infantry Division, currently stationed in and around Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.
Each salami weighs just under a kilogram, and the first thousand sausages were dispatched Tuesday, with more shipments scheduled in the weeks to come.
"If you took 23,000 salamis and put them end to end, they would run about four miles," he said.
That is about six-and-a-half kilometers.
For such a mammoth undertaking, Mr. Brummer is turning to the American public. For $10 - the at-cost production price for each sausage - a person can purchase or "sponsor" a salami for a soldier.
"Our motto is 'One salami at a time.' A 13-year-old girl donated a thousand dollars. I cannot even talk about this without breaking up [becoming emotional]. It is amazing," he said.
Marc Brummer admits to being overwhelmed by the task he started - but does not complain.
"You can't compare it to a guy patrolling Haifa Street in the middle of Baghdad," he noted. So, whatever we are doing [for the troops] - so what? Look what they are doing for me so I can be home with my family and run my business. They are over there for me and millions of people like me."
Dispatching salami to American soldiers dates back to World War II. The tradition started at a landmark New York eatery: Katz's Delicatessen. For more than 60 years, Katz's slogan has been "Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army."
Katz's general manager, Robert Albinder, says salami is an ideal food to ship overseas, since an extended curing process makes it extremely resistant to spoiling - even without refrigeration.
"I have had someone bring a salami back to us after about one year of being out," he said. " And it was still good. Of course, it was about as hard as a baseball bat, a little hard to chew, but the salami itself was still edible. The meat was still good."
At Hobby's Delicatessen, Marc Brummer says he has already gotten positive feedback from some troops in Iraq.
"We got a big 'HOO-AH' [soldiers' cheer] from a whole bunch of guys," he said. "They are very, very touched that people are doing something and remembering them."
Marc Brummer says many who have donated money actually oppose the war in Iraq. But what has been dubbed "Operation Salami Drop" is not about politics. Mr. Brummer says it is about showing soldiers, as he puts it, "that their country cares."