LETTERS TO THE EDITORS
To the Editors:
Reading Henry Petroski’s Engineering column “Bridges of the Mediterranean” (January–February) reminded me of a time during World War II when I was a young US Army Air Forces officer stationed at Finschhafen, on the east coast of New Guinea. One day I ventured from our radio station to explore the surroundings. After a short hike I heard people speaking a language I didn’t recognize and realized that I was approaching a native village. In a few more steps I found a small stream, maybe 20 feet wide, where some youngsters and young mothers were having a good time flopping around in the water.
By the far bank of the stream rested two rather large logs tied together with vines. About then an adult male wearing a small loincloth spoke in pidgin English, “You um Yank?” My response: “Me um Yank.” He spoke again and the women turned the logs so that they spanned the stream and I walked across into the village. People living very simply make bridges, including potential toll bridges.
Incidentally, if I had said I was an Aussie, they would not have spanned the stream with the logs. Most native people did not like Australians because they had used natives in forced labor in their coconut plantation prior to our arrival.
Robert W. Roberts
University of Akron