If an army truly travels on its stomach, U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf are traveling light. At the request of the Saudi government, Americans are going to war without SPAM, a staple of the military diet since World War II.

"A war without SPAM is like a day without grumbling," said a Marine cook at Camp Lajeune, N.C. "It's the meat grunts (infantry) love to hate.""They like to gripe about it, but they appreciate it," a Marine Corp spokesman said. "It tastes pretty good when you haven't got anything else. Some of them'll probably miss it."

Produced by Geo. A. Hormel & Co. of Austin, Minn., SPAM is a tinned luncheon meat made from ham and pork shoulder. It keeps indefinitely without refrigeration - an attribute that has made it a military mainstay since World War II.

But Saudi Arabia, where U.S. troops are assembled for operations against Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait, is a Muslim country. Islamic dietary rules forbid pork, so the Saudis asked the Americans to leave their SPAM behind.

"We're complying with their wishes," a Defense Department spokesman said.

So when the Defense Department started handing out contracts to supply the troops, there was nothing in the coffer for SPAM. But Hormel did land a $44 million contract for its "Top Shelf" packaged meals, which resemble frozen dinners but require no refrigeration.

A longtime Army cook who served in Vietnam and was preparing to depart for Saudi Arabia, and his second war, said the SPAM ban was "sort of a break with tradition - a break with history."

SPAM is undoubtedly a part of military history. Introduced in 1937, tons of the canned meat were eaten by allied troops during World War II. It was also a staple for troops in Korea and Vietnam.

"During World War II, of course, I ate my share of SPAM along with millions of other soldiers," the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the allied troops during World War II, said in a 1966 letter to the company.

"I'll even confess to a few unkind remarks about it - uttered during the strain of battle, you understand," Eisenhower wrote. "But as former commander in chief, I believe I can still officially forgive you your only sin: sending us so much of it."

Even the late Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, who was a soldier during World War II, had fond memories of SPAM.

"There were many jokes going around in the army, some of them off-color, about American SPAM," he wrote in his memoirs, "Khrushchev Remembers." "It tasted good, nonetheless. Without SPAM, we wouldn't have been able to feed our army."

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher recalled SPAM as a "wartime delicacy."

That was underscored by Edward R. Murrow in a 1942 Christmas broadcast from war-ravaged Britain.

"This is London," the famed correspondent reported. "Although the Christmas table will not be lavish, there will be SPAM for everyone."