The War…On Drugs
Medic asked his grunt and Arty friends if they smoked weed in Vietnam. Officers and NCOs were asked how they handled men who did pot. Here are the replies:
Arlan Ervasti Bravo 1/7 Cav ’69
I was in Vietnam from April till late Oct 1970. I can’t recall anyone smoking dope or getting high in the third platoon during that time. We just didn’t do it. Once time on LZ Green, a Remf arrived with pot and encouraged me to try it. This was my first and only experience with it. I recall Keith Vivian cutting down a small tree about four to five inches in diameter. He wanted to use a straight piece of wood for a trip flare stake. We had the giggles and couldn’t stop laughing. A priest came to the LZ and offered communion to the troops and I was the only one who accepted his invitation. My dope smoking new friend was making fun of me and and making gestures, like holding a joint with pinched fingers and holding his breath. I vividly recall that day as it was my only experience with pot.
Joe Persaud Bravo 1/7 Cav ’69
Third platoon had quite a few dopers, but I don’t believe any of them did it while we were in the field. The guys CS’d (tear gassed) Lt. Nelson once. I’m surprised he wasn’t fragged. SSG Yates tried to deal with it by splitting up the dopers and putting them with non-dopers within the squads. I don’t know how his experiment ended up. As a “drafted” squad leader, I looked the other way and never bothered the dopers. The stuff has a very distinctive smell to it. If I smelled it in the field I would have said something, but I never did smell it out in the field. I never smoked the stuff in the Army, but did before and after my service. Contrary to some believers, it is not addicting and doesn’t ruin lives. Religion does more damage to this world than marijuana. Damn, marijuana is now prescribed by doctors for medical reasons. I don’t do marijuana or religion. . . I just play softball .
Sgt. Bob Shearer Bravo 1/7 Cav ’69
My guys in the four th platoon knew how I felt about it in the field or on LZs. The only time I had to “remind them” was a late afternoon on one of the fire- bases (perhaps Compton) when guys from another platoon and/or from Arty were in the furthest perimeter bunker in 4th platoon’s sector doing their deed. I sent one of my guys down the line and told him to tell all my bunkers that I’d be doing inspection in 10 minutes. When I got to the last bunker the party was still roaring on inside. After having complained up the line earlier and gotten no support, I sent them a CS canister, hollered “smoke out,” and pushed the blast wall into the doorway. Of course they had no masks and all hell broke loose. CS fog settled all about the LZ. The battalion commander came over and asked me who was responsible for this mess, both of us in tears, and I replied, “I was, sir.” He asked my name, and marched on. I got called down by Albright (I think) and was asked to explain what happened. I told him the truth. Surprisingly, all I got was one hell of a good ass chewing. Never had problems with pot again.
Mike Derrig Delta 1/7 Cav ’70
On LZ Ranch I can still remember how close the berm was to the jungle. That’s where my squad was, right at the closest point to the woods. I also remember going into a bunker near my squad and a bunch of guys were playing cards. One guy heard me speak and picked up on my Maine accent. The guy was from Connecticut and may have been the guy killed that night. Lucky I left early but too bad about the guy from Connecticut and the others. Jesus what a shame.
There was a short guy named Khann. He was from Denver, and kind of king of the [pot] heads. Anyway I was a casual pot smoker, but never in the jungle when we were on patrol—only on LZ’s. So a group of us on Ranch were sitting on the bunker closest to the jungle—I mean it was really close, and someone lit up a joint and started passing it around. I offhandedly said. “Jesus Christ, if the gooks were watching us we’d be sitting ducks.” So instead of the guys saying, “Yeah, you got a point,” they all started saying, “What the fuck, Mike? You trying to blow our high?” No shit. In the middle of fucking Cambodia, sitting on a bunker in broad daylight, firing up joints. That fucking Khann dude didn’t give a fuck, and he was a short timer too. After the night we got overrun, a bunch of us were laying against the berm exhausted. Some douche bag lifer in a starched uniform came around with a bunch of his flunkies. “Okay, men. Let’s have police call and pick up this spent brass.” No shit. We all stared at him like “Go fuck yourself,’” and they just kept walking.
Jeff Motyka Delta 1/7 Cav ’70
My first encounter with pot was on my first day in Viet Nam. I was processing in at the 90th Replacement Center. Walking by an air conditioned personnel office, I encountered the strong odor of marijuana coming from an AC unit. Later that night in the large barracks I saw many men openly smoking pot. No one seemed to care about being caught. It appeared that smoking pot was routine.
My next encounter with pot was on LZ Compton. One day my squad leader asked, “Who wants to get nice?” He produced a bag of grass and we smoked a joint in our bunker. I learned that pot was available from mama-san in Quan Loi. When someone went to the rear from LZ Compton, a side trip was made to mama-san for pot. I was told that pot use was officially illegal and not tolerated. But, if it was not used in the field while on patrol, it would be unofficially allowed on the LZ. It would be allowed if used covertly and if it did not interfere with the performance of duties.
Our platoon sergeant and platoon leader never came in our bunkers. I learned that this was on purpose. They couldn’t be held responsible for what they didn’t know. If they wanted us, they sent for us. We always met in or near their bunker.
So, about every other day while on the LZ, three to five days a month, I would smoke pot with the other men in my squad. I liked the effects. I was able to relax and forget the war. I recall not being concerned about getting caught. I was a rifleman in the infantry in combat. What more could they do to me? Pot was my reward for being in hell.
My squad leader would hold all the pot. His rule was NO pot in the bush, and we obeyed, never using it except on the LZ. I was aware that other platoons smoked in the field, but not us.
The other squad in my platoon was comprised of men who drank and did not use pot. When an FNG arrived, once it was determined if he was a pothead or a juicer, he was assigned to the appropriate squad.
One evening on LZ Compton, I smoked an excessive amount of grass. I felt good but wanted to feel better, so I smoked too much. That night I recall being awakened several times and refusing to take guard. The next morning I was confronted by my squad leader and fellow squad members. I was mortified and ashamed and I apologized and told them it would never happen again. My punishment was to take KP on Compton the next several times it was given to my squad. I would also take additional guard assignments for those who had taken mine. I accepted my punishments and did not complain. I never smoked pot again while in VN.
Mike Hudzinski Bravo 1/7 Cav ’69
I’m proud to say I never messed with the stuff, even to this day! I always thought it stunk. When I first came in country and was sent to Quan Loi, I was put on bunker guard the first night on the southern perimeter just outside the Bravo Company area in the rubber. The guys on the bunker down to our left were smoking the stuff, and the wind was drifting it up our way. As the evening went on, they got louder and were laughing and raising hell. Finally I saw a jeep pull up; someone got out and walked to the bunker. Things were real quiet after that. I guess it was the Night Duty Officer or someone with rank. Busted!
When I was on the firebase, the new battalion barber we called Teddy was getting dope from someone in a line unit. He sent it home in letters to his wife, a gram at a time. He told me she had almost five pounds saved up for when he got home.
Also one time, with third platoon, we were walking along a small river, north of LZ Compton, and came into an area that had marijuana plants six to eight feet tall. Lots of them too. Some of the guys were pulling off leaves, stuffing them in their pockets or shirts as fast as they could. I guess they were saving it for a rainy day. I never saw any of our guys smoking it in the field or on the firebases. I guess they were sending it home or back to the rear.
When I was an FNG my squad leader, Sgt.Danny Williams, said we don’t want to get each other killed for the sake of getting high by smoking dope. He said we didn’t want to get smashed and have Charlie come up in the night and slit out throats while on guard or sleeping. I took that to heart and always remembered it in the back of my mind.
I think that it had something to do with where you were from back in the states too. Guys from the South and Midwest were less likely to be pot smokers. Beer and liquor drinkers were another thing. On log days, we’d get three cans of beer, and three cans of Coke. I would trade one coke for three beers to the guys who couldn’t take hot beer. Some times I’d move out with a twelve-pack of hot Hamm’s, or Black Label.
I’d put cans in my extra socks and tie them to my ruck sack. It was a load for a day or two. No wonder my back still kills me sometime. But I can honestly say, I never got a buzz in the field either. I was too smart to go there.
Dave Connolly, Infantry
11th Armored Cav 1968-1969
We came back into Blackhorse Forward off an operation, don’t remember which one. They were all the same. They were search and cordon, search and destroy, all same same. All dirty shit. We got showers, new fatigues, hot C Rats and mail. Got a birthday card from someone very special to me which had something very special in it. It was a piece of perforated paper with little squares of printed chocolate chips.
We retreated to “our” bunker smelling like humans in our new fatigues, for the first time in a long while, with lots of warm PBRs (Pabst Blue Ribbon beer), my guitar, the Cambodian weed I had squirreled away last time they brought us in, and the Lysergic Acid Diethylamide I had just been mailed. That’s LS fucking D for you newbies. Gonna die? Die high. We all had chocolate chips that night without the cookies.
We, not just me, all of us, knew we weren’t winning shit, especially “the war”, and regularly refused to do silly shit to get the officers medals, like walk down trails that we knew were alive with death. The LT would say, looking down some path, “Connolly, you’re up.” And he’d get pissed when I said that, No, I wasn’t doing stupid shit like that. Call in the Tac Air, the Arty; let’s walk around that bullshit.
And what was the poor, young, dumb fuck going to do if I didn’t follow his orders? Was he going to send me to Nam? Was he going to put me in the infantry? So, we’re in our bunker, waiting for what we knew was coming. Music was playing. Started to see what I thought was there coming up in my head when my platoon sergeant, from outside the doorway of the bunker, but inside my head, in colors, said, Connolly. He was really there. Could not for the life of me figure out how he was there or how I could see him talking. He said that the bridge guard down the road had been hit and we were heading out. It was really good LSD, so I told him in speech, words, colors, maybe in bubbles, that there was no way we were going anywhere, no way, no how; we were all tripping. He harrumphed, which is the only way I can explain the sound, which seemed to go on forever, and colored the sound he made to me, colored word bubbles that came out of his mouth or nose or his whatever. Was told the next morning that there was going to be “hell to pay” for our insurrection of the last evening.
We were all still a little blinky and a little giggly from last night, had warms beers and joints for breakfast and we’re getting ready for the next operation, so we gave less than a fuck. We were all given Article 15s and screamed at by officers who sounded like little girls while they were on their period hissy fitting, then dismissed to go back into the fucking jungle those bitches were skating from. The Article 15 cost us a weeks pay. Grunts in the Nam, when I was there, only made 3 cents an hour considering we worked 24/7, 365, and got paid shit to start with so we didn’t lose much. And I had five more hits of chocolate chip.
A proud and long time member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War Dave Connolly’s collection of poems, Lost in America, was published by Viet Nam Generation, Inc., and Burning Cities Press in 1994. In 2004 Dave was featured in the noted documentary Voices in War Time.
Peter Sablock Cavalry Scout
10th Cav, 4th Infantry Div ’67-‘68
Ah pot! I do not remember how or when I first tried it. I know it was at the little company sized firebase we called home, and I think it was after the rainy season – probably in late September 1967. Only a few of us in the scout squad smoked it and we didn’t consider it a very big deal. And it was only smoked at the firebase and after we ate and were chillin’ before dark.
To understand pot in our platoon was to look at a primitive web of supply/demand – race and squad. The platoon was segregated; all of the scout squad were either native American, Hispanic or white; the tankers were all white (but they stayed by themselves anyway so who cared); the four-deuce mortar squad was African American, and the grunt squad was a mix of white and African American. The lifer sergeants held the platoon hard liquor monopoly – everyone bought from them, the mortar squad held the weed monopoly and we all bought from them. The E5-E7s, lifers out of armoured units in Germany, were pretty much alcoholics and fell into their Jim Beam or Jack Daniels as soon as we got back to camp.
The rest of us drank the free beer ration–six cans in a sandbag every two weeks, Ballantine Ale at 95 degrees was brutal stuff; or smoked a little weed. We all acknowledged that being stoned was preferable to being dead drunk. At least on pot you could snap out of it to a degree; a dead drunk sergeant was a problem.
Pot was never a big deal in the squad, and you never smoked it in the squad tent – you always went out on the line. I think that out of the fourteen scouts only me and three other guys smoked. The problem was with only fourteen scouts and five APC’s to stand watch on, everyone pulled at least three hours’ guard every single night. We all agreed that pot just tired you out and made you sleepy, and that wasn’t happening on guard duty, so it was a fairly rare event that gave you time to smoke and come down before guard. So I didn’t smoke much.
Writing this I now blame the army for my occasional foray into weed; the Ballantine Ale was so epically, profoundly nasty that I was forced to smoke a joint to forget the taste. I wonder if the VA has a disability code for ‘fear of beer’? I haven’t smoked since.
Richard Levine 3rd Tanks, 3rd Marines ’68
My experience, in a Marine HQ unit, it generally came in through the laundry people from the nearby village, ARVNs working in or around the base, or from truckers or anyone, like me, who was assigned to convoys about as regularly as you shit; nothing better for constipation than convoys … oh, yeah, hit another pothole in the pothole highway, oh, yeah, swerve again to avoid that water buffalo, what! that wasn’t a water buffalo it was a bus full of people! Shit! I must be stoned.
Tom Skiens C 4/3, 11th LIB, Americal Division ’68
I smoked weed in the field one time during my tour in Vietnam. We were on a patrol in some lowlands when Charlie Company bumped into Delta Company in heavy canopy resulting in a few seconds of intense small arms fire between them. Fortunately no one was injured but tensions were high. Around 5 or 6 PM a resupply chopper dropped into our NDP. I knew a guy on the bird who worked in supply; he had an Italian last name and rumor was his family was mob-connected, so I asked him for some weed. He hesitated for a second as the chopper was about to lift off then quickly reached into his blouse pocket and handed me a ten pack of Lucky Strike-sized pre-rolled joints. After dark, I assigned the weed to a two man foxhole that at times held up to eight grunts passing around a joint. The weed took the tension off another tough day.
In October of 1968 I got a punji stick in my left knee. It was a minor wound but enough to get me out of the field for my last 45 days in country. My new home was a well secured fire base in Duc Pho. After ten months in combat with Charlie Co. I had made E-5. The Echo Company CO put me in charge of a 4.2 gun crew but I put myself in charge of smoking pot. The gun crew knew their jobs and my head was still in the bush; I spent most days patrolling the perimeter with my loaded M16, feeling guilty for not dying before I rotated to the rear. I smoked weed every day, all day. I burnt a hole through the bottom of a new pipe in one month. I had other duties, but smoking was my main concern, and I excelled at it. I once smoked forty joints between daylight and noon, ate lunch, then smoked my pipe the rest of the day. When the battalion moved north for three weeks I stayed behind to smoke and guard the equipment. A new company occupied the hill, but no one was allowed in the bunker with the smoke cloud over it.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was fucked up from war. I had seen much combat and now I was one heavily armed and pissed off combat veteran. I defied and distrusted authority. What could they do, I reasoned, send me to Vietnam? The first sergeant once came into a bunker where I was smoking a joint and I just looked up and exhaled; he never said a word. I was dangerous and he knew it. While the drinkers talked loud and started fights, I smoked to outrun the pain and to keep from blowing up and killing people.
Near Duc Pho there was a village where Vietnamese locals set up business in hopes of attracting American cash. My best friend introduced me to a mama-san who washed our laundry but would also sell us weed. I once scored one hundred pre-rolled joints and one pound of loose pot from her for thirty-five bucks. I put half the weed inside two Asian dolls and sent them to my mom for Christmas. I smoked the rest.
In late October it was time to return to the world. For weeks leading up to this day I had been compressing a pack of Nuoc Maus in my wallet so I would have a joint when I got home. Nuc Maus were Pall Mall sized pre-rolled joints that came in a pack of ten for a dollar fifty; they were made in the village of Nuc Mau. At the debarkation point I worried that I might be searched getting on or off the freedom bird. The next day I went to the beach and smoked all ten joints, it was a mission to get home and stoned.
I was depressed, confused, and lonely when I came out of the field; weed gave me a place to go. If I smoked for an hour my mind would be clear and my focus intense, I would challenge fear with contempt and say out loud, “come and get me you fuckers because I am already a dead man.” Without smoke I stumble around aimlessly, looking for meaning to the killing of unarmed civilians, the rape of young women, and the mutilation of both alive and dead bodies. Smoke brought clarity to the fog of war.
In 1980 I became the scout section leader for a National Guard armored Calvary unit. The National Guard at that time was overweight, out of shape and drunk; I was an alcoholic and daily toker so I fit right in. I have promoted good soldiers to Track commanders knowing they smoked weed and almost all my best M60 machine gunners were friends with Herb.
The veterans administration has issued me a permanent seventy per cent service connected disability for PTSD. I have attended hundreds of VA sponsored individual counseling and group therapy for over twenty years. I have tried meditation and medication, rapid eye movement and roll playing, prolonged exposure and guided imagery, all too little or no gain. I studied trauma and conducted fifty critical incident debriefings in an effort to help others while educating myself. And after it all, at the age of 67, weed is the one thing that works to keep the demons at bay.
Tommy’s book Buffgrunt: Memoirs of a Tree Vet a brutally honest account of his life after service as a Vietnam combat veteran. See his book interview here.
Peter Lemon Echo Recon 2/8 Cav ’70
While high on marijuana, Sergeant Lemon won the Medal of Honor during the defense of Fire Base Illingsworth. Here is the original newspaper report. As he said not long afterward, “It was the only time I ever went into combat stoned. You really get alert when you’re stoned because you have to be.” Lemon has had a successful career as a motivational speaker. (Note: from the internet, not submitted to Medic).
Randen Pederson Bravo 1/7 Cav ’69
I don’t remember how we got it. I think I just smoked other peoples’. I don’t remember buying it though I may have contributed money. We didn’t smoke it often, and never in the field. In th e bunker on an LZ in the evening, listening to cassette tapes of the Beatles, shooting the shit, and having a few good laughs. Basically the same thing that the drinkers were doing. I was a sergeant and didn’t allow it in the field. I didn’t like that there was beer either, but I didn’t bitch cause there was never enough to cause any trouble. I used it mostly because alcohol makes me ill and is no fun even though I come from a long line of drunks on my dad’s side. I haven’t had any since about 1973.
John ‘Doc’ Towarnicki Bravo 1/7 Cav ’68
Well, fellow Garry Owens,’ I suppose I should tell you my story of cannabis initiation. I was a bit earlier than most of you grunts. I arrived in N ov of ’68. I can’t recall anyone being stoned in the bush. As a medic, I made it clear I would not tolerate anyone being stoned. I made it clear I wasn’t going to risk my life for anyone high on weed. Of course things were different once we hit the rear. Guys would get drunk and some smoked pot. The stoned guys always seemed to have a better handle on things than did the drunks. Anyway, it was July of ’69 and the gooks decided to hit Quan Loi with a vengeance. All was quiet that evening and I was watching a card game and a couple of our guys were smoking. I said I had never been high and they immediately filled a pipe of what they swore was the best weed in country. I blew the whole bowl and didn’t feel a thing. They proceeded to load up another bowl and then I got the giggles…real bad. So bad that they threw me out of the bunker. I must have disturbed their game with my laughter. I guess it was a couple hours later the gooks hit the perimeter. All hell broke loose. I grabbed my weapon and a bandoleer of ammo and my aid bag and foolishly headed toward the perimeter. That’s where all the action was. Fortunately none of our guys were hurt but there were dead gooks on the wire. The guys were telling me what an asshole I was, wandering around the bunkers. That was my only weed experience in Nam.
I do recall a certain medic from second platoon who whenever we got into the rear would beg our ration cards (for the PX, can’t recall the real name for the card). He would rush down to the PX and buy an electric fan, then proceed to take the base apart and stuff surgical gloves filled with weed into the pedestal base. He sent them home to his friends stateside. A bag of weed from Mama-san cost two bucks. He said that same amount back home would sell for eighty dollars. He could get three or four gloves stuffed into that fan. I should mention that this medic was stoned most of the time in the rear. I’m not sure about his condition in the bush as I liked him a lot and didn’t want to know. He was a very brave medic and had been decorated several times. I remember I had to strap him to a jungle penetrator to haul him out of the jungle; he was having an asthma attack. Ya gotta wonder how he got drafted having asthma. He also hated “beer heads” as he called them. His folks owned a bar in Brooklyn, NY. About ten years ago I made contact with him. He was an EMT in a small city in upstate NY. Obviously his habits hadn’t changed as he asked me if I had any good contacts for drugs in Philly. I often wonder if he’s still alive.
Lt. David Judge Bravo 1/7 Cav ’70
To the best of my knowledge, I had no dope smoking duds in my platoon. In later years, if I caught anyone, anywhere, at anytime doing drugs, I would nail his ass via the Military Justice system and subsequently reintroduce him to the marvels of civilian life. Zero tolerance for that type of stupidity.
Roger ‘Doc’ Byer Charlie 1/5 Cav ’70
I smoked a little ‘Cambodia red’ over there but not much. I was always a juicer… beers. There was some but I never got the impression a lot of pot smoking around during my stint, but I mainly recall it on LZs or at Quan Loi, never in the bush. I really was not too much into it myself.
Mike Dunn Chief of Sec tion, B Btry, 1st/21st FA ’70
I was never approached concerning any drug deals, use, etc. Maybe my persona was that of a “hard ass.” As far as drug use goes during my tour, I recall an incident where a new soldier was assigned to my section but didn’t stay long before he was moved to the rear. When I asked why he was moved I was told that drugs were the issue. I do recall that while with me he was a loner within the section and spent most of his time at other guns, primarily with other black soldiers. As for my section, they would rather drink beer than do drugs.
Marc ‘Doc’ Levy Delta 1/7 Cav ’70
When I first got in country, the 1/7 medics in Quan Loi took me to a deserted corner of the air strip. They gathered around, one of them lit a joint, took a hit, cracked an M16 in half, then blew smoke down the barrel into my mouth. I got stoned and pretended to like it, but I felt awful. A few days later I flew out to Compton to replace the third platoon medic.
I didn’t know the guys in my platoon smoked pot until our M79 man got hit in Cambodia. Waiting for the medevac, he reached into his ruck, pulled out his bag of “dew,” and handed it to me. He said he didn’t want to get caught with it in the rear. I gave the stuff away.
In Phuoc Vinh, the fourth platoon medic turned me on to an OJ, a joint made with opium. From his fatigue shirt pocket he took out a 35mm film canister, a joint, a medicine dropper, a candle and matches. In the canister was a small piece of opium he’d rolled into a ball. He lit the candle and held the canister over the flame until the opium melted. He drew the liquid into the medicine dropper, squirted a few drops onto the joint, waited, then lit the joint. I took one hit and lost track of time. The other medic asked if I wanted more. “Another hit?” I asked. “No, man,” he said, “another joint.” I said, “Are you kidding?” found a bunker, and waited for the OJ to wear off. I never smoked pot in Vietnam again. After the war, I smoked in college, then gave it up.
Mike Gillen US Merchant Marines ’69
When I shipped out from Seattle in May ’69 it was very clear how they fel t about pot on the ships, especially ones, like mine, carrying explosives, or, say, avgas. I had a small amount with me when I reported to ship, but was ready to detox at that point–you know, in good clean salt air–and actually tossed what I had over the side. Maybe a little bit of paranoia operating there too. But I can tell you this about how serious they were against carrying pot on board our ship: a low-level engine room mate was busted on the way back from shore leave in Da Nang and they wouldn’t even let him on board; he was soon headed back to Mississippi or Alabama, and that was no doubt the end of his US Merchant Marine career too. No great loss, and not because of his pot smoking, as far as I was concerned.
Incidentally, I recall that Bill Ehrhart (Marine combat vet, poet and prose writer) was caught with pot during his Merchant Marine career after the war. It’s in his memoir appropriately titled “Busted.” The infraction ended his brief stint with the Merchant Marines.
When I last shipped out, to Europe, in 1980, one of my watch partners–an able seaman named Cataldo–had been a door gunner in Vietnam. He had pot with him on the ship, and we toked up a number of times together. Times have changed.
(Dr. Mike Gillen’s book Merchant Marine Survivors of World War II, Oral Histories of Cargo Carrying Under Fire is available from McFarland or Amazon but contact him at [email protected] for a better price).
Jim Brown 1st/21st Field Artillery and 1/7 Cav 1970
Our Chief of Section was a lifer, and a good one, so there was not much o pportunity to smoke weed. As well, we hardly had any contact with the Vietnamese. However I was aware of people ,mostly 11B and medics, who smoked pot. They said they didn’t do it in the bush.
As for myself, I did have an unusual experience with pot in Vung Tau on a three day R&R. It was the end of my tour and I had no cash–my money went into accrual. I was thinking a little female companionship was in order, and I had a nice Sekio watch that I could sell. Dumb shit! The Vietnamese hawkers wanted it but I didn’t trust’em. Finally, I decided to do it and picked an older kid, and he was to count the money into my hand before I gave him the watch (dumb shit again). They were good at spottting GIs from the field–when he got that watch he ran like hell. One hell of a slight- of-hand!
I was pissed, and decided that I would go back to the base. I needed cigarettes. Usually I got them free from the SP packs on the LZ. But here I bought a pack of Marlboro off a mama san’s little cart of black market American smokes. I opened the pack, took out a cigarette and lit it. When I took a drag, what the hell, it wasn’t tobacco! I had not smoked grass since college and this was the real deal. What the hell, I took a few more drags. Man, that must have been super shit, as I realized I had no idea where I was! People all around me were moving and I was lost. Finally all at once it came back.
I put the joint out since there were MPs near by. New idea! I would pawn these ‘cigarettes’ to smokers at the base and return for female companionship! All went well. I got good money and headed back to town. Entering Vung Tau, I ran into a bunch of small kids who, I thought, liked GIs. Wrong! You can’t kick kids and I wasn’t aware of what was happening right away. They were all over me and I was PICKED CLEAN. Broke again, I went back to the base and never did get what I was looking for. Sheesh. Gomer Pyle couldn’t have done it any better! But I bought a cheaper Seiko off a flying PX and I still have it today; it works like a charm.
Frank Harper Bravo 1/7 Cav ’70
Out in the bush one night I heard a knocking. One of the guys was putting out his pipe. I put an end to that. Only time with pot. Another time, Old Man Turner came off the LZ after we had choppered out, landed, and gone on patrol. He brought a case of beer and no C rations. He poured the beer out and he was on short Cs. In the bush it was all business.
Jim Kasmer Bravo 1/7 Cav ’70
Everyone knows the smell of food, cigarettes, marijuana, etc could give away your location. Even on the LZ’s you could be attacked, and needed to have your wits about you. I do not recall any of the guys in my squad smoking marijuana at all. When I was with Bravo we were never near a place to get it. In the rear it was easy to purchase. So if you went to Quan Loi, Bien Hoa, Saigon, the locals would approach and offer to sell you marijuana cheap.
I did try it twice. I went to Quan Loi for something, broke my glasses, had some ticks removed, I don’t recall, but they put me on perimeter guard. Everyone on the bunker was smoking so they kind of embarrassed me into trying it. I regretted that because a guy in the next bunker started firing and next thing I know someone handed me a radio to explain to the brass what’s going on. I got them to stop firing, and told the brass the next bunker over thought they had movement. This experience confirmed my belief that smoking marijuana while on duty is not a wise choice.
The other time I tried pot was on a three day in country R&R at Grunts Grotto, the Cavs fenced in compound at Bien Hoi. They gave us hot food, beer, clean clothes, etc. I don’t remember much else, but I do recall a local or a grunt had cigarettes reloaded with pot. I tried one. It was a better experience than the first because I didn’t have to worry about being in any type of combat situation. After that, I never smoked pot again.
John Akins 1st Combined Action Group/1st Marine Amphibious Force ’68-’69
It’s about 8 AM and bright in the jungle. Barr and I are standing side-by-side on the narrow trail four of us had spent the night set in ambush. We’re all like snakes uncoiled, dopey in the hot sun. Just as I point where I want Ooten to move and keep an eye on the approach, two NVA soldiers crest a little rise and clear a slight bend. “Oh my god,” Barr gasps standing next to me on the trail. Eight feet from me, the eyes on two enemy soldiers bug out as they spin around and take off all asses and elbows.
This happens during an experiment––getting high before we go on patrol. The first time we try it, we blow a chance at capturing two NVA in full uniform. All of our previous contact in this area have been ambushes, strictly hit and run, since we are always so outnumbered. Although this time, we take off in hot pursuit, we have to break off, get out of there and head back to our compound. Everyone rues the blown opportunity. Chagrin and a little blood on the trail is the only data.
The joints come sealed in clear packets of ten and each joint is about five inches long. Some are treated with opium. The only time we get any is when one of us gets to a rear area. Rarely happens. We have two ways to unwind––swimming in the ocean and smoking a joint. We save the weed for bright nights when we, as are they, are too visible to go sneaking and peeking. Instead, we gather in my bunker. On the nights we unwind, smoking, eating and listening to rock ‘n’ roll on Armed Forces Radio, we let the Biet Laps stand guard for us. One stands watch on our bunker. On clear nights the sand gleams. The sky looks like spilled salt spread on a bright black piece of marble. The black line of the ocean sparkles where the phosphorous tumbles in the breaking waves. A large joint that we call a telephone pole, goes around and around the bunker, the four of us seeing who can take the biggest drag. The clouds billow and the laughter starts. Singing and laughing, getting nice. We lie in hammocks. We are tripping. When we get the munchies, we open a new case of C-rations and everyone digs in for their favorite meals. Peaches and pound cake are shared. I like the Hershey shit disc with a sip of water. Late ’50s chocolate still tasty. The best part is the coffee and cigarettes after. We think menthol holds a high, so it’s really a treat when someone gets a carton of stateside Kools. We mix every packet of cocoa and coffee and cream and sugar of a two-day supply from a meal into a six-once juice can of water. The first time I drink an espresso in the early ’90s, I’m launched back to that bunker on those rock ‘n’ roll starry nights.
On the dark, overcast night of the experiment, we smoke a telephone pole about 1 AM saddle up and leave the wire. We go further up the beach, but just short of the bunkers where we make usually contact day or night. We follow a narrow trail from the beach into the jungle to where a slight rise levels out. We sit on the trail, two of us facing south and two facing north. Not long after sunup, it must be 85 degrees on a trail we’ve never been on. Ooten and Arnold are sitting side by side facing Barr and me on our feet. The high has worn off. I feel like I could melt into the sand. My rifle is leaning on a bush across from me and next to Arnold. We’re this little tired group on a narrow trail, and I know we should spread out and watch the trail.
Month’s earlier, with team 1-1-7, I’d been observing the area in front of me in a similar setting. We’d stopped to take a break on a bright morning like this. When the grenade went off to my right, I saw the flash of movement and fired at black pajamas on the fly. One KIA. Later, with 1-1-6, I stood in the shadows with the others after inserting from the ocean in the dead of night in four small, round, reed boats, and watched for hours a small clearing near the area where the two walked up on us. After sneaking further into the tree line in darkness, I caught a blur of movement and fired, knocking down a fleeing enemy soldier on watch. The night we smoked, we were near the same area, a hot area; grouped up and sleepy. “Okay, we have to spread out a little and watch the trail. Ooten, go down a bit and watch that way. Arnold, go down a bit and watch this way,” I said pointing.
Arnold, who is sitting down, facing me, opens up. I can’t reach for my 16 propped up on a bush across the trail without getting my arm shot off. When he fires, I light out after them and Barr is on my heels. The trail drops down a rise, so we are out of the line of Arnold’s fire. Ooten starts blooping out M79 rounds that arc into the area where the chase is on. He can’t see us, and we have to pull up. The others come up with our weapons. We follow the trail a bit, spot some blood. Trouble is, we’ve lost the element of surprise, can’t stick around.
The two were walking side-by-side practically touching on the narrow trail and one pawed at the other trying to get turned around and the hell out of there. They walked right up on us and caught us off guard. And they made their bird, skyed up. Gone, to live another day. It was their lucky day. It was crazy. I hope those two made it to the duration, and can still tell friends up north about their close call.
Author’s note: So, we only could get high on bright, bright nights when no one would be sneakin’ and peekin’ and when we had some shit, which was rare. And, though we believed that the heads survived at much better rate than the juicers, (heads could snap out of a high) we learned that getting high before getting contact was a no go. Duh! But getting high definitely helped cope, along with swimming in the South China Sea, and helped keep a tentative grasp on sanity. I got into the rear with gear about four or five times total, not counting language school in Da Nang and CAP (counter insurgency training week also in Da Nang. The other times were to get reprimanded, to visit a amputee buddy, to see a shrink and to rotate. The last team (1-1-6) I was with operated with no one in charge, just four or five marines; E 1 through E-3 temp and a navy corpsman. How to survive. (excerpted from Nam Au Go Go – Falling For The Vietnamese Goddess of War; 2nd edition, 2009)
III Marine Air Wing ’69
I was with the III Marine Air Wing out of Phu Bai, in I Corps. We flew the H-34 helicopter. Never smoked it then, still haven’t at age 68. Never knew a Marine who did it either… the punishment would have been brutal. Check with the Force.
30th Weather Squadron Vietnam ’68-’69
One of my enlisted airman approached me and invited me to one of the pot smoking sessions in the enlisted hootch. This was a problem that existed before I arrived at Cam Ranh Bay. Some of the officers were drinking and fraternizing with the enlisted men. I told the airman I understood the pressures of isolation but I didn’t want to hear about pot smoking anymore. I said I would not take action unless the men could not properly carry out their duties. As enlisted weather observers, their accurate observations were critical to the operation of aircraft. During my tour their smoking did not seem to interfere with their performance or showing up on time. There was more of a problem with alcoholic NCOs and some officers.
A collection of photo illustrated war and post war vignettes, short stories, war nightmares, war poetry and travel writing by a Vietnam combat medic. Site includes war related videos and documents. There is some harsh language.