MODERATOR. Dr. Galicia, you were at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon and you recently returned. Could you kind of update some of the thing that Dr. Bjornson was describing to us, as to the condition of the men, and their justification and methods of escape?
GALICIA. I think that from the time that Dr. Bjornson was there until the present day, and I guess I can speak in terms of the present day because I've been back about six to eight months, there's been a tremendous swing in the way things are there. As best I know it, and as best I can remember it, I was a senior at medical school at that time, and the idea, as it came across to me, was that we were there helping people. That we were there to help them to remain free or whatever. I don't know what it was like to return home at that time. I think perhaps I could best tell you maybe from the standpoint of my own personal experiences. I don't have a huge grudge with the Army, maybe it's because I don't have a huge grudge with anybody. But I was in training in Walter Reed in Child Psychiatry and it and I just did not agree. So I went downtown Washington, DC and I asked to be allowed to drop this program. It was not in the sense the program was terrible.
I just said I don't think it's for me, I'd like to quit. And twenty-three days later, I was in Bien Hoa, waiting for an assignment somewhere in Vietnam. I got twenty-three days and this is something which I can prove. I think that when John came back maybe he didn't get back with the feelings that I had. I've come back with a lot of the paranoid type feeling that these kids have come back with. I found today I made a special trip to go home, to bring back my discharge, and to bring back the paper that says that I was in Vietnam from 13 July 1969 to 30 June 1970, so that I could be sure to prove it to somebody, in case they asked me. I remember my plane flight when I went over there. It was a plane filled with about 140 people, typically American, the kind of America I know and the kind of America I like. People talking, carrying on conversations. Of course, being thrown together in a circumstance in which they're going to a war zone and they don't know where they are going to go, you've got to give them that much leeway for nervousness. But it wasn't really a different plane flight than I thought I would have experienced any place else at any other time, with a lot of wisecracking to the stewardesses and that kind of thing. I remember, then, getting ready to come home after I had spent a year there. I would like to preface that with the fact that my office was in Saigon and I was the only psychiatrist in Saigon not only for the Army, but for the Air Force, the Navy, the Marines, the civilians--everyone. The kicker to this is that I was also the psychiatrist for Delta, the entire Mekong Delta. I had in my mind decided that I would go to Vietnam whether I liked it or not, because I felt that my services wee probably needed there by the very people perhaps sitting to my left, and my right. And so I decided whether I like the war or whether I didn't, I would go. I could have stayed in Saigon. I had an air-conditioned office, and things were nice there. I will not try to tell you anything else but, I decided I would travel through the Delta because I felt if there was any way I could effectively help these people, it would be if I went to talk to their COs. I went to the base camps where they were. And so consequently, every month, for about a week out of the month, I would take a trip through the Delta. I saw a lot of field activity. I saw contact. I flew over battle areas and I was in places where wounded were brought in. So, I think I've got the feeling for the other side of it.
And as the year wore on, I began to get the feeling within myself, "What is this really all about? Why? What are we trying to accomplish?" And the culmination of it was for me, as I can best understand it or feel it in my own personal experiences, was that in getting ready for this plane to come home, I was standing there with a tech, who had traveled exclusively with me. It was against the principles of the Army that an enlisted man and an officer keep that close a relationship, but we said the _____ with it and we went together most of the time. There was a very close Vietnamese friend who came to see me off too, and I was trying to think again about what had I really done? And I finally decided that I'd really done nothing. And when I got on the plane, the thing that I noticed was that this was a group of a hundred and forty American people all thrown in together but you couldn't really cut through the atmosphere in that plane with a machete. Nobody had anything to say to anybody else. Myself, I'm the kind of traveler who does not sleep in vehicles, and I slept all the way, all eighteen hours of the flight except to get up and get off the plane during refueling. But in the waking minutes I had, I noticed that most of the people had very little to say to one another. It was my general feeling that for most of the people on that plane, if one of the stewardesses had come up and made an overt pass at this person, they would probably tell her to bug off, because we just really didn't care as a group. This is the feeling that came across. I think experiences that built this thing up within me were some of the circumstances under which I worked. The drugs in John's time were not a problem. As I best understand it, there were no drugs or very little in the way of drugs. We hear a lot of this business about marijuana and I'd like to comment only to the point to say that whatever percentages are put out by anybody, unless they range eighty percent or more, they're inaccurate. It's at least an eighty percent rate that have at least tried. It got to the place where a good deal of the commanding officers realized the futility and the absolute nonsense in pressing this subject, so the few people we got in who had smoked marijuana, we sat and rapped for about twenty minutes and then I would say to them, "Look, next time you decide to smoke it, why don't you smoke it some place where you won't get caught?" And that was the end of it. I might say that I'm not an advocate of marijuana, I'm not an advocate of anything. I'm just saying that these people felt they had the right to do this and if they wanted to do it, it's fine.
And my last sentence to them was, "Just don't get caught at it." But I think the bigger pressing problem was that we were then beginning to see, and in large amounts, the thing which bugs middle class America the most, or worries them the most, the hard drugs. The Army had given me leaflets at time to go give talks on the faults of marijuana and what evil things would come from using this particular drug. It was all nonsense. It simply was not the truth, and I quit going on these speaking tours because I felt I was betraying myself. I think the problem I had later is that we would get people in on harder drugs and I'd have a _____ of a time because I'd feel like I had two and a half strikes against me already to try to tell this individual medical facts which I knew, that barbiturates are addictive, heroin is addictive, and that these are the kind of drugs which taken in proper amounts, high enough, are very detrimental, and in the end can end up killing. We saw numerous people on barbiturates, which was called by the name Benoctil. This is a drug which all the vets are familiar with. I'm sorry to have to say that I saw four or five people, who, after six to eight months usage of this drug on a heavy basis, were sent home as pure vegetables. They were by this time organic. They had so much brain damage that they were really no longer able to function. I don't really believe that I would have been able to get across the information to them that this is really a lethal drug; this is not marijuana, this is not a game. We had the same problem within our hospital for amphetamine usage. We had people who took so much amphetamine that they really didn't even know who they were or where they were, became very paranoid and reached psychotic proportions for which we had to admit them to the hospital. You just cannot impart this kind of information to these people when they've already been told lies about something else. Insofar as getting people in the hospital for heroin addiction and opiate addiction, the best we could offer was to hospitalize them and sort of work them off their habit with thorazine, because at the time that I was there, methadone was not available to me. I asked for it and I never did get it. This is a much more effective means of taking someone off heroin or opiates than thorazine. Thorazine's a decent substitute, but it's not the answer. And one of the most very trying things for me was the fact that I felt I went there fully qualified. I had had three years of training. I was entitled to go into practice as a practicing psychiatrist. I was "board eligible" at that time.
I had all the prerequisites for being a psychiatrist; and I thought also, the prerequisites for being able to determine whether a person was seriously addicted, in the physical sense, to a drug, which in this country we treat as a diagnosable disorder which is hospitalizable. You've got to take the person away from the source. We could do that much but once I made a diagnosis in my own mind, from there on out my hands were tied because the regulations which I worked under would not permit me, even though I made the diagnosis of opiate addiction, to medically evacuate these people from the country. I considered this disease to be in the same realm as a surgical disorder, which people were sent out for all the time with no questions. And if I could prove that these people had a psychotic episode going on, then I had no problem. But I could not send a seriously ill alcoholic or a seriously addicted drug addict out of country. In essence I found myself in a real quagmire. I had no effective means of sending him on where he could get better treatment. So he ended up going back to his unit. I can distinctly remember one black boy within the hospital under my care six times. He was taking upwards and over thirty cc's of heroin a day--that's four cc's, seven times, eight times a day. He would come in. I would do the best I could with the thorazine. Bring him down off it, get him pretty well straightened around. The MPs would come and take him back. They wouldn't put him in LBJ for this offense, which is not a good way out either, and they would eventually give him back to his unit, and he would go back downtown and get another hit. Immediately, because he had been previously addicted, he would end up coming back over and over again because this is the way things happen in this country. And I was monitored in a sense. Each and every one of the papers I made out for air evacuations took two days to get through, one in preparation and the next day they went out to the flightline, or they went over to Tan Son Nhut air base for a day and then they went for flightline the next day, and finally, they went out. There was enough time for any one of my handwritten things to go up to Long Binh to the office of the Consultant for Psychiatry to the Surgeon General, to go through each and every one of these things and monitor what I had been doing. And on numerous occasions, I got called to have to defend why I was sending this man out of country. And, to say the least, it became very annoying and very disturbing to me, because personally I feel I am professionally competent in my field. I was not sending out a man who'd gone downtown and shot three cc's of opium in his arm and came up with one puncture wound in his elbow and then said to me, "Doc, I'm a heroin addict, get me out." These people were seriously ill. Some of these people had been addicts in this country before, and had had the cure and were coming over there. I had one incident with a boy from the 3rd Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division, who went AWOL out of my office many times. Each time he'd come up for his 212 discharge evaluation, he'd end up screwing it all up because he'd go off downtown and get another hit. He'd be gone for days at a time, and we'd have to go through the process all over again. I personally received letters from his family, as well as the chaplain in my hospital, concerning this lad and what an awful gummed-up mess we are making of this process. I wrote personally to these people to try and tell them what was happening. Finally there was a Congressional investigation came down on my office about this thing. I ended up writing the Congressman about this situation and about my inabilities to send these people out because of the regulations I was working under. I told this man in the letter that I stood ready at that time to get on a plane and come back to Washington, DC and explain it to him and the rest of Congress if that's what they wanted. That I would be most happy to serve those days on the end of my year so that I wasn't trying to get out of anything. I got a letter back from this man which was rather disturbing to me because it was simply a form letter which said to me, "Look, I'm not questioning your professional ability. It seems to me from what you said that you have great compassion for this boy and perhaps you ought to be able to show that for his family also." This was my answer. But it did not say anything that regulations stand this day the same way. So you'd best find another way of getting out of Vietnam because it isn't going to be on addiction, unless it's on a 212 discharge. The last thing I think I'd like to add to this is to tell you an experience that I had. I sat here all day, off and on, listening to these fellows tell on an individual basis how dehumanizing they consider this whole process is. They tell it from an individual standpoint. I can't document this because I don't know the dates. I know the places, but I don't know the dates and I don't know the names. But because of my traveling and because of my rank (I was a Major at that time) and maybe perhaps because of my personality, I got into multiple places where now, when I think about it, I had no business being. But I got invitations to just about every place. And one night I was down with the last element of the 9th Infantry Division that was left in country at that time, the 3rd Brigade, who had four battalions left. They each had their base camp areas.
The Brigade Headquarters was located at Tan An, which was about forty miles south of Saigon. I was asked if I would like to take a tour of the tactical operations center or the TOC. I said I thought that would be a real good idea. I tried to figure in my mind what I thought it would be like in there and I thought there's probably a bunch of relief maps, situational maps, banks of radios, telephones, and a lot of people. When I got in there, I found that my assessment was pretty good; that's about what it was. Except for the fact that when I started looking around, I noticed that there were four charts on this wall, on opposite walls, and each one of these charts had recorded on it for an entire year the monthly kill, one battalion against another, like it was a game. It is off these kind of things, I'm certain, that rank is made. The most upsetting thing was the way it was condoned. While I was there, they were in contact out in the field with someone, and apparently pretty good contact. In the presence of this Major, who was running it, a bell rang three times. I asked him what that was all about and he said, "We just killed three of theirs." I looked at the man, turned around, and said, "Man, what the _____ do you do when they kill one of ours?" He had no answer for me and this was the end of our conversation.
That's just one but I had multiple ones like this and I think that's what led to feel as I did when I got on the plane. And when I returned home (I consider myself to be quite a stable individual. I've never really had a suicidal thought in my life.) I was staying in Detroit by myself. I was staying in a hotel on the ninth floor. And because I was alone, a lot of this stuff kept coming back to me. I was standing by the open window one day with this stuff running through my head and I had to leave that window; because I felt that, at any moment, I would jump. I've had the same feeling a number of occasions crossing freeway bridges when I am thinking about the subject again. And this has remained an upsetting thing to me until just the other day. I read an account in the Detroit Free Press which probably many of you have. It was a very long, long article last Sunday about veterans returning. Somewhere buried in the middle of that was a paragraph that said, roughly, about 7,000 people are coming into VA hospitals, and this doesn't include only psychiatric patients, this includes the whole spectrum, everybody. Out of these 7,000 people, 54% of these people have at least suicidal feelings. And that 27% of these people have actively tried suicide, one or more times. I suspect that perhaps this is a low estimate because up until today I don't think I would have been prone to express what's happened to me.
MODERATOR. Thank you, Doctor. You mentioned the drug problem and this is something that all of us veterans are aware of and that we all realize as being a very dynamite problem. I'd like to bring it around to Ron for a minute. Ron, first let us know where you were, what your job was, how you reacted, and what your contact with the drug situation was.
MCSHEFFREY. Well, I was in the 6/31st, 9th Infantry Division and like I ain't got a general discharge, but I got a 212. I had all kinds of jobs when I was over there, but they couldn't find one to suit me. Well, anyway, after all the different jobs of truck driving (and I ground tar for a couple of weeks) I just decided to go on bed strike. The only thing that could keep me on bed strike with all the demoralizing threats I got from the lifers and stuff was a little bit of smack, you know, once in awhile. So I was shooting up six times a day and stuff like that. I went to Saigon so I could withdraw properly without a bunch of headaches and stuff.
When I got there I showed them my trash and my scabies and everything from dirty works and he said that I wasn't physically addicted, but he gave me a bed anyways because I told him I just wasn't going to go back. So he gave me a bed. The withdrawal treatment is a shot of thorazine once in a while. You know, a light dose. You still got your headaches and everything. So the first night I was there I went out to get a fix because I was really getting some really bad headaches. I come back in and the dude told me I didn't want his medical treatment very bad so he sent me back to the base camp. I had a buddy that went there when I was there again a second time and he said like methadone was too expensive to give us and he gave us a big rap on that and what it boiled down to was that he didn't have any. So that night me and my buddy went out again. I just couldn't handle it. So we went out and my buddy shot up a little cocaine and he OD'd. I got us out going again and got him back to the hospital. When I checked the guy in they wanted to put a bust on me. Like they said I pushed him out of the hospital, I guess. I guess you just let your buddy die instead of helping him out because they really gave me some bad threats. Like I was going to jail and everything because I was smuggling dope into the hospital. And another thing I wanted to reach was, like when they don't give you nothing, when they send you back to the base camp with cold turkey. Well, the only thing I could find to do to keep the headaches away was like just about OD on BTs all the time. And, like a lot of guys, I mean I seen a couple guys really get bad on these BTs just from trying to get away from the cold turkey pains, I seen a guy OD and die on them and stuff. I haven't got the dates or anything.
MODERATOR. Would you tell the people what BTs are? I believe it was mentioned before.
MCSHEFFREY. BTs are Benoctils, downers like seconals. I'm just trying to point out that the only way you can get away from drugs over there is to go on to other drugs and like chance on Od'ing and killing yourself on them; the medical treatment is really bad there.
GALICIA. I'd like to state to you that at the time that this lad came into the hospital, I was not there. I was shifted to the 101st Airborne for a month and whoever took care of him was not myself.
BJORNSON. I wanted to know one thing. I wanted to ask Dave how many GIs started on hard drugs, heroin, speed, and so on in Vietnam who hadn't used it prior to going. Any estimate?
GALICIA. I don't have figures in that regard. All I know is that from the time I entered to the time I left, the problem was increasing. We were getting more and more people in because of drugs and more and more people because of hard drugs. There was a goodly number of these people, I would have to say at least 50% or more, probably more, probably way more. Maybe they smoked a little pot while they were in this country. But they had not used hard drugs; the hard drugs had begun there.
BJORNSON. Another question or kind of response. Having been kind of trained in military psychiatry, trained in an Army hospital, I paid them back there three years plus one, and I resigned my commission when I came back from Vietnam. I probably would have resigned anyway. I know the attitude of military psychiatry is to keep the men on the line and so on. And it sounds to me like they are kind of vaguely using this concept of keeping the men on the line in a crazy way that must reinforce a fantastic amount of drug use. Certainly drug use is epidemiological. That if you get one user you are going to get more and so on. Furthermore, it didn't do anything to stop the traffic--is that right?
GALICIA. In my original presentation, I really tried to leave things out that I just had no way of proving, but I had a correspondent from Look in my office two days running and we sort of shut down the clinic because I sat rapping with this guy all this time about all this. He took pictures of myself and the office and some of the patients we did see. I took him out. I knew the locations because, besides having a close relationship with my nearest tech, I knew probably 80 to 90 percent of all enlisted personnel in the hospital and was included in their grapevine of information. They felt not at all ill at ease about telling me things that just didn't go out to other parts of the hospital. I knew multiple places in the city of Saigon where you could get anything you wanted to. You name it. Anything you can conjure up--mescaline, LSD, speed, marijuana, heroin, it doesn't matter, it was available. And I took this fellow to places and I pointed them out to him. There is no attempt on control of these. For one reason I think it is almost impossible because they're run by profiteering Vietnamese and we, of course, have to understand that the Vietnamese are human beings like everybody else. They'll profiteer like we will and they will sell anything that they can get a profit for. I don't fault them for that. One of these places however was right outside of the entrance of Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base and it was the biggest one that I knew of. And consequently, there was really very little in the way of doing anything about this trafficking. If there are avid readers in this room, and I'm sure there are, you know that there is an Air Force Major now sitting in LBJ who has smuggled in on an Air Force plane, pounds and pounds of heroin he brought in from Thailand. This was a guy who was flying VIPs like General Westmoreland around the country. I took it that his major occupation was flying heroin.
BJORNSON. I'd like to postulate a reason for drug use in Vietnam, as I see it now as a civilian. It seems to me that we have put practically a decade, a generation of males in this country into a tremendous bind. If you're against the war, you have no exit. If you are for it, I suppose you do. It seems that at least 50% of the people in this country, if not more, are openly or statedly against the Vietnam war. They think it should be ended immediately. If you're a draftee, what do you do? You can go to jail, you can attempt to fake a medical illness; you can attempt to fake a psychiatric illness; or get a cooperative resistant psychiatrist that Hershey talks about. Or you can try to become a conscientious objector. Whatever you do, you're going to be wrong, in a certain sense, and you're going to be guilty. It's going to damage your self image. Obviously, going to jail is not a pleasant experience; why should one go to jail for beliefs? If you're drafted, you're guilty, because you're going to Vietnam and you're going to be guilty for fighting in a war that shouldn't exist in the first place. So, if you fake a psychiatric illness, then you have to live with that for the rest of your life. If you passively resist or aggressively, and you go AWOL a lot, they give you a 212 then you have that to live with.
To become a conscientious objector, first you have to believe in it. Then if you believe in it, you have to be middle class; you have to have a lawyer; you probably have to be white and it helps if you have a lot of references. It's extremely difficult to fill out conscientious objector forms. Once you do and they're accepted, you are given a list of jobs--none of which pay more than $4,000 a year and you are supposed to do this for two years to protect the morale of the troops, supposedly. So it seems that a whole generation is in a box. One out is drugs. I'm sure that is out is the reason why Americans are on hard drugs in Vietnam--what percentage, I don't know. But I know that the percentage on grass is high. It's not just grass, it's being stoned twenty-four hours a day, every day for a year.
MODERATOR. Ken, did you have something you wanted to add?
CLOKE. First I wanted to say that it is also known that General Ky is directly implicated in the heroin smuggling that goes on in Vietnam. The CIA plans fly opium into Vietnam. The Meo tribesmen in Laos earn a great deal of their living from, not only CIA funds, but also from the opium trade. The remnants of the Chinese Nationalist Army that is still left in Burma also cultivate the opium trade extensively. I don't think that the question of drugs in Vietnam can been seen in isolation from these things. It is also, I think, a fact, that enormous amounts of graft exist openly in Vietnam and that the war is profitable to a large number of different people, not only at high levels, but at low levels as well. This forms part of the social psychology of drugs.
MODERATOR. Thanks for talking about the CIA, that is a point I feel needs clarification.
GALICIA. I heard this rumor of Ky. One thing I know for a fact is that in each and every base camp area we set up in Vietnam we pay rent to somebody for the right to use their land so that we can defend their freedom or whatever the _____ it means, I don't know. I've lost the concept. But I do know that we pay rent to absentee landlords, most of whom live in Cholon, at least in the area in which I was. But the rumor that I was going to make reference to was that somebody told me that all the property on which Long Binh is situated is owned by Mrs. Thieu.
MODERATOR. I have no information on that.
GALICIA. Well, the only thing is that people with any knowledge of Vietnam know that Long Binh is the biggest Army post in the world. It used to house something like 50,000 troops. I don't know what the number is now, but it is a huge space of land.
Updated Thursday, January 28, 1999