Drugs in Vietnam?

Knowing when to say 'Yes'...

24-Hour 'nap'

Did you do drugs in Viet Nam, Daddy?

If you are a parent, then your children may have asked you some variation of this question. That's good. Openly talking about drugs and drug use is one of the best ways to help keep your kids away from this garbage. When my children were younger, they asked me that same question. I answered honestly: yes... and no.

The Special Forces camp at Ba To had a very special problem. When they came under attack, they -- like the rest of us -- lost their radio antennas due to the explosions of the incoming mortar rounds. When this happened, the only radio contact they could establish was with A-103 Gia Vuc. One night in February 1967, I believe, Ba To came under attack. They were able to establish radio contact with headquarters at Da Nang when the attack first began, but quickly lost radio contact as their antennas were destroyed. It wasn't long until the only radio contact they had was with A-103. Normally, there are two radio operators in camp. However, on this particular occasion, the other radio operator was in Da Nang. I was the only radio operator at Gia Vuc. As the battle raged on, the minutes turned into hours. The hours soon turned into a whole day. Yet the battle continued. I could not go to bed... A-106 was counting on me to relay the Sit Reps ('situation reports') and other information to the C-Team. None of the other A-103 team members could fill in for me since all the traffic coming out of A-106 was CW (Morse code). We have a problem here.

Finally, Ben Long (the medic) came down to the commo bunker. I explained the situation and that I needed to stay awake. Ben left the commo bunker and returned shortly with some medicine. I was advised to take this medicine (three pills) every twelve hours. Ben explained that they would help me stay awake. Wow... I took three of them and I was ready to relay any traffic Ba To sent my way! The battle at Ba To lasted for three days. For three days I stayed awake -- with the help of these little pills. When the siege at Ba To finally ended, I quit taking the medicine and laid down to sleep. I went to bed at around seven in the morning. When I awoke, I felt rather refreshed, considering it was only 7:15AM. It was not until I went to the teamhouse to get something to eat that I discovered that I had slept for twenty-four straight hours!

When I returned to the states, I brought three bottles of those pills home with me. I'm not sure why. I just did. Later, however, I found myself commuting between Ft Bragg (NC) and my hometown in Central PA -- all on a weekend pass. I would take three of these pills when I left Ft Bragg and, after driving for twelve hours, be looking for things to do when I got to my destination! The pills worked really well. I would repeat this procedure for the return to Ft Bragg.

It wasn't until months later that I was listening to the news one evening and heard the announcer use the term 'diamphetamine sulfate'. Strange, I thought. That sounds awfully familiar. The news report concerned an arrest for possession of 'speed' -- the street name for this drug. When I got to my apartment I went to my medicine cabinet and checked the label. Sure enough... the label said dexamphetamine sulfate. What Ben had given me to stay awake was 'speed'. What I had been taking for my trips to Pennsylvania was 'speed'.

Later, when my kids got older, they asked me if I had ever taken drugs. I explained how I had taken 'speed'. It was able to tell them about the effects and the dangers of the drug. And those three bottles of pills? I ended up flushing them down the toilet. I could see myself getting busted for drugs. They didn't take kindly to that in the stateside Army.