Phantom crews during the Vietnam War overseas always had the possibility of contracting local diseases.
Its not that we weren’t prepared, before departing CONUS we had shots for almost every possible disease: hepatitis, typhoid, small pox, diptheria, plague, yellow fever, all come to mind. There may be more — I know I felt like a pin cushion when they were done. I had shots in both arms and they did a TB test just for fun. And that was before leaving.
At Udorn, every Monday night as we paid our bill at the O Club for dinner, we picked up a quinine pill to take for malaria. There were a lot of mosquitoes and it was wise to be prepared. At least I think it was quinine, some folks thought it was another drug, which could often cause severe diarrhea. There may have been some truth to that as diarrhea was so common we called it the “Udon Thani Trots,” (although the base was Udorn it was in the city of Udon Thani).
It really didn’t matter where you ate, you were likely to get the “trots.” I am not sure if they were caused by a bacteria infection such as E. Coli, or something worse. Popularly we referred to it as amoebic dysentery. What ever it was it was terrible. The textbook definition: Dysentery is an infectious disease associated with with severe diarrhea. Severe is the operative word.
My roommate once commented to the Thai women who were cooking their lunch on a small hibachi outside on the deck that it looked delicious. One of them replied, “We like we eat, You eat you die.” She wasn’t kidding. You didn’t need to eat their food. Even if you only ate at the O Club you got it. If you ate the chow hall you got it. If you ate at the Thai restaurants on base, you got it. If you ate downtown, you got it. Sometimes it would be accompanied by terrible cramping.
As an aside we had “piddle packs” for relief in the air, which I seldom used as I had an iron bladder in those days and could go 5 hours before needing to “make water,” as my grandfather called it, but I digress.
I remember landing and literally sprinting from the crew bus to the closest latrine. I made it but there were times when I wondered if I would. I remembering running and yelling at everyone to get out of my way or else. There were pills for cramps, pills for diarrhea, and pills for both. Usually taken after you were doubled over in pain or leaning over the porcelain throne. For the most part they were effective in dealing with your problems.
What you could not be prepared for were the diseases that were more stealthy: Clap and other Venereal Diseases. For me the worst example of that occurred in my squadron – the 13th TFS. We had a WSO, who consistently frequented the massage parlors in the city. He was known not to be too particular in his choice of “servicers.” These places were known in the vernacular as “Steam and Cream” parlors – steam for the baths and cream for the servicing.
I don’t know if the women in these places were inspected, but like everything overseas: you paid your money and, as they say, you took your chances.
Sex for sale was available all throughout SEA not just Thailand. I remember hearing “hey Sarg want to boom boom my sister,” as we walked downtown. Now I was too straight arrow to do this, but many did. As an aside my friend from college who served at Walter Reed once told me that officers did not contract VD, they contracted Non-specific urethritis and that is what was recorded in their medical records. I guess the logic is that you wouldn’t want some future general’s career scuttled by a bad night at the local “Steam and Cream” parlor.
And a bad night is what our WSO had.
He was not the most popular man in the squadron (he always thought he knew more than anyone else) so when it leaked that he had contracted 4 kinds of VD, someone wrote on the squadron scheduling board, behind the duty desk: “Lets have a big CLAP for C……” I don’t remember that happened to him Perhaps he was shipped off to Clark Air Base, as many were, until his Non-specific urethritis was cured and then sent back to CONUS.
So what is the moral of this story?
As Dorothy put it so succinctly: at Udorn we were not in Kansas anymore….