Remember your shot record book? That yellow compendium of all the inoculations and TB tine tests you had. The indignity and pain from the dreaded jetguns recorded and immortalized for posterity is there in the book. Some of you may have tossed them thinking you had no further use for them. Newsflash. Don’t try to go to Europe or revisit the new DRV in Saigon. You’ll still need to prove you had the same three shots we all had to have to go there in 1970-Plague, Cholera and Smallpox.
Allow me to take you on a little pictorial journey followed by something interesting that many of you may need to know for AO presumptives.
VA is frequently fond of telling us we have not provided conclusive proof of duty or visitation to Vietnam. As most know, Temporary Duty Records (TDY) records are few and far between in our military service records. Proving movement without movement orders is virtually impossible. Lay testimony unsupported by evidence is politely accepted and promptly filed in the shredder room. It’s not that they don’t believe you. It’s that Veterans, well 85% of them anyway, are liars, cheats and trailer trash and known to exaggerate. What the hey? Go to a VFW Post and you’ll discover every one at the bar was there (in Vietnam), too.
Here is a wonderful way to corroborate your testimony as these records were attested to in most cases by a doctor or the Flight Surgeon. The imprimatur of the International Health Service Stamp is also proof of authenticity. Now look more closely at mine. Notice the stamped 18 July 1970 entry on the three pages. These are the three inoculations I mentioned earlier that were a prerequisite for travel to most places thereabouts . The list may have grown to encompass HIV and any one of a number of newer diseases afoot in the world but that doesn’t concern us here. We are focusing on my favorite area during the Vietnam Boundary Dispute of 1961-1975.
When leaving your Permanent Change of Station (PCS) base to gad about Southeast Asia on TDY, you had to go through certain airline hubs just as you do today. You could not, under most circumstances, zip down to Tan Son Nhut from Udorn unless you were a command pilot with an F-4. Most of us had to take the C-130 Klong flight from Udorn. It originated there every morning at 0 dark hundred from the 6th Aerial Port of Entry (APO 96237) just before the taxiway that crossed the highway near the entrance to the Air America revetments. It departed on a scenic journey southeast to Nakon Phanom (NKP) and then on to Ubon. Next was Korat and then Bangkok. Here, and only here, you could catch the daily coach flight over to Tan Son Nhut . Woe betideth he who arrived without his shot book. That would have been me on the 18th.
I was informed that passing Go!® without the three shots was not possible. I had two alternatives. I could reboard the afternoon Klong flight leaving in an hour and return to Udorn to fetch the said records or report to the 631st USAF Dispensary (APO 96303) conveniently located right there in the Don Muang (Bangkok) terminal for terminally brain dead servicemen such as myself. I opted for the latter and got my three shots and proceeded to Saigon. Where this tidbit of information may help you, the Vet, is elementary. Your book will look identical to mine if you arrived without yours too. They graciously gave you a brand new one with the new shots entered in. This proved two things. First, you were in Bangkok and more precisely, at the 631st’s shot clinic and when. Secondly, it informs all that you were getting the very same three shots you had before you left the States in order to enter the Republic of South Vietnam. No one in their right mind would freely opt to be blasted a second time with a Plague shot for no good reason. Those puppies hurt. The cholera shot wasn’t any less painful either.
The below will show you just how brain dead I was about hauling that book around. I probably hold the record for the most cholera shots in two years during the war. The March 1970 shot was at Tech training at Sheppard AFB in Texas before departure. The July 1970 one was as mentioned above. The Sept. 1970 was due to my little yellow book being in Vientiane, Laos while I wasn’t. The Flight Surgeon at 20 Alternate, in his infinite wisdom, decided I needed another one after my transfusion just to be safe. That’s what the little white doomoflotchie is all about. I misplaced my second book and had to get yet another up country in April of ’72 because I guess they wear out or expire. The Flight Surgeon also plugged me with another Gamma Globulin shot to protect me from the hepatitis (b) I came down with 89 days later. I think this conclusively proves beyond the shadow of a doubt Gamma Globulin was worthless.
The biggest insult was having to get another GG shot in April 1972. No amount of coaxing and wheedling could extricate me from that shot. Even invoking my 6-week inpatient status for hepatitis at the local civilian hospital there a year earlier at Tango 11 would not induce the good peckerchecker to give me a bye. I politely asked what would happen if I declined the proffered shot. I was informed Iwould have be disarmed and frog-marched over to the Gooneybird for a staycation at the Udorn Bed and Breakfast/Stockade until I agreed it was in my best interests to be inoculated. If I’d been infected with the Hepatitis C 1A genotype, I’d probably point to one of these two (GG or Cholera) as the culprit. HCV Genotype 3A pretty much nailed it as being from the indigenous Hmong blood supply.
The teaching moment here is twofold. Every piece of information you still possess from that time has forensic value if interpreted correctly. Just having these things can open the door to the AO presumptive path. This is no small accomplishment forty years later. VA is rather adamant about what they will accept as evidence to prove it. Perhaps one other ploy would be to point out that everyone headed into Thailand from the states arrived at Tan Son Nhut via World Airways (no booze) from Seattle or San Francisco. There they caught the return Klong flight (daily) between Saigon and Don Muang Airpatch. This is common knowledge that anyone can testify to. In fact, VA knows this by now but they are not going to show up on your doorstep like the Seventh Day Adventists or Publisher’s Clearing House and offer it free. I suppose you Vets do realize how this information about getting red clay on your boots for several hours in what is now Ho Chi Minh City might dramatically increase the Universe of Claimants exposed to military-grade Roundup in Southeast Asia?
We report. You file.
As a postscript, I will add something of value here. Wayne Theofrastou, one of our HCV-infected brethren, filed a claim for HCV and demanded VA or the military cough up these records to help him identify which batches of serums he was inoculated with. VA, of course, could not. The information was rarely recorded, if at all, as you can see from my records. He lost. My shot record shows why he did.