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The Vietnam Dental Program...

by William (Bill) J. Baugh

Since someone brought up the “V” dental program, and a couple others brought to mind two of my dental experiences while in jail.

Story #1.

Shortly after arriving in room 6 of the Thunderbird, Little Vegas around Mar 1967, I developed an abscess in a lower rear molar. It kept getting worse, my jaw swelled up & the pressure hurt like hell. I could not lie down as the pain would increase and I swear I could feel every beat of my heart. So I would get up and pace the cell all night. I remember asking the troops, during noontime com. period, what I could do for a toothache.

I’ll never forget the collective answer that came back...”FORGET IT.” I was determined to pull it with my fingers and after many attempts I worked it loose and broke the pressure pocket, the pain went away. That was the last of that and I was able to sleep again. 

Story #2.

In Oct of 1967, in Room 8 of the office, Zoo. Roommates Dramesi, Heiliger and I were involved in a two-week punishment program for communicating. Every AM a V officer would come into the room, single me out and order me “kneel down, hands up.” He would then ask me how I communicated. I would say we don’t communicate, must have been the wrong answer because he would then signal to a gun-toter who would give me a facial. One morning the guard caught me flush on the jaw from the blind side and ratcheted my jaw and broke three back upper teeth, I spit what was left on the floor. This then turned into a constant source of pain which I constantly complained about. 

One evening in the fall of 68 there was a lot of activity in the camp, vehicles coming and going, cell doors opening and closing. Finally our door opened, I was taken out and transported, blindfolded of course, to what I guess was some kind of medical facility. I was finally pushed into a room and they took off the blindfold. I swear I was in a Wyatt Earp/Doc Holiday vintage dental office, with the old foot pump belt driven drill, etc.

Anyway, after a while a very tall healthy French Vietnamese lady entered the room and began probing my stubble tooth area.... they were lit up pretty good now. She says something to the English speaker. He then said: “Doctor say must pull teeth.” I said:  “No pull, tell her to fix.” He did and she huffily said something which he translated as: “Doctor say no can save. Must pull.” I again answered:  “ I want to save teeth. Have her try to fix. “He relayed that, which evidently pissed her off because she stormed out of the room. The V took me aside and said: “You make Doctor very mad and if you no let her pull you no come back.”

By now my teeth are hurting like hell and the thought of finishing out my tour in jail with that much discomfort was a decision maker for sure. I said: “OK tell her she can pull.” She came back, shot me with something and immediately picked up an instrument and started pulling my teeth...there was no sign of numbing. I’ll tell you this, that lady was strong. She had me sweating bee bee’s and squirming all over the place, but she got them out. I always wondered...If I hadn’t pissed her off would she have let that shot take effect? 

I was returned to my room, weak as a kitten...End of story.

nd more...

By Gordon A. Larson

Well, I guess I’ll tell mine now. Several months after shoot down in 1967, the V were still serving rice instead of bread. I was still solo and did not get the word that the guards often put stones in the rice and that one should eat the rice “carefully”. I had my teeth checked just prior to going to SEA. Needless to say, I crunched down on a stone and severely cracked a good molar. I could not get the 1/3 part of the tooth out for several years until the tooth decayed enough to fall out. I had a toothache for over 3 years. I found that I could put an aspirin over the gum by the bad tooth and it gave great relief. You could not leave it in over 30 seconds or it would burn the gum. One aspirin used judiciously, could last 3 or 4 weeks.

In 1970, I was finally taken late one night to the hospital. I was blindfolded and cuffed. I was taken to the hospital dental clinic and a short stocky woman in army uniform appeared, looked at the tooth, and without saying a word and no medication, grabbed the pliers and tried to pull it out. Needless to say, the old tooth crumbled. She then used a pry bar to pry out the many pieces. She purposely put the instrument over my lips and pried pushing down on my teeth. She badly cut up my lips with that pry bar. At one point I actually passed out in the chair. I was soaking wet and limp as a dishrag while she took out what she could. As I got out of the chair, she spoke for the first time and in perfect English, said, “your pain threshold is very low”. Boy, what a “bitch”. Pieces came out for better than a year.

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