Vietnam Dental Program...
William (Bill) J. Baugh
Since someone brought up the “V” dental
program, and a couple others responded...it brought to mind two of my dental
experiences while in jail.
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.
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
I was returned to my room,
weak as a kitten...End of story.
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.