Jungle Medicine

By Ben “the plunderer”



In 1967 in the Central Highlands of Vietnam I was pulling a   lot of missions with a yard recon platoon. These were very loyal soldiers unlike the Vietnamese conscripts of the CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group).  I liked traveling the numerous mountain trails with them as we generally would run into a firefight with the NVA in the area and brought back many souvenirs from my encounters. One other American and I would go out with about 30 Montangards and one interpreter for a week to 10 days in a free fire zone. Many of the missions were back to back. Heavy packs, hot humid weather did not make trekking up and down the steep terrain any easier. It was sometimes difficult to keep up the pace with the nimble little 100 lb people.

As the camp medic when I was in camp I was responsible for ordering the drugs for approximately 5,000 people   consisting of about 500 CIDG Vietnamese   and Montangards soldiers and their families who lived outside of our A-Team perimeter. Each month the CO asked me to make an unchallenged list of the various drugs I wanted to stock in my dispensary in camp. Our drug supply did not come through regular Army channels.  For some reason  (CIA?)  I could order drugs faster than the supply for some of the US hospitals. On numerous occasions   I was able to order cases of antibiotics and other drugs and have a fac pilot fly out to our camp which was located in the free fire zone, pick them up and deliver them to US doctors at hospitals on request.  Perhaps this was the old Army 's version of  " don't ask don't tell ". At any rate my medical list always included a case of pure Dexedrine for my dispensary. One of the few words for medicine that the Vietnamese and Montangards knew from my predecessor medics were "Vitamins".

Then I was out on patrols with the montangards  I took the Dexedrine to keep up with the patrols  as  we  humped  the  mountain trails.. It was always worn off by nightfall.  Each night I would offer the night guard  "Vitamins" (Dexedrine)  which they would swallow with great eagerness sometimes fighting over them. Every morning I would ask them how they felt. They would always say..."aaah!  Bac  Sic!...I feel VERY good but I no can sleep at night...Dexadrine is good for only so many days, and  after a  week or so I would feel wear and tear on my body. 

On one particular mission we had made several contacts with the NVA who out numbered us. After inflicting casualties on the enemy we were forced to break contact, and escape and evade some very pissed off North Vietnamese. It took us several days of hasty retreat to keep from being killed. During this time, due to the heat and additional strenuous movements, the   Dexedrine I had been taking was not helping me. I was close to heat exhaustion when we came across several unusual bushes growing beside the trail.  All of the yards began pulling small green, walnut sized fruits off the bushes eating and stuffing them in their fatigue pockets. One of the yards brought over a hand full of them and told me to eat them.  They tasted like eating a unripe apricot with a bitter taste.  With in five minutes after eating these ?Fruits I had totally recovered from my heat exhaustion to the extent that I was trying to convince the yards to go back up the path of the mountain and make contact again. It was decided to continue our way back to camp which probably a sound decision. "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day." I never found out what the name of those bushes nor did I ever come across their fruits for sale in the local markets. I can say that they were certainly more potent than the Dexedrine I carried, and I would sure like to have a few of those bushes growing in my back yard. There are a lot of things we could learn from the various herbs and plants growing out there known only to the natives.