November 4, 1966
Saigon, South Viet Nam—Only a few days ago, I left the press center at Da Nang for a stroll. After a short walk, I noticed a Vietnamese woman running down the street
She was crying hysterically and carrying a tiny bundle in her arms, which was covered with a white cloth. She hurried past a Marine sentry, after stopping there a moment.
I asked the Marine what was going on, and he said, sadly, that the woman was carrying her dead baby to the drug store.
After a look around Da Nang and further scrutiny in Saigon, the following observations were made. Most of the children are half naked and malnourished. Many of them bear scars and ulcers from ring worm. Flies are everywhere, but they are particularly thick around the tiny food stands. Rats and other vermin are everywhere. It is a marvel that the Vietnamese and their children are able to survive the ever present threat of filth and disease, let alone the Viet Cong.
At Saigon, I met an official from the United States Public Health Service. We discussed the total lack of health standards among the Vietnamese. Sarcastically, he began, "Oh, you haven't heard? They passed an anti-defecation ordinance in Saigon. But the word hasn't reached the provinces yet."
According to the health official, the only health programs which exist in the country are still on paper.
The official said Viet Nam is filled with rabid animals, and no quarantine or regulation of suspect animals exists. Cholera, Bubonic Plague, Typhus, Typhoid Fever, Yellow Fever, Malaria, various forms of worms and flukes, which infect the lungs and liver, are common to the Vietnamese.
And, the official continued, venereal diseases, caused by filth alone, exist which have never been seen by doctors in America.
The birth mortality rate is extremely high. Many of the children die in their first month, and thousands of others die before they are three years old.
"If they live a month," the spokesman said, "they have a good chance to live through a year. After that, they have built up such a resistance to every disease that it takes a bullet or a tank to kill them."
"But," he added, "although they literally have to swim in filth to become ill, plague and cholera take a high toll."
The water in Viet Nam can kill you or make you sick in a variety of ways. First, there is typhoid fever and severe dysentery. Much of the water also contains the larva of a worm which bores through the soles of the feet and emerges as the Fiery Serpent, which was spoken of in Biblical times.
"This parasite," the official explained, "once through the soles of the feet, begins to grow. As it grows, it works its way up the shin, just under the skin, and emerges just below the knee."
"It's a common sight to see a Vietnamese villager squatting down and carefully pulling a worm out of their leg by winding it up on a stick."
"Our treatment," the health official said with a sarcastic chuckle, "is different. We wind the worm up on a glass rod. Haven't we progressed?"
Little is being done to control the huge numbers of rats which infest every town. Cholera and plague epidemics could break out at any time, the official warned.
Neither is there a program to destroy the breeding spots of mosquitoes which spread malaria and a host of other ailments.
The South Vietnamese government has no plan for mass immunization, and no facilities to administer one.
"An un-inoculated American," the spokesman said, "couldn't live here more than two weeks before dying. Even with inoculations, we lose a lot of men from the lines with such ailments as malaria and jungle rot, and a variety of skin infections.
"But," the health official said, "one of our main concerns is the contracting of venereal disease from the Vietnamese. Many types of the disease have proven difficult to treat with current medicines and methods."
The American soldier's love of pets has created another serious problem, the official said. "Nothing is being done here to control rabies. Soldiers are great keepers of pets, and many of the pets become rabid."
"We tested 14 heads for rabies the other day, and nine of them were positives. One of the rabid animals had bitten 30 servicemen. All those men will be out of service for at least two weeks. I'd hate to guess how many Vietnamese people die from rabies," the official said with a sad shake of his head.
Almost incredulously, the official told of his visit to a Saigon packing house. "It would have made a Department of Agriculture inspector back in the states cry. The Vietnamese butcher all the animals on the floor, and they don't even have clean water to rinse off the carcasses.
"Old women carry in water from the river, and it is used over and over again, on carcass after carcass, until it's as black as your note book.
Sighing deeply, the beleaguered health official said, "I don't know what we're going to do here. Most of these people even refuse to use soap."