SGM Herb Friedman (Ret.)
The military has always taught new troops the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases. Every soldier at some time in his basic training was forced to sit through what we used to call a "Susie Rotten-crotch" film where a soldier is shown out meeting a local female, only to appear at sick call with gonorrhea or syphilis shortly afterwards. This was depicted in a comedic way in Woody Allen's Love and Death, where the Russian recruits were forced to sit through a little morality play with a soldier on leave meeting a peasant girl.
Arthur Szyk caricature: Fool the Axis
During World War II, the leaders of the Axis powers (Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and General (and Prime Minister) Hideki Tojo) were sometimes depicted by Allied propagandists as monsters. The enemy leaders were caricatured as gorillas, skeletons, rats, or whatever the Allied "psywarriors" could dream up. This was all part of the process of wartime depersonalization, the destruction of an individual as a human being and the resultant new image of him as vermin good only for killing. In the above 1942 warning poster about VD, the three Axis leaders are shown with hypodermic needles, ready to give shots to soldiers with sexually transmitted diseases. The text of the poster is "Fool the Axis use prophylaxis, prophylaxis prevents venereal disease!" During the war the medical corps had a prophylaxis kit that would sometimes be issued to soldiers going into town.
A record of the medical problems of one U.S. Army unit states:
This unit scheduled lectures by the battalion surgeon or exhibitions of venereal disease prevention training films twice a month. Company commanders lectured on sex hygiene once a month. Platoon sergeants also lectured once a month. For purposes of dispelling fear of prophylaxis treatment, demonstration prophylaxis was given in every squad of the organization. Mechanical prophylaxis kits were supplied to every man going on pass. Individual kits were given to each man going on overnight pass or furlough. Each man returning from pass was required to report to the dispensary and state whether or not he needed prophylactic treatment. The location of prophylactic stations was posted in every barrack. Posters advertising the value of prophylaxis were widely displayed.
The artist who created the poster, Polish born Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) attended art school in Paris before enlisting in the Russian Army in 1914. He served for six months and saw front-line action. After World War I he fought as an officer in a Polish guerilla regiment against the Bolsheviks and eventually located in Paris with his new wife. With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 he began producing cartoons and eventually moved to New York City. During the war he created numerous covers for Collier's magazine. Adolph Hitler put a price tag on Arthur Szyks head. The American press called Szyk a "one-man army against fascism." The Times of London declared his art work to "be among the most beautiful...ever produced by the hand of man."
Arthur Szyk caricature: VD
A second poster, copyright 1943, shows the same three enemy buffoons discussing the disease marked "VD" with actual microscopic pictures of the microbes. The syphilis spirochete, chancroid gram-negative bacilli, and gonorrhea gram-negative diplococci are all depicted as Tojo says "American soldier could catch it with ease" and Hitler answers, "but prophylaxis prevents disease."
This poster also uses the theme that it helps the Axis when you are infected with a venereal disease. It implies that it is almost treasonous to have sex with a prostitute because it hurts the war effort.
Pages from War Department Pamphlet No. 21-15
At the same time that there were printing posters, the U.S. Government also produced a number of pamphlets, flyers, leaflets and other published literature in an attempt to slow the rate of VD among the troops. The booklet, War Department Pamphlet No. 21-15, depicts American troops hitting the beaches from a landing craft on some foreign shore and warns that VD might take them out of the picture. One wonders about the effectiveness of this illustration as positive propaganda. Given the choice of attacking a machine gun nest at Normandy or getting a needle in the butt at a comfortable aid station in the United Kingdom, the latter seems somewhat preferable.
War Department 1943 Sex Hygiene and VD Brochure
This 16-page War Department brochure is entitled Sex Hygiene and VD Venereal Disease. It was first printed in 1940 under the direction of the Surgeon General of the Army with an introduction by Secretary of War Marshall. It was issued to every new recruit and discusses sexuality in general and attempts to educate the young soldier on all of the emotions and desires he might encounter away from home. It was issued again in 1943 with a slightly changed cover. Some of the introduction is:
You have been examined and found physically fit. You start your career in the Army with a clean, healthy body that will serve you long and well if you treat it right. You have a good mind and good intelligence. Beware that you are not robbed of these treasures
Read this straight-forward discussion of sex hygiene and venereal disease. It will tell you some important facts and real dangers you should know about.
Some of the VD data is:
The Army can protect you from many diseases but you will have to protect yourself from syphilis and gonorrhea. The only sure way is to stay away from women. Dont forget that any woman who lets you use her, or who consents easily, is not safe.
If you wait until you marry, youre safe and keep your self respect. You also play fair with the girl back home whom you expect to play fair with you. Theres no substitute for morals.
1. Manhood comes from healthy sex organs.
2. It is not necessary to have sexual intercourse in order to keep strong and well.
3. Disease may ruin the sex organs and deprive a man of his health and happiness.
4. You have a fine healthy body now. Keep it that way.
5. Venereal diseases come from sex relations or intimate contact with a diseased person. They are very serious. Gonorrhea and syphilis are two of the worst.
6. Most prostitutes have venereal disease.7. Guard against venereal disease by staying away from easy women. Dont gamble your health away.
7. Guard against venereal disease by staying away from easy women. Dont gamble your health away.
8. If you do not have self-control then do not fail to take safety measures.
9. If you get diseased, report at once to your commanding officer. Time is most important.
10. Will power and self-control help to keep a mans body and mind healthy.
11. A healthy body and a healthy mind lead to happiness.
One of the problems in an anti-VD campaign is that when young recruits enter a military environment they find that all their preconceived notions are obsolete. The average young soldier going overseas believes that a venereal disease is a terrible social stigma. Instead, he finds himself on a foreign shore where he discovers that the disease is often considered nothing more than a "runny nose." He hears that a number of the men in his unit have had such diseases, some multiple times. Instead of a great curse, it is a simply a case of a shot of penicillin and "no coffee, tea, alcohol, or sex, and report to sick call tomorrow morning." It is this lack of fear of becoming a social outcast that makes the disease so prevalent in military situations.
During the war, medics are generally supplied with prophylactic kits in bulk. These can be used to treat soldiers, or are often just given to the men to take with them on leave. The kits can contain different items, but during WWII soldiers were often issued an Individual Chemical Prophylactic Packet designed to allow him to perform prophylactic treatment on himself if he feared he might have had sex with an infected woman. The individual packet contained a tube containing 5 grams of ointment (30% calomel + 15% sulfathiazole), a direction sheet explaining how to apply the ointment, a soap impregnated cloth and cleansing tissue. Sometimes the men were issued condoms (usually three to a pack) and sometimes they were given sulfa or other pills to carry just in case.
Crossing your fingers
We show the kit above and here we see a poster that advertises prophylaxis. I thought for a moment that the victim was a butterbar Lieutenant from the symbol on his cap, but I knew the Army would never admit that an officer and gentleman might catch VD. Sure enough, looking more carefully I see what seems to be Technical Corporal Stripes.
This British WWI poster is interesting because at the time they list only two forms of venereal disease. Now there are about a half dozen known to exist. Notice they do not list antibiotics. They were unknown at the time. In November 1918, bottles of potassium permanganate lotion and tubes of calomel cream were given to soldiers stationed overseas to use for self-disinfection. Still, the British had 150,000 admissions to the hospital for VD in France during the war. Many of the patients had self-inflicted VD. That is, they chose to catch it hoping it would keep them out of the front lines. In later wars, troops would sometimes shoot themselves in the foot to become hors de combat.
John Costello talks about the problem with prostitutes and venereal disease in Love, Sex and War:Changing Values, 1939-45, William Collins,
, 1985. London
Prostitutes were made synonymous with venereal disease not just by the Germans, but also by the British and United States army commands, who declared war on the women who had been blamed for the million and a half syphilis and gonorrhea casualties suffered by the Allied armies in World War I. The German armed forces applied the lessons learned twenty years earlier when the Kaiser's army strictly regulated the 'sexual logistics' of the troops and thereby cut its VD casualty rate to half that of the French army by 1918. Corpsmen collected the fees at the medically supervised military brothels behind the front lines, imposing a strict ten-minute time-limit per man during the evening 'rush hour' and providing prophylactic treatments as well as keeping a detailed log of the visitor's rank and regiment so that fines could be levied from those who failed to report contracted venereal infections.
In World War I the venereal infection rates of the British army were seven times higher than the Germans, principally because national prudery prevented the British high command from acknowledging that there was any problem at all until 1915, when the Canadian and New Zealand prime ministers forced the chiefs of staff to issue free contraceptives to the troops.
A leaflet which was printed on 1 January 1943 listing the locations of all nearby
prophylactic stations that was issued to all troops stationed at Ft. Benning, GA.
German WWII Soldiers Certificate to Visit a Prostitute
This certificate was issued to WWII German soldiers who wished to have sex with a prostitute in a brothel. They turned in their identification tag and received this certificate. They would write the name of the prostitute at the lower right and upon leaving the brothel turned in the certificate to a medic and had their identification tag returned and received treatment if it was deemed necessary. It is all very Germanic, everything efficiently done by the numbers. The text is:
Entry to the brothel is permitted only with this ID card!
Name of the sanitation room
After leaving the brothel you are ordered to visit the sanitation room at once for protective treatment. Your identification tag will be returned only after successful sanitation.
Name of the prostitute:____________________
In Der deutsche Sanitatsdienst 1921-1945," the following comment appears:
By 1942, the Wehrmacht was running over 500 so-called Wehrmachtsbordellen, and the setting-up, running, and supply of these establishments was the responsibility of the Area Commander (Ortskommanturen). Disease control was the responsibility of the area medical officer, and the girls would be checked twice a week by local doctors. There were special rules for Officer's facilities, for which a hotel character was to be maintained. Every Army brothel was required to have a prophylactic station (Sanierstube). They were to be marked with a small blue light marked with the Red Cross.
Other forms of these passes might contain the following instructions: a Certificate of subsequent prophylactic treatment; Number and unit on dog tag; Field-post number of recipient; The above received prophylactic treatment at ____ hours under a control number of prophylactic station no. ____ and is thus certified by: Rank, name; and This document is to be kept for 3 months and is to be presented in the event of sickness.
Street billboard in Korea advising top ten sources (night clubs) for VD
An example of the problem was mentioned by John B. Ritch III in an article entitled "Korea Troops on the DMZ" in the Atlantic Monthly in 1970. He mentioned a form that was handed to the dozens of troops as they entered the VD clinic each day:
You have acquired, through sexual intercourse, an infection caused by bacteria which recently entered your penis. This infection is easily cured, provided you follow closely the directions given you In addition to taking prescribed medicine as directed, it is very important that you drink absolutely no alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer, whiskey, etc., no coffee, and no tea or carbonated beverages such as coke, 7-up, etc., while your present symptoms continue and for at least two weeks following the disappearance of those symptoms. You should also avoid sexual intercourse for that period of time If you are willing to follow these instructions, and any additional instructions which may be given to you specifically, you will find that the infection you have contracted will be cured quite simply and with a minimum of inconvenience.
Costello mentions VD in WWII:
The Italian campaign more than any other in World War II confronted the British and American military commanders with their impotence when it came to coping with endemic prostitution. A foretaste of the problem was given by British medical officers in
Sicily, who were treating forty thousand VD cases a month, twenty times more than the number treated in . As one report advised, prostitution is almost universal among all but the highest class of Sicilian women. Government-regulated brothels also existed in all of the large towns. Control had broken down, although General Patton wasted no time trying to restore it by putting US Army medical teams into England 's six large houses of prostitution. This did not endear him to General Montgomery, his arch rival, whose pride as well as his Puritanism was offended when it was announced that the brothels were open for business again under US Army management. The invasion of Palermo proper magnified the scale of the problem. But it was the capture of Naples in October 1943 that pitched the American and British commands into a two-year battle with an army of prostitutes a battle Allied chaplains and doctors of both armies would later concede they lost. Italy
The British were defeated by the prostitutes and decided that it must be part of a devious Nazi plot:
The British Army, which had no clear strategy other than the ineffective one of placing sections of
out of bounds, reacted to the soaring VD rate by blaming it on the Germans. A circular that arrived in all units by Christmas warned: From reports that have been received it is apparent that prostitution in occupied Naples Italyand Naplesin particular, has reached a pitch greater than has ever been witnessed in before. So much is this so that it has led to a suggestion that the encouragement of prostitution is part of a formulated plan arranged by the pro-Axis elements, primarily to spread venereal disease among Allied troops. Italy
Katharine H.S. Moon discusses venereal disease and prostitution in her book,Sex among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S./Korea Relations. For those who have not served overseas, it might surprise you to know that some members of the American armed forces carry their prejudices with them. They might travel 9,000 miles together and work and fight side-by-side, but at night many preferred to go to bars, houses of prostitution, and even sometimes entire villages that are either exclusively black or white. It always amazed me that a soldier walking into the wrong bar in
Koreaor might be beaten by his fellow soldiers for a social faux pas. Vietnam
Katherine Moon discusses this strange aspect of American sexual relationships with local prostitutes. I have cut and pasted some of her comments on this subject:
What began as a joint US - Korean venture to improve the discipline, welfare, and morale among
U.S.troops in turned Korean camp town prostitutes into instruments of foreign policy. During the Clean-Up Campaign, the prostitutes bore the burden of reconciling the differences between two races (blacks and whites) and two governments. Joint Korea U.S.- Korean control over their bodies and behavior, through VD examinations and supervision of their interactions with GI customers, became an indicator of the status of community relations and the willingness of the Korean government to accommodate interests. U.S.
The prostitutes were the primary and often sole contact with Korean society that GIs had on a daily basis. A Human Factors Research Report on troop-community relations stated unequivocally, Fraternization [in the form of prostitution] is near the core of troop-community relations here.
military and the local Korean authorities pinpointed prostitutes as the source of social problems and unrest, especially with respect to racial violence. Women generally worked in either all-white or all-black bars or clubs and tended not to mix their customers. Mixing of racial partners sparked often violent reactions among the GIs. Fights between black and white soldiers were, in a sense, over territory, that is, who possesses which women and who is trespassing on whose women. U.S.
Three Korean prostitutes pose for a picture
Lottery tickets from two Korean nightclubs
Many Korean bars and nightclubs offered lottery tickets free with every drink. You stood a chance of winning a whole night with one of the club's prostitutes, a short time "quickie" with a girl of your choice, cash, or a bottle or glass of the local liquor or beer. Of course if you won the top prizes, (the "overnight" or "quickie") you stood a chance of getting more than you hoped for - a trip to the VD clinic.
By the way, notice the Arirang Club lottery ticket. That name brings back pleasurable memories to me because Arirang is an ancient Korean folksong. I once had a bar-girl solemnly explain the meaning to me, "Girl say to boyfriend, 'If you leave me I hope you fall down and break your leg'."
I always thought that she was joking but the translated text of the Korean national folksong is the story of a disappointed maiden who hopes that her departing sweetheart will have sore feet before he has gone ten li (about two and a half miles) and have to return to her. Her plaintive words and the charming melody account for its status as the most popular of all Korean songs. The Seventh Division of the United States Army in Korea used Arirang as its marching song after obtaining permission form Dr. Syngman Rhee, the first President (1948-1960) of the Republic of Korea, in appreciation of the division's heroic exploits in the Korean War (1950-53).
Some of the pertinent comments in the article are:
In Korea the Army medics keep a supply of those printed notices close at hand --- in mimeographed stacks. The VD statistics ebb and flow from time to time as various commanders push prevention campaigns in whatever ways they can, but the basic situation --- rich Army amongst poor people --- remains the same, and the VD stays around. Eight out of every ten G.I.s will have it at least once during a 13-month tour, an eon which most count off, day by day, waiting to get back to "the world."
30 Bars in Taipei
American troops were also stationed in Taiwan or took R&R (Rest and Recuperation) there as a break from the Vietnam War. The booklet above identifies those bars where the girls are inspected and the soldier might be safe from VD. This book almost looks official, but because of the broken language found in the text, I suspect it was made by Chinese entrepreneurs that banded together to increase business. Some of the text is:
Taipei City has 30 bars approved by the Government. We are sure that you, from there, will drink nice wine, will enjoy good music, and, of course get a special service from charming girls. For your personal health, those girls are given a periodic physical check-up every two weeks. We wish you have a wonderful time during your short period vacation in Taipei.
Another well-known artist that produced a VD poster is Stan Lee. Stan is mostly known as the creator of the comic book heroes HULK, Spiderman, and Fantastic Four. During an interview he was asked about his strangest Army assignment:
Oh, yeah. The venereal disease poster. They were having trouble in the army with too many enlisted men coming down with venereal disease. Its funny, they kept telling me it was enlisted men, so I assumed that officers were so high and mighty they would never get a venereal disease [laughs].
[I should point out here that Stan is quite correct. While enlisted men got "the clap" and other nasty diseases, officers usually are diagnosed with non-venereal urinary infections, non-specific urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) which is not caused by gonorrhea, or more commonly "sprains." It simply would not look good on an Officers Evaluation Report to have a diagnosis of gonorrhea. Although nowhere near that of the Navy, the U.S. Army does have its own caste system].
But at any rate I was asked to do a poster that would admonish the enlisted men, saying every time they had done the wild thing with a girl overseas, they should go to one of the prophylactics stations, which dotted the landscape in Europe. Set up by the army, they were little places with a green light above the door. When you walked in there, they did terrible things, which I dont even want to think about but which apparently cured you, or prevented you from getting an incurable disease. At any rate it was like mission impossible. My assignment, if I would accept it, was to do this poster that would warn the soldiers to go to these little pro stations. I thought: "What on Earth could I do?" Then finally I drew a little cartoon figure of a soldier walking through a door with a green light above it. He looks very smug and self-satisfied, and a dialogue balloon above his head said "VD? Not me!" They must have printed a hundred trillion of those things. So in my own humble way, I think I probably won the war single-handedly, because if that stopped them from getting ill then they were all ready and set to fight. And thats the untold story of how we won the war [laughs].
This officer/enlisted man concept still held true in Vietnam. One anonymous lieutenant told me about his trip to the doctor with what sounds like a classic case of gonorrhea:
One morning I got up and stepped into the head to urinate. I was rewarded with incredible pain and red tinted urine. I basically was close to howling at the pain level. I reported to headquarters and quickly got on sick call, taking a M151 over to Can Tho Army Airfield dispensary.
The Specialist 4 medic wanted a sample to 'scope' in the back room, all the while sneering at my insistence that "it couldn't be VD". "Right lieutenant, I hear a lot of that". After another "screamer" in the head, the sample was inspected and minutes later the Capt (Doc) came out and said something like: "Well I'll be damned, it isn't Syphilis but you've got one hell of a colony of spirochetes boring holes in your urinary tract".
Instead of a load of Penicillin in the butt, I got an envelope of Tetracycline. I asked how I contracted this kind of infection and he indicated that it was just one of the bugs that came out of the wash water.
Most likely the bugs were picked up in the underwear, or picked up off the bedding. Within 24 hours of taking massive doses of tetracycline, the pain had almost gone as the nasty spirochete succumbed to the antibiotic. By three days, healing had removed all of it. Only the memory of the 10/10 level pain remained. From then on, I showered with a hexachloraphine scrub soap called Phisohex. It's banned now.
The image of children swimming in the Bassac tributary of the Mekong is vivid in my mind. How do they all keep from falling victim to the trillions of hungry organisms? I can't help but think that maybe mamas an was washing my laundry with special water "just for you GI".
Captain TG, an artillery officer with H&Hq Battery, 1/21 Artillery, 1st Air Cavalry Division had a similar experience:
One morning in April of 1967 I woke up with painful urination and a small discharge visible on my skivvies. This was at LZ Pony, west of Bong Son, in the foothills, south of the An Lao Valley.
I was thunderstruck. I had not done a damned thing to acquire of dose of anything. Nothing. Absolutely nada.
The next day I was worse, so off to see the battalion surgeon I went.
When I started to explain that I was pure as the driven snow, the doc waved me off and said that I was maybe the sixth case of this malady he had seen in a few days.
It wasn't VD; he didn't know what it was. He marked my record "nonspecific urethritis." I took a few pills of something, and in a few more days things cleared up.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.
VD was a constant problem in Vietnam. The Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) mentions this in a memorandum dated 1 August 1967. They have apparently given up trying to educate the troops and seem to be targeting the women in their venereal disease prevention program:
A Typical Vietnam Bar
1. Prostitution would not be legally recognized by the republic of Vietnam.
2. Bargirls and streetwalkers could not be controlled for a variety of reasons i.e. lack of resources, personnel etc.
3. The only effective program would be one controlling females working in houses of prostitution.
Reactions of U.S. authorities seem to range from enthusiasm to disbelief that such a limited program will work or be beneficial.
A 1 March 1967 in Air Force Times article entitled "High Viet VD Rate Revealed"says, "The venereal disease rate among American servicemen in Vietnam is 10 times as high as the stateside rate, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Earle Wheeler told Congress recently." He added, "It must be admitted that VD prevention campaigns within the services are not eminently successful."
What kind of numbers are we talking about? A "State of the Command" fact sheet dated 29 April 1972 shows that in the 1st Cavalry Division, the sickness rate per 1000 troops was 26.7 malaria, 17.8 viral hepatitis, 5.4 diarrheal diseases, 10.2 skin diseases and 226.3 venereal diseases. It was a problem! A 13th Air Force report entitled, "Venereal Disease Rate" dated 27 Oct. 64 complains about the great number of VD cases, and the Unit History of 3rd Tactical dispensary dated 10 January 1966 mentions the Air Force rate at 541 cases per 1000. A former Marine checking his battalion records brags that his battalion had just 4 cases per 1000 in the same time period. Of course, the Air Force had the ability to visit nearby villages while the Marines probably spent most of their time in the field.
We should mention that the real rates were probably somewhat higher. Many troops went into the local village to be treated, hoping to avoid company punishment. The problem was that the local native "doctor" often injected the patient with condensed milk or some other solution instead of the promised penicillin. There are no statistics to tell what ultimate damage was caused by this attempt to circumvent the medical regulations.
I enjoy hearing VD anecdotes and I have heard a lot of them. This one may be the best I ever heard. Medics treat friend and foe alike:
I was a medic in a Civil Affairs Unit in Vietnam. I had a foot locker that I kept close my entire tour. Word spread I stocked antibiotics in the footlocker, and I soon found myself sought after as the last resort for those caught in the grip of an unfortunate social disease but wishing to avoid official medical channels.
In December 1969, we were in Ban Me Thuot and I worked in the Rhade native villages. I'd setup with my footlocker and interpreter near our truck where the Rhade passed while the rest of the team tried to find locals in need of free medical attention.
One afternoon with the rest of the CA team nowhere to be seen, five young men approached. The men were unarmed, dressed in fresh, completely-unadorned drabs, and wearing boonie hats. I couldn't quite put my finger on their ethnicity, but my interpreter turned green at the gills. They hailed us in Vietnamese, my interpreter answered, and eventually, I understood the reason for their visit. The entire group had Gonorrhea (the Clap) and needed antibiotics.
I gave them my lecture about the dangers of self-medication and advised they see a doctor. The group was not impressed and repeated their request. My interpreter was now ashen. I looked up the treatment for Gonorrhea in the Merck Manual. I gave each of them several tablets of oral penicillin with a stern warning and my repeated lecture on the hazards of self-medication.
The group turned friendly after they gulped down their tablets. One climbed a nearby tree to fetch a hand of green bananas. All gifted me with some fruit, and behaved like we were best buddies. After they left, my interpreter informed me the group was North Vietnamese soldiers and no friends of ours. The moral I suspect, is that when you have the Clap, you will take relief wherever you find it.
The Armed Forces Vietnam Network helped with various anti-VD public announcements. One asked:
Question How is your VD lately?
No, were not speaking about your vicious dog or your vitamin deficiency.
Were talking about a very personal problem.
The man to see is the medic.
[The sounds of happy birds chirping].
Once you see him your world will once again be a very happy place.
[Music and more birds chirping].
Another announcement had a female group singing a song called Clap Clap in the background while the announcer asked:
Well, whats this?
Do you have to hang on to the pipes when you pee?
If you do, I think it is about time you saw the doctor.
The Island of the Black Syph
A Vietnam Get out of Jail certificate
This certifies that you are clean of VD and free to go home, no island for you
One of the most interesting Vietnam rumors having to do with venereal disease was that of the mysterious island where service members with the dreaded and incurable "black syph" were sent to spend their last days in exile. Most of the young men who were sent to Vietnam heard the story at one time or another. Everyone knew someone who had a friend who had heard from a buddy that there was this deadly incurable strain of syphilis. They whispered that rather than send a soldier home with this disease which would demoralize his family and the American public if the truth be known, the infected individual would be sent to this secret island where he would spend his last days in pain and dementia until he died. I did not realize how prevalent this rumor was until I checked "Google Groups Deja Vu" and found that there were no less than 467 posts on the subject of "black syph." I am sure that if I worded the query differently many more posts would show up.
As late as May 2010 there were still true believers. One former warrant officer thought I was part of a cover-up and told me:
I served in
Okinawa1965 to 1967. There was an official messages posted on the Company Bulletin Board about Black Syphilis being brought from South Vietnam by Soldiers on R&R to Okinawa. It was a health warning.
During my last 10 years, I served with a Warrant Officer who started his career as a medic in
. We were talking about soldiers missing in action and I asked him if he ever heard the rumor of the Soldiers sent to the South Vietnam . He startled me by telling me that he was first party to the evacuation of these terminally ill soldiers as he served as a medic on the Helicopters that were moving these soldiers from mainland Black Syph Island South Vietnamto the Island. I believe him and have known him over many years. He had no reason to lie to me and it was a private conversation. I really think that the story you are publishing is a cover for the truth on what happen to these vets.
A trooper assigned to Okinawa in peacetime told me:
I went in a couple of years after the war was over but when I went to Okinawa I heard all these stories about the black VD that if you got you couldn't go home. Said it was the same stuff they had in Nam.
Another veteran added:
We heard the same rumor when I was stationed in Korea in the early '90s. Evidently there was some island where you had to stay because there was no cure for the black VD.
The Island was supposed to be somewhere off Japan and any one that had the Black Syph was sent there as there was no cure and supposedly a letter was sent home that you were missing in action. That is how the story went in my unit.
In August 2010 I received a copy of Sergeant William J. Kazlauskys self-publish book Vietnam Unclassified. In the section entitled Con Son (Devils) Island I found the following comment:
I cant confirm this but some military scuttlebutt going around did mention an island that soldiers would be sent to if they had contracted untreatable V.D. and other forms of disease. Perhaps a scare tactic for the troops to keep their trousers buttoned up.
One veteran told me about the lecture, movie and threat of isolation and death that he received in the military:
A very polished Medical Service Corps Major walked in from the front of the class room. He began to speak in a mechanical monotone. He was on automatic pilot. I began to snooze off when he said, Pay attention to this short film. He left the podium as the 16 mm projector cracked to life. Now I have seen some gross stuff in my life but this was mind blowing.
In the film several naked men were paraded down a walkway toward the camera. Each one was inflicted with a specific venereal disease. Their genitals were dripping pus and tissue was falling off. Each case was worse than the one before it.
The last one was a young man covered with sores. His penis was swollen the size of a cantaloupe. The doctor in the film inserted a shiny pencil size devise into his dick. Here was a pause and he flicked his wrist. A four bladed surgical fin that opened like a flower opened inside his dick. Then the Doctor began to pull the tool. He tore open all the pus-filled blisters inside the penis and blood and pus poured out. The projector cracked and popped as the film ran out.
The Major stood up and said: By the way, we cannot cure this disease. If you get it you will be sent to Tokyo and put in a quarantined facility until we find a cure. Or, you will die.
I dont know if it was the alleged saltpeter in the food, the truly repulsive local women or the film that affected my libido, but I suddenly had no desire for a booty call.
I should add this this is the only soldier I ever heard say that the Military sent people with the disease to Tokyo instead of some barren isolated island. Tokyo doesn't seem half bad.
Most likely, the "black syph" story was invented and promoted by the U.S. military to terrify their young troops, lessen the fraternization with local women, and ultimately lower the rate of VD among the men. From some conversations with Vietnam veterans I get the impression that the rumor sometimes worked. There were islands off the coast of the Republic of Vietnam from where American and Vietnamese clandestine forces originated black operations against North Vietnam. It is possible that the concept of a secret island came from rumors of these operations.
One former PYSOP lieutenant told me, "In 1968, the special camp for incurable syphilis was common knowledge in 10th PSYOP Battalion. We also regarded it for what it was, BS. No one believed it but the fear factor was extremely motivating."
A former Marine told me:
In our area there were discussions about treatment resistant syphilis, commonly called the black syph. The infected troops were believed by medical personnel to be housed in the Subic Bay Hospital Isolation Ward. There was one case making the rounds of a kid who managed to catch TB and syphilis at the same time. But as others have said the typical marine didn't have much opportunity until R & R to get a dose of anything. In Dong ha supposedly the manicurist for a fee would do you in the bunker inside the barber shop.
Coast Guard veteran Charlie Spivey was assigned to the cutter USCGC Half Moon (Task Force 115 Squadron 3) as a Fireman. He heard about the Island of the Black Syph in Vietnam:
That thing about the Black Syph was everywhere. One story went that if you got it, there was no cure, and you were sent away and a letter sent home that you were MIA or some such thing. Most of us figured it was just something they put out as a preventative thing to keep from working the Doc to death with a lot of cases of STDs.
Retired Master Sergeant Gregory H. Murry mentions the same old wives tale in his book Content with my Wages A Sergeants Story - Vietnam; No End to Publishing Co., Austin, Texas, 2013. He tells us about an ass-chewing by his Colonel to the entire Company:
He reminded us that some forms of VD in Vietnam couldnt be cured, and if we got one, we would be sent to an island in the Philippines where we would be kept until we died. The girls who have not been checked by the medics are working for the Viet Cong. Theyre not VC agents, they are VD agents.
There was even a 2015 novel entitled Wassermann Gardens by Milo Samardzija that was based on the imaginary island. The title is interesting because as an old medic I remember doing the Wassermann reaction as an antibody test for syphilis. That was a clever use of the name of the old VD test in the title. The author identifies the residents:
Most of the living islanders were from the Vietnam era. All of the World War Two guys had died off years earlier and the few Korean War vets still clinging to life were on their last legs, blind, crazed, rotting within.
It is worth noting that although the "Island of the Black Syph" appears to be a Vietnam creation, older soldiers have stated that similar stories were told in earlier wars. Some WWII troops believed that there was a secret island off the coast of Greenland where horribly burnt and disfigured American soldiers were sent so as not to destroy the morale of their families at home. During the Korean War, some soldiers were told of an island off the coast of South Korea where men with incurable venereal diseases were sent to die. This rumor, or a reasonable facsimile, seems to have been circulating for at least 60 years.
Private Bill Lupton of the 27th Infantry Regiment Wolfhounds talks about his personal introduction to the island in a narration entitled February 1966. First Sergeant Letoto addresses the men after one soldier is killed while on a forbidden trip into Cu Chi for sex with a local prostitute:
You men need to use some common sense in dealing with these boom boom girls.Not only are they treacherous but they carry venereal disease, There is another pause. Now I know all of you men want to go back to your families safe and sound, and nobody wants to end up on the
where they keep men who have venereal disease that will not respond to penicillin.They are not allowed to go back to the States until their syphilis is cured. He is persuasive, and none of us knows that the infamous South Seas Island he talks about is simply a made-up fairy tale. The Army inculcates this yarn to every generation of soldier who ever served in the Army in every prior war. This strange island is sited somewhere in the world but nobody can tell you exactly where and there lives a colony of soldiers with the incurable Black Syph. Nobody ever gets off this island, and you sure as hell do not want to go there yourself. Because of this, the Colonel is restricting everybody to the battalion area. You are only allowed off base when we tell you that you can go." South Seas Island
Marine Lance Corporal Gavin Love says:
I was stationed in Vietnam from February 1968 to March 1969. I was with 7th Communication Battalion on Hill 34 south of Da Nang. I am not sure if it was a Company policy to tell us about the black syph or if our Gunny just wanted to us to stay out of "Dog Patch." My theory is that the Gunny wasnt "getting any" and did his best to deter us from partaking of the young ladies, sort of a "misery loves company" scenario. We were warned about the black syph, also known as "Hong Kong Dong." Once it was diagnosed they sent you to Guam, where, while you laid there with your dick turning black waiting to die, you could decide if you wanted your family to be told you were killed in action or were missing in action.
Another Vietnam Marine veteran adds:
I too was told the story of contracting the "Black Syph" and the consequences. Man, it was a scary thing to tell an 18 year old. We heard many stories of what hell it was from Drill instructors...and we believed that they always told the truth.
An Army veteran who was in Vietnam in 1968 heard the story a bit differently. It was gonorrhea, not syphilis:
I heard stories about the Black Clap in 1968, and if you got it you were sent to an island off the coast till you died or a cure was found.
Another Vietnam veteran told me:
I remember that, but the story I heard was that there was a special medical ship that was 10 miles off the coast of Vietnam that never went home!
Another veteran agreed:
When I was in the Marine Corps in the late 80's in Okinawa......even I heard the black clap myth.
Another trooper recalled:
I remember hearing that same story, but it was in the 1980's and the disease was supposedly caught in Korea.
A former cavalry man said:
I heard the story of the secret island in 1966 when I was stationed in
. I heard the same story in 1968 when I was in South Korea . They told us in glorious detail also about the bullheaded clap. This is where your dick swelled up and the medics took an umbrella needle and ran it up your crank and opened it and then ripped the puss and stuff out of your dick when they withdrew the expanded umbrella needle. I only heard that story in Vietnam . South Korea
combat Marine told me: Vietnam
When I was asked if I had killed anyone in
VietnamI would say no, I was detailed to take people to the secret Islandif they caught the black syph, and don't have a clue what happened to them after that. I can say that to this day in a pub and have many believe me. I have had people ask me how could I do that and I would say, "Put it this way...would you want your sister to marry someone with that shit?" Enough said!
Other troops told me:
Yes, this story went around in the 60s in the Republic of Vietnam. I heard it many times.
I heard it in mid-1970. I didn't believe it, but I didn't volunteer for the Western Pacific either.
It is interesting to note that there are still people who believe the story of this secret island today. In March 2008 I received a letter from a member of a group that was discussing a recent church sermon about the
Islandof the Black Syph.
My question for you is over something that was preached in a very large and influential church. The minister mentioned that the reason some of the
troops could not come home is because the Government left them there. He said: Vietnam
I will tell you why some of the MIAs didnt come back from Vietnam, because the venereal disease they had was so terribly, terribly addictive and it could spread so fast we couldnt let them come back. And those of you in
know that. Vietnam
Those little Cambodian and Thai whores soiled our American name of honor and somehow we have done a terrible thing. We kind of pooh-poohed that. We kinda said, well, boys will be boys.
Some church members have defended him because they heard about this from relatives who served in the military. A rumor like this, spread among a large group of people, can turn a falsehood into accepted fact.
When I asked a former
U.S.Army intelligence office who served in and still has excellent ties with that country about this old myth, he told me: Vietnam
With tourists swarming all over
Indochina, it would be impossible to hide anyone. They cant keep the tourists and backpackers out of the restricted areas. The authorities have often stopped even trying to keep them out. They try to prohibit them not because of hidden VD patients, but because of old explosives that are buried in the ground or hidden in the undergrowth. They cannot convince some people there are dangers.
Notice that the round bacteria (cocci) are seen in many cases to be a connected pair. Back in the 50s when I was a medic this was the way we identified gonorrhea. I would write on the medical record: Gram-negative intracellular diplococci.
The funny part about this story (if VD can ever be funny) is that the military went to great pains to make up a convincing story about a superbug that could not be treated by antibiotics. That seemed like an impossibility, but many decades later it seems to have come to pass. In 2018, it was reported that a British man was infected with a superbug after a sexual encounter with a woman in South East Asia. The main antibiotic treatment - a combination of azithromycin and ceftriaxone - has failed to treat the disease. The fear is the bug could eventually become untreatable by any antibiotic. So, if this had occurred in Vietnam in 1965 one wonders if this poor soul would have been sent to a secret island to protect his wife and family.
As for the idea that the girls are some kind of evil filthy creatures, the minister needs to learn about other cultures. In many Asian cultures those families that are poor and starving will contract a daughter for a specific number of years to a Mamasan. The daughter makes this sacrifice to help feed her parents and siblings. At the end of her contract she will return home and marry a local man who hopefully appreciates the sacrifice she has made for her family. This is not to justify the custom of prostitution, but Americans need to understand that in the really poor areas of the world it is often a culturally accepted manner in which to help support a family.
Toilet seat coaster
The anti-VD coaster above was handed out to Military Policeman SP4 Don J. Sinclair of the 716th MPs in
Saigonsometimes in 1972 by a medic of the 218th Medical Dispensary as he did his short-arm inspection. The magic phrase for those who never heard it is, Drop it out and milk it down.
Just to prove once again that what comes around goes around, in 2012 I heard from an Army medical doctor in Afghanistan who said:
I am giving a talk to our medics about venereal disease and would like permission to use the picture of the toilet seat coaster. The younger enlisted have never heard of the short arm inspection.
VD - Hello boy friend, coming MY way?
A colorful 1943 VD poster produced in Great Britain by Reginald Mount depicts a female with the face of a skull in bright pink bonnet. The text is "VD - Hello boy friend, coming MY way? The 'easy' girl friend spreads Syphilis and Gonorrhea, which unless properly treated may result in blindness, insanity, paralysis, premature death. If you have run the risk, get skilled treatment at once. Treatment is free and confidential."
In the U.S. Army, treatment was free, but it wasn't always confidential. In some units it was an Article 15 (company punishment) offense and in others a court martial offense. While a combat soldier might not fear the repercussions, often military police and cooks did. The MPs might lose a stripe and the cooks were forbidden to handle food, which could mean two weeks of the dirtiest menial tasks (ask an old soldier about "the grease pit") until all traces of the disease was gone. I once had one of my cooks beg me not to report him because he was coming up for promotion. I agreed and told him I wanted him to be very careful, wash his hands regularly, and whatever he did dont serve any food to me.
Costello talks about punishment:
The indignity of being processed through one of these American VD treatment centers was vividly described by army veteran John H. Burns. The infected GI, he reported, had to put on special fatigues:
On the back of the jacket and on the trouser leg were painted these large and smelly letters: V D.... Finally it came his turn at the end of the file to enter the dispensary. Inside the screen door the line forked into two prongs and was being funneled past two GIs, each with a hypodermic in his hand. Along the walls of the room were electric iceboxes. And many little glass ampoules of an amber liquid. Ahead of him were men with either arm bared or with their buttocks offered like steak to the needle. 'They give ya a choice on where ya want ya shot,' the blond boy said. 'If ya take it in the ass, they'll use a longer needle ta get through the fat. My advice is ta take ya shots round the clock. Then none of ya four parts gets too sore. Ya'll be hurtin anyhow.' Then... he felt already the stinging in his other shoulder. All his life telescoped down to three-hour periods and a hypodermic needle and yellow drops dribbling out of it. What was it called? Pncilin? Penissiclin? Pencillin?
The soldier above was actually pretty lucky to have antibiotics. When I was a kid all we had was sulfa. If you got strep throat or some other infection you took the sulfa and were warned to wash it down with a lot of ginger ale. The antibiotics like penicillin came in with WWII and were a great boon to mankind in general. In the bad old days one of the treatments was mercury, and that is a poison itself.
The poster was produced for the Ministry of Health promoting the first national campaign about venereal diseases. It was aimed at warning service men against the health risks of promiscuous sexual behavior. Women at the time were finding themselves in contrasting situations of sometimes-unprecedented liberty and discipline, often combined with sexual ignorance. Having to stay faithful while the men were away fighting, in charge of the household for the first time, freed from the presence of a male in their family household for perhaps the first time. There was limited information available to them on bodily functions, sex or birth control.
A Sorry Ending to a Furlough
In 1946 as the war ended and hundreds of thousands of troops were still overseas, the military tried again to keep them safe from disease. An artist by the name of Ferree painted a poster that depicted a sad GI sitting on his cot. The text is, "VD- a sorry ending to a Furlough. Prophylaxis prevents venereal disease!"
You Kept Fit and Defeated the Hun
Of course VD did not originate as a military problem in WWII. In WWI there were numerous campaigns aimed at slowing the spread of this debilitating disease that can stop an army in its tracks. One colorful poster depicts a smiling doughboy with an American eagle on his shoulder standing on the helmets of defeated Germans. The text is:
You kept fit and defeated the Hun.
Now set a high standard.
A clean America!
Stamp out venereal diseases.
Weve Fought in the Open
H. Dewitt Welsh created this WWI poster and it was published by the H. C. Miner
Lithograph Company of
Weve fought in the openbubonic plague, yellow fever, tuberculosis.
Now Venereal Disease
Colonel Care Says:
There were also numerous booklets and pamphlets issued for the troops in WWI explaining the danger and even claiming that venereal disease was unpatriotic and unmanly for the Doughboy. The pamphlet above contains dozens of short comments all aimed at keeping American soldiers away from loose women. I must say that I do love these comments. Some examples:
How could you look the flag in the face if you were dirty with gonorrhea?
Many a painted face camouflages syphilated blood.
Only a poor boob pays his money, loses his watch, gets the syph, and brags that hes had a good time
Which shall it be: to the mat with the Hun or to bed with a chippie?
You wouldnt use another fellows toothbrush, Why use his whore?
Keeping Fit to Fight
The second booklet is more technical and actually attempts to teach the soldier the perils of the diseases without any flashy talk or slang. This booklet is several pages and some of the comments are:
A soldier in the hospital with VD is a slacker. He keeps equipment idle. He leaves a break in the line. If you go with a prostitute, you endanger your country because you risk your health, and perhaps even your life. You are a moral shirker.
Women who solicit soldiers for immoral purposes are usually disease spreaders and friends of the enemy.
If any soldier in a moment of weakness fails to keep out of the way of temptation and falls for a loose girl or a prostitute, he must take the early prophylactic treatment within a few hours If he fails to take this treatment and later develops a venereal disease, he will be court marshaled for disobeying General Order No. 17 of 1912.
Soldier, the country counts on you
VD was also a problem among the French. In 1916, Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen printed a poster for French soldiers fighting in WWI. The title was "Soldat, La Patrie Compte Sur Toi." The poster depicted a woman and man embracing, followed by the physically debilitated soldier on his hospital bed. A skull and crossed bones appear at the bottom of the poster. Due to prevailing taboos, no mention of syphilis or gonorrhea is made, but the words on the tombstone make a connection between morality and patriotism. The message reads:
Soldier, the country counts on you - keep healthy. Resist the temptation of the street where a sickness as dangerous as the war awaits you It carries its victims to decay and death, without honor, without happiness. . .
Disease is disguised - Don't gamble with VD!
Poster image courtesy of Miscman.com
This poster was apparently produced in 1946 when the
I like this poster because the girls are attractive and almost coy; not trampy at all. And, a Colt 1911 .45 automatic pistol is shown at the top. That is the personal weapon I carried for many years and still possess. Notice that the pistol is cocked and ready for firing. You can read a few puns into that picture.
Going home? Don't be delayed by VD
Poster image courtesy of Miscman.com
This 1946 poster shows a
Poster image courtesy of Miscman.com
In one of the most attractive and poignant 1946 posters an American occupation soldier
(probably airborne by his bloused boots) stands at the dock and watches a troopship taking
his buddies home to the U.S.A. He is held back by a ghostly hand marked "V D."
The text is "ALMOST!" The artist is Schiffers. I should note that it was not an
easy task to tell a man who had not been home for several years that he was
"red-lined." There were several cases of doctors or medics being threatened, and
I personally heard of one case where a G.I. pulled a knife on a First Sergeant after being
told that he was held over in
Poster image courtesy of Miscman.com
This 1946 poster depicts an American soldier running from a lightning storm. High in the clouds are the ominous letters "VD." The text is "TAKE CARE." The artist is Schiffers.
The U.S. Government and its agencies prepared dozens of posters during WWII in an attempt to keep servicemen free of VD. The following posters were aimed at specific services and show that they were each considered vulnerable and addressed.
Buddy its great to know your safe!
The Army is the oldest service, created 14 June 1775. This leaflet shows a happy soldier about to go into town. He has stopped by the dispensary and picked up prophylactics to make his evenings sex safe.
Live up to it soldier
This poster shows a young boy looking up to a soldier who is obviously his hero and telling him to face his responsibility because he is stronger than the various venereal diseases. In some units such a disease would lead to a loss of rank and punishment so often the men would try to ignore it. Allowing the disease to get stronger in the body would mean more eventual sick time and a longer loss of the soldier to the military. It was important to get them treated and back at work.
VD Can be Cured
The Navys Birthday is 13 October 1775. The image shows a rather regretful sailor. We assume he is going home and will have some explaining to do to his wife. Or, perhaps he faces a Captains Mast and a loss of rank and privileges due to his venereal disease.
Both of these Men had Syphilis
The Marine Corps Birthday is 10 November 1775. This poster shows a healthy Marine in his dress blues and explains that he took his drugs when diagnosed, and below an crippled man in civilian clothes who did not take his drugs.
I have not seen any Air Force posters, but during WWII they were not a separate service and were in fact the Army Air Force.
She may look Clean But
In this poster we see a mix of Army, Navy and a civilian together. In a way, civilians were part of the war effort because they built the weapons and kept the economy moving. So this poster warns all three of the dangers of having sex with a prostitute. It can hurt the war effort.
I like this poster a lot. Almost all of the artwork we see warns the soldiers to stay away from loose women. Here, the argument is reversed and they go right to the root of the problem and warn the women to stay away from these over-sexed, over-paid, and over-here horny American GIs landing in Great Britain in 1944 in preparation for D-Day.
1974 Rhodesian leaflet
The threat of the Communist terrorists spreading venereal disease was used by the
separatist Government of Ian Smith in the breakaway colony of
This 1974 leaflet depicts an African woman crying in front of a medical clinic. She has been dishonored and told that she has a venereal disease. Some of the text is:
The communist terrorists bring nothing but sickness and death to the people
See the woman crying. She has just learned that the communist terrorists have infected her with V.D. The mad dog communist terrorists of ZANU/ZANLA have infected many women in
with this terrible sickness. The children of such women will be born blind of crippled Rhodesia
A second 1974 leaflet also mentions V.D. and depicts Communist terrorists about to rape an African woman while her child looks on and cries. Some of the text is:
Terror and death is the way of the communist terrorists in
See the communist terrorists about to rape the young woman. The child is crying because he knows from his mothers screams that she is being hurt. The communist terrorists will probably leave the woman with V.D. which they caught in
communist training camps Mozambique
Lieutenant Joseph Smith with Platoon Sergeant Major Wilson
There was VD in
Private Dube told me one morning; Ishe (Boss), Ive got VD! Its 0400 and I am furious. Our 10 day R & R is just over and this is the first patrol of our six week deployment. Why didnt you say something to the medic back at the base? Private Dube has no answer. We are about to deploy into a hot Tribal Trust Land and I suspect Private Dube just wants an extension on his R & R.
Maj. Lionel Dyck, C. Coy Commander, hears everything and orders the medic rousted from his cot. Medic, give Lt. Smith five ampoules of penicillin and five syringes. (He turns to me) Lt. Smith I want you to give Pvt. Dube a shot every morning until the medicine is gone. Major Dyke is angrier than I am. He cant let Private Dube get away with this!
We launch the patrol and the next morning at 5 am I am awakened by the sight of Pvt. Dubes naked right buttock. Im ready for my shot Ishe. It is a nippy winter morning and I fumble for the cold ampoule and warm it by rolling it between my palms before sucking out the thick white serum with the syringe. I jab him in the upper thigh but notice the milky white serum trickling down Dubes black leg. Whoops! My first shot ever! Might be Dubes first too. Not a good beginning for either of us.
Next morning the shot routine is a re-run of the first. The white penicillin runs down Dube's rump to his ankle. Im not getting the thick penicillin warm enough. Its not getting it into Dubes rump! Im ever hopeful my technique will improve by the third shot.
Meanwhile the patrol is uneventful. No sign of communist terrorists and while crossing a wide open area I move everyone into an on-line formation. To my left I hear a thud and see a small puff of dust. One of my guys has fallen flat on his face in the open with no cover and no concealment and he is muttering up a storm. I get everyone down and send my brainy African Platoon Sergeant, Sgt. Maj. Wilson over to investigate my fallen soldier who is still muttering something into the sand.
A giggling Sgt. Wilson returns and reports that Private Dube is the fallen soldier. Why the hell are you laughing and what is Pvt. Dube muttering about? I demand
You dont want to know sir says Sgt. Wilson who is still giggling like a school girl but now has small tears in his eyes. Something is just too funny for words! I insist I want to know and he again insists I dont. Finally I pull rank and demand the truth.
Private Dube says youre a shit doctor sir! Sgt.Wilson blurts it out but has to look away he is laughing so hard. I organize a small patrol to escort a still muttering Pvt. Dube back to base camp. Luckily I have injected no-one since.
I can feel Lieutenant Smiths pain (and Dubes too). The military has a terrible way of assuming that every member is proficient in numerous skills, often leading to problems for everyone involved. When I was in one organization the Army decided that it wanted close to 400 people checked for cholesterol. Someone noted on my 201 file that I had once been a medic (although a good 20 years earlier). When I protested that I had not drawn blood in years I was told You still have a 91B MOS in your 201 file and it is just like riding a bike, it will all come back to you. I was called into the commanders office, told to pick a team and that I was now the NCOIC of the cholesterol control group. We managed somehow to get through bleeding 400 people without killing anyone, but it was a close thing.
Venereal disease has been mentioned in several PSYOP campaigns. It sometimes appears in white propaganda as a way to keep an Army healthy and moving forward. It is more valuable as black propaganda where it is used in several ways. Sometimes, one combatant tries to convince an occupied people that their invaders consider their women immoral and infected. At other times, one combatant will try to convince and enemy that their ally looks down upon their women. This was especially true in the Philippines during WWII where the Japanese implied on several occasions that the Americans saw the Filipino women as whores to be used and discarded. In other cases one combatant will try to destroy the morale of the enemy armed force while they fight at the front by stating that their wives and girlfriends are having illicit sex and being infected at home.
Guard Against Venereal Diseases
This Japanese black propaganda leaflet dropped during their advance in the Philippines alleges to be from the United States Army and warns American soldiers that Filipino women were unclean:
Guard Against Venereal Diseases
Lately there has been a great increase in the number of venereal diseases among our officers and men owing to prolific contacts with Filipino women of dubious character.
Due to hard times and stricken conditions brought about by the Japanese occupation of the islands, Filipino women are willing to offer themselves for a small amount of foodstuffs. It is advisable in such cases to take full protective measures by use of condoms, protective medicines, etc.; better still to hold intercourse only with wives, virgins, or women of respective character.
Furthermore, in view of the increase in pro-American leanings, many Filipino women are more than willing to offer themselves to American soldiers, and due to the fact that Filipinos have no knowledge of hygiene, disease carriers are rampant and due care must be taken.
You Can't Talk V.D. Out of Existence
The German dropped a similar black leaflet on Allied troops on the Western Front during WWII.
Military authorities demanded a nationwide war on vice.
They got a sham battle - a polite blood testing campaign which would not alarm ladies-aid societies and parent-teacher associations.
Nevertheless, police raided a large number of cabarets, dance halls and joints in 21 small, medium, and large cities.
These raids showed that of the 20,000 women investigated a staggering proportion had venereal diseases.
Over 80% had V.D.
21% were prostitutes.
Of the 79% non-professionals
61% were pickups,
18% were girl friends.
17% were girls under 20 years.
84% were wives of men serving in the armed forces abroad.
Both groups were mostly members of the growing band of "V" girls who declare that they feel a patriotic compulsion to console troops.
Is YOUR girl among them?
You can't talk V.D. out of existence - it is there!
The British produced several black leaflets that mentioned VD. One coded H.336 and entitled Merkblatt - Deutsche Nachrichtenhelferin! has the following text:
German Womens Signals Auxiliaries!
Notice regarding Prevention of Venereal Disease.
German Womens Signals Auxiliaries:
Avoid sexual dalliances! They reduce your capabilities and do not help your health.
An Auxiliary with venereal disease cannot do her job; and a self-inflicted inability to serve is unworthy of an Armed Forces Auxiliary. The Fatherland expects of you not only your complete ability to do your job; it also wants you to some day become the mother of healthy children.
Avoid the use of alcohol, it weakens your strength of will and can lead you astray!
Avoid contact with casual acquaintances, especially in the occupied territories. They almost always have venereal disease!
If you have, in an unguarded moment, been tempted into extra-marital sexual intercourse, do not irresponsibly disregard the regulations on disinfection.
If the disinfection process is done as soon as possible after sexual intercourse, it prevents venereal disease.
If done too late, it is worthless.
Pay attention to your commander and follow the orders which have been issued on prevention of venereal disease. Take to heart the health instructions and warnings of your unit doctor!
Never conceal your disease and under no circumstances try to treat yourself! Do not pay attention to the whisperings and advice of the layman. Any treatment of venereal disease by a layman is legally forbidden. Inappropriate or inadequate treatment can often have a high price in irremediable results for you and your future family.
If you notice indications on your body which look suspicious or disease-like, report immediately to your unit doctor.
Any venereal disease is treatable if it is taken care of promptly and professionally. So do not hesitate when you are sick, instead rely on your unit doctor; he will make sure your get healthy again.
Published by the High Command of the Armed Forces
Notice how this leaflet implies that citizens other than German are infected, and also hints that the wife or sweetheart of the soldier might have a "dalliance" while he is away. This certainly did not help the morale of the German soldier or the citizen of a foreign country either allied to Germany or sending workers into the Reich.
A second British black propaganda 4-page booklet coded H.359 and entitled Deutsches madel! Vorsicht (German Girl! Caution ) attacks the foreign worker (who sometimes volunteered to work in Germany to help the war effort) as a diseased individual. The text is:
Be careful in your selection of men friends. Avoid associating with Foreign Workers!
LANZ Armorer of the German Farmer.
A candid word
A candid word has become necessary. Like every war, even this one that has been forced upon us has brought about a large increase in venereal disease. The desolate conditions in the occupied territories, which make a mockery of any real health care, have become the most dangerous reason for the increase in venereal disease among the soldiers, and threaten to become a similarly great danger for the homeland, unless you carefully obey the instructions which have been given regarding your conduct with foreign workers.
The Reich Health Administration has however become aware that these regulations are ever more frequently being grossly neglected. Contrary to the existing prohibitions and despite the shameful punishments prescribed by them, relationships with foreign workers continue to be formed.
The reports that the Reich Health Administration has regarding the state of health of the employees in the war industries provide absolute proof of this. The level of venereal disease among factory employees has tripled in the past two years. Here is just one example. In a factory in an average-sized city in the Rhineland, which has a large population of foreign workers, a medical examination of the employees in the summer of 1940 found that, among 2,000 factory workers:
4.2% were diagnosed as having venereal disease,
2.9% of them having gonorrhea, and
1.3% of them having syphilis.
A repeat examination of the same factory two years later, with the same number of employees, showed:
13.5% of them had venereal disease,
9.7% of them having gonorrhea, and
3.8% of them having syphilis.
In some cases, the rate of increase in venereal disease among female employees exceeded that of the men. The youngest females represented the largest proportion of these. Many of these were irresponsible enough to avoid medical treatment out of fear of punishment. Before the Reich Health Administration takes further measures against these dangers to our national health, it wishes to bring the current regulations to the heightened attention of female factory workers.
If any have had intercourse with foreign workers, it should be brought to the attention of the factory doctor immediately. Anyone who can provide the full name of the foreign worker with whom intercourse took place can avoid punishment, even if any infection had previously occurred. Only the foreign workers will be held responsible.
If these renewed warnings prove ineffective, compulsory enforcement through regular health inspections is planned. Further directives will be issued shortly.
Venereal disease is an enemy of Germanys future!
Avoid use of alcohol, it weakens the strength of will and can lead you astray!
Avoid casual acquaintanceships. They almost always have venereal disease!
If you, in a careless moment, have been lead into extramarital sexual intercourse, do not irresponsibly avoid medical care!
Never conceal your disease, and by no means try to treat yourself!
If you notice signs on your body that look suspicious or disease-like to you, report to the factory doctor immediately!
Any venereal disease can be healed, if it is treated promptly and professionally!
Reprint of a pamphlet of the DAF Office of Health and Public Safety, published by Social Welfare Office of the Heinrich Lanz Co., Mannheim, Lindenhofstrasse 55-57.
Printer: Fuhrerverlag, GmbH, Karlsruhe/B, Lammstrasse 1b.
I owe a special thanks to Lee Richards, www.psywar.org, for supplying information about the above two black items from his forthcoming book Black Propaganda. Translations courtesy of William S. Robinson.
The Rumor Campaign
Besides leaflets, in an attempt to raise the morale of occupied Europe and lower the morale of the German military, civilians and their allies, the secret British Underground Propaganda Committee produced well over eight thousand rumors, (they called them Sibs from the Latin sibalare to hiss). Researcher Lee Richards mentions the whisper campaign and many of these rumors in his book Whispers of War, Psywar.org, 2010. In regard to British propaganda rumors about sexual activity within the Third Reich and its occupied territories he lists dozens of moral-destroying rumors. I have selected a few of the more interesting ones:
4 July 1941 German officers know the address of all the prostitutes in Amsterdam that have VD. They use them to get medical leave. It is called krank durch Freude, (Illness through joy).
19 September 1941 The girls in the Brest brothels have infected so many U-Boat crews with VD that it is now called Malady V.
5 May 1942 Of 50 Spanish workers who just returned from Germany, 37 have venereal disease.
February 1943 - All women factory workers in Germany are to have a weekly VD inspection, carried out by medical students.
11 June 1943 The Germans have reduced the punishment for U-Boat crew members catching VD from a court martial to three days confinement.
4 August 1944 In order to slow the spread of VD in the German Army, boys under 16 have been forbidden to enter brothels.
Soviet leaflet 1857
Courtesy of Klaus Kirchner firstname.lastname@example.org
Kirchner's leaflet website is www.propaganda-leaflets.com
The leaflets prepared by the Soviet Union for Germany were often insulting, occasionally sexual in nature, usually long winded, and sometimes contained a safe conduct pass. Soviet leaflet 1857 contains all of these attributes. This Russian leaflet is aimed at destroying the morale of the German soldier by informing him that while he is at the front Hitler replaces them by foreigners who are taking their jobs, their land and their women. The leaflet is entitled Auslaender nehmen Deinen Platz ein! "Foreigners are taking your place." The first paragraph mentions the various nationalities that have been sent to Germany to work on the farms and in the factories; French, Italians, Slovaks, Dutch, and more. Two pictures are depicted on the front, a soldier holding his rifle at the top of the leaflet with the caption "While he squats in the bunker," and a female in the arms of another man at the bottom with the text, "his wife amuses herself with a foreigner." There is a photograph of her husband in uniform on the wall behind them. This was a common image on many Russian leaflets. The back is all text. Two letters are depicted from lonely German wives to their husbands at the front. The letters are designed to intensify the feeling of uneasiness among the German soldiers. One says that the foreigner plows his field now that he is away at the front. It says that foreigners sleep in the beds of German women, and many of them are the wives of soldiers. The second letter says that Berlin is now so international that the German language is hardly ever spoken or written. On the reverse, the leaflet tells in no uncertain terms, "Yes soldier, you should know: there are women who like to get involved with foreigners. You should also know: People who are gathered from all parts of the world will infect German women with venereal diseases of every kind. Family life will break up should you, soldier, ever come home, you might be received by your wife with a black curly-headed Italian half-breed in her arms, and it will be your joy to raise this illegitimate child " The leaflet offers hope. After the appeal "German soldier! Must this be? No! Your place is at home Dont take the war any longer! Your family is waiting for you!" The message encourages the German soldier to leave the war. Hitler is blamed for everything. He has forced the German people into the war and taken everything that makes life worthwhile. The leaflet ends with "No longer take part in the war! Your family waits for you!" There is a passierschein safe conduct pass in German and Russian at the bottom of the leaflet.
The entire concept of producing posters and leaflets of the subject of sexually transmitted diseases is one that must be approached with great care. There was a time when such things were not even discussed by proper gentlemen and ladies. In times of warfare when men are away on distant shores under stress, and women find themselves home alone perhaps for the first time, the subject must be broached. We have seen that some of the posters ask the men in uniform to use precautions as a form of patriotism so that they can continue to fight for their nation. Others imply that catching such a disease is almost treason in a time of war. The black leaflets pretend to be helpful and offer hints on medical care, but are written in such a way as to demoralize the front line soldier worrying about his wife or girlfriend back home. The leaflets are almost all black and as a result are difficult to locate.
Modern Uses of VD in a PSYOP Campaigns
The 12 May 1987 issue of the British newspaper Guardian mentions North Korean Cold War leaflets that threaten AIDs to women who come in contact with American soldiers. The Simon Winchester article entitled Calling the Shots says in part:
Balloons drift over the frontier whenever there is a northerly wind dropping small blizzards of leaflets the size of cigarette cards...The latest in bright poster colors, shows a bare-chested and obese American soldier, his chest alive with crawling bugs labeled Aids. He is leering from cherry-red lips, about his passion for Korean women. Ladies of Korea! the card advises. The only way to ensure you do not catch this fatal illness is to demand the immediate and total withdrawal of all American personnel from Korea. Yankees go home!
The North Koreans have been broadcasting this message in a variety of forms ever since the war ended in 1953. The Americans, they claim, are to blame for Koreas tragic problem.
An Official U.S. Army Public Health Center Anti-HIV Poster
The battle against sexually transmitted diseases goes on today in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In June 2010, there was a report in the British newspaper The Sun of a statement by Tory Minister of Parliament and ex-Army officer Patrick Mercer. He claimed that in the
Afghanistanbadlands of the Taliban was placing syringe needles from HIV patients in roadside bombs. The needles, it is claimed, could infect Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technicians sent to dismantle the bombs. In addition, if the bomb goes off, the needles become deadly flying shrapnel. Helmand Province
The story seems absurd since the bombs can sometimes take out a city block and a needle, probably superheated by the blast, is unlikely to infect anyone. More likely, this is Taliban propaganda meant to lower the morale of bomb experts and make them more cautious and prone to error.
As always, if any reader cares to comment on the article or has data that would make the story more meaningful, he is encouraged to write to the author at email@example.com.
© 10 February 2004
Apology: I promised the webmaster a serious article, but there are so many comical moments in regard to this subject that I feel a need to add a little section of "war stories." For those readers who demand a serious research project. Read no further.
There were the strange things that the troops would say when questioned. One soldier was doubled over with pain and said that he had not "pissed" in three days. "Why didn't you see the doctor sooner" I asked? "I was too sick to go on sick call!" How do you answer that?
Then, there was the soldier who came in with a penis swollen about twice its normal size. His only request? "Can they cure the disease but leave the swelling?"
A medic reminds me of the time a captain reported for sick call and said, "I think I have a case of the enlisted men's disease."
Another medic explains his own discovery of a miracle preventative,:
In 1966 Vietnam out in the boonies where I was, we didn't try to educate, just treat. And boy, did we treat!! Sick call was almost always about 50% VD. We supported an oil tanker Battalion and the guys always stopped at truck washes and got their ashes hauled.
When we had it, we gave out preventative doses of Tetracycline. Of course, we kept a supply for ourselves. We would take off to Binh Hoa or occasionally Saigon if we had any money. We used up a lot of Tetracycline. I took it routinely before sex and never had a problem. I don't know why the army couldn't have just issued the stuff. I have a good immune system, but probably the main reason I never caught VD was because before sex I always drank huge quantities of Beer. Now that's a fine tasting prophylactic!
One lab technician told me
When a patient came in with soft chancre we took a scalpel blade, gave the sore a little scrape to get a sample and put it under the microscope for identification. One guy came in and saw the blade. He asked me "what you gonna do with that blade Doc?" Being a joker, I told him "that thing is infected and no good anymore, I'm gonna cut it off." The guy's eyes roll up in his head and he falls over backwards in a dead faint and splits his head open. He is laying there in a puddle of blood and I see my career in the toilet and me with an article 15 or worse. Luckily the guy revives and is too embarrassed to talk about what happened. The moral? Never kid a guy about cutting off his cock. They don't react well.
Some of the men liked to give the girls pet names. I was filling out a form on where one soldier got the disease and asked him the name of the girl:
I dont know her real name but I calls her my little Goothiegoogoosexiemama.
OK and exactly how do you spell that?
Then there was the week when about a dozen men reported for sick call with bad cases of soft chancre. Every single one stated that he got it from Susie Wong, a name obviously stolen from the 1960 movie, The World of Susie Wong. So, a night or two later I am in the ville just outside the base having a cold beer when this really beautiful girl with prominent breasts (rare in Asian women at the time) sits down next to me to inquire if I would like a good time. What is your name, says me. Susie Wong, says she. Darn, I now understand how she was able to take out almost a full squad. She is a one-woman wrecking crew. No thank you Susie, maybe another time.
Medic Dave Berry used to like to break up the monotony a little bit. He told me:
At the Battalion Aid Station we had glass 50 ml syringes and 4 inch chest needles, which could be used to evacuate blood or air from the chest. During my last month in Vietnam I was taken off line and it was pretty boring at the Aid Station. We got tired of getting repeat visitors with the clap and decided to conduct some psychological warfare. We filled the syringe with Phisohex disinfectant, which was thick and white, like Procaine Penicillin, and put it in the medication refrigerator with that 4 inch needle. When a guy came in with a second or third dose of clap we would tell him that it called for a stronger dose of penicillin than what he had before. One medic would get him to drop his drawers while another got that monster syringe out of the refrigerator. We'd go as far as swabbing his butt and then make sure that he saw what we were holding. I saw soldiers jump farther than an Olympic long-jumper. They'd say "You're not sticking me with that!" and we'd counter with, Well, I'm not sure the regular dose will work, but we'll try it one more time. As far as I know, that had absolutely no impact on the VD rate, but it was cheap entertainment.
Private First Class V. Lizza of Headquarters Company, Walter Reed Army Medical Center, told me his VD war story in regard to the
U.S.invasion of . Apparently the rumor of the highly virulent drug-resistant form of VD still permeated the Medical Corps in the 1980s: Panama
In 1983 I was a medical equipment technician assigned to
. One day I got a repair order for a bed in one of the wards. When I got there I had to don a Tyvek jumpsuit, latex gloves, booties, and wear a surgical mask. The patient was too ill to be removed from the bed while I worked on it. He had just arrived from Walter Reed Army Medical Center . He was part of the brief invasion, and had contracted a fiercely virulent form of VD. The only thing they knew about it was that it thrived under penicillin prophylaxis. I have no idea what happened to him, but he really looked to be at death's door. Panama
Retired Master Sergeant Gregory H. Murry cracked me up with this story. His entire unit is called to attention before the commander and they are not sure what has happened. Are they in trouble; are they being sent on a dangerous mission? Their colonel stands before them very solemnly. He says:
Men, I want to talk to you about a very serious situation involving this battalion Men, this battalion has the highest venereal disease rate in the entire 1st Infantry Division
It was dead quiet for a moment, and then the company broke out in loud cheers and laughter Men were giving each other five, the brothers were dapping and the platoon leaders were looking horrified The Colonel exploded in anger and began cursing .
The point of the story is that although the Army hated VD because it took soldiers out of the field and into a dispensary or on sick call, and civilians hated VD because it is considered dirty and immoral. Soldiers always considered about as dangerous as a runny nose. And to make it better, it was a way of getting over on the military. No matter where they sent you, you managed to get laid and even better, got a few days out of the field to lie on your bunk as the penicillin did its magic. The Colonel basically told his men We are number one! and that is why they cheered. You have to be very careful what you say to the troops. I once visited a New York City firehouse where Engine 73 and Ladder 42 call home, and on the dining room wall was a gigantic mural of a steaming pot of shit at the end of the rainbow. It was just awful, but extremely accurate in every detail. I asked one of the firemen what it all meant. He told me:
The Chief of Department came down here, walked around and told us, This place is a shit house. We immediately took that as a compliment and had that mural painted and when asked where we work, we tell them The shit house or "La Casa Caca."
Well, I swore not to tell war stories but I just did. These are but a few of hundreds of such stories I heard during years in the Far East. I would tell more...but this is a serious article and there is no place for such foolish barracks humor.
There are probably a thousand more VD stories out there. If any veteran wants to send me one the author is always interested in hearing them. Interested readers are encouraged to write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.