The Vietnam War: An Untold Story of Drugs by William E. Campbell

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In June 1971 President Richard Nixon declared war on drug addicts and traffickers. One tactic of the war—Operation Gold Flow—decreed that troops leaving Vietnam and returning permanently to the United States would be subject to urinalysis. Anyone who tested positive for drugs would be detoxified before begin allowed to go home.

At that time, LTC William Campbell commanded the 90th Replacement Battalion in Long Binh, one of two units that out-processed returnees to the United States. They also assigned in-coming replacements to units. In The Vietnam War: An Untold Story of Drugs (CreateSpace, 216 pp. $12.95, paper; $3.99, Kindle), Campbell tells a year-long story about his role in carrying out the requirements of Gold Flow during his second tour in Vietnam.

With merely four-days’ notice, Campbell and the commanders of the engineer, medical, and military police battalions practically rebuilt and re-manned parts of Bien Hoa and Long Binh to satisfy Gold Flow’s requirements. Bill Campbell’s account of performing this feat provides an excellent lesson in leadership. His stories about drug testing, detoxification, and disgruntled troops are informative and entertaining.

Day and night, the 90th overflowed with men in transit—awaiting either test results, a trip to detox, or a flight homeward. Detox required a seven-day departure delay. Concurrent with the push for Vietnamization, the out-processing of American troops accelerated in 1971-72. It reached a level of loading twelve airplanes a day—a total of thirty-six hundred people. Eventually, the drug-testing program expanded to include those going on R&R or leave, as well as in-coming personnel from the States.

“The pace of the withdrawal was insane,” Campbell says.

The job was further complicated by unannounced visits from generals, each with his own idiosyncratic demands. War correspondents arrived next and then members of Congress. After the release of The Pentagon Papers, interest in Gold Flow waned, Campbell says, but generals continued to visit and order misdirected tasks.

“To us, it seemed as if the actual shooting war had taken a back seat to the Army’s war against drugs,” he says.

Campbell had limited access to drug user statistics, which hovered between six and seven percent, he estimates. The majority were junior enlisted men, with a scattering of NCOs and young officers. Percentages among black and white users were equal, he writes.

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Col. Campbell back in the day

The 90th’s workload ended as abruptly as it had begun. Campbell inventoried the facilities—he called it “counting the buildings”–and was the last man to leave.

The book ends happily as Campbell learns of his promotion to full colonel.

Campbell wrote An Untold Story of Drugs in 1985 but shelved it until this year. His book presents a start-to-finish view of a phase of the war that—as the book’s title forewarned—was new to me.

—Henry Zeybel

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Where the Water Meets the Sand by Tyra Manning

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Some people who never take part in a war still have trouble finding “home” again after the war is over. Having a spouse or family member go off to military service, even temporarily, can put undue stress on the children and spouses back home. Of course, many families are permanently broken by loved ones who never return home, either physically or mentally, from their time in service.

In Where the Water Meets the Sand (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 256 pp., $15.95, paper), Tyra Manning, the widow of an Air Force pilot, shares her personal struggle dealing with the loss of her husband and any semblance of her former family life when he was killed in action in Vietnam. Her memoir will resonate with anyone who has suffered through the loss of a loved one. It also will provide support for those who feel as if they are alone in their struggle to return to normal life.

Tyra Manning, who holds a doctorate in education administration, was a newlywed, twenty-something mother of a one-year old girl when her husband deployed. Already suffering from anxiety, depression, and substance abuse related to her father’s death, Manning collapsed entirely without the emotional support of her husband. She found herself unable to hold her family together in his absence, and dropped her daughter off with relatives to check herself into the Menninger Clinic, an upscale psychiatric hospital in Topeka, Kansas.

Much of the story revolves around Manning’s experiences at Menninger as she confronted, albeit shallowly, the enduring pain she’d suffered since losing her father, a wound aggravated by the sudden absence of her husband and the stress of not knowing when, or if, he would return. In the months of treatment that followed, Manning rediscovered confidence in herself with help from doctors and patients at Menninger.

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Tyra Manning

Manning’s memoir brings attention to the often un-discussed psychological trauma that spouses and other family members of veterans endure, along with the depression and substance abuse that can lurk in the wake of a family member’s service.

Manning brings this up in a Q&A at the end of the book, saying, “Many of us discuss our own struggles and those of the ones we love in whispers, and we keep our illnesses secret, perpetuating the barrier to treatment.”
This is not a self-help book. But Where the Water Meets the Sand contributes to a growing body of Vietnam War literature that encourages discussion of mental health and substance abuse issues among those who’ve experienced—or know someone who has endured— similar struggles.

“The stigma and lack of empathy toward those who require treatment is still a gigantic hurdle,” Manning writes. That is exactly what her memoir attempts to resolve.

The author’s website is tyramanning.com

— James Schuessler

Losing the Will to Live by Arnie Burzynski

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Rising above depression, personal tragedy, and alcoholism is central to Arnie Burzynski in his book, Losing the Will to Live: Why?!! (Xlibris, 145 pp., $29.99, hardcover; $19.99, paper; $3.99, Kindle), but it is not directly related to his Vietnam War service.

Burzynski devotes the first chapter to his father’s service in the Korean War. In the next chapter he enumerates the ever-present  tragedies he lives with daily, making  his psychological treatment in a VA Hospital in Minnesota necessary after his hardship discharge from the Navy in 1975. He married  in 1977 but the  marriage failed.

In February 2006, Burzynski writes, “I went to see the doctor and I was diagnosed as depressed.” That summer he began drinking. “I remember at work, I was asking an older man, he was 74 at the time, ‘What happens when you lose the will to live?’ There was no answer.” This stayed with Burzynski “a long time,” and perhaps led to his trying to find the answer for himself.

In 2008 Burzynski started his treatment at the VA, and he started keeping a journal. He includes transcripts of his counseling sessions in this book. Burzynski records his lapses into drinking, attributing them to events such as his father’s death or partying with friends with drinking problems.

His journal describes his impending divorce and the difficulty he has had finding and keeping meaningful work. He keeps his Alcoholics Anonymous and VA appointments but has continuous trouble with friends taking advantage of his good nature. VA psychological testing discovered that he “carried around the burden of many family conflicts, suicidal attempts, and losses for many years, trying to maintain his emotional center and keep himself together.”

Burzynski occasionally begged people to end his life out of frustration but with the help of counseling from a VA priest, his veterans disability benefits being approved, and maintaining his sobriety, he rose above a troubled life, completing his valuable self-help project.

His artwork on the cover illustrates the climb from depression’s depths to regaining his will to live.

The author’s website is www.arnieburzynski.com

—Curt Nelson