Forty-five years ago, in the wilds of New York, the Woodstock music festival took place. While 400,000 people attended, closing roads to the site, and creating national news, I and about 400,000 – 500,000 others were far more concerned about the war in VietNam. I was in the last month of my tour, sweating out the days at Dau Tieng. I knew nothing about the music festival until I saw a very small item in “Stars & Stripes” just before boarding a plane out of Bien Hoa.
Compare and contrast, if you will, the two groups: festival attendees and troops. The two populations were roughly equivalent in numbers and mean ages.
Woodstock is recalled for the size of the crowd, for recreational drug use, for unprepared attendees, for ferrying performers in and out of the venue by helicopter, for on-site medical care, for torrential rain and mud slides.
Vietnam was notable for recreational drug use, helicopter transportation, on-site medical care, for torrential rains and mud.
In VietNam the preferred drugs were ethanol and pot. The military has a long history of tolerating ethanol abuse. Pot use was likely to get one a court martial and a trip to Long Binh Jail (LBJ) At Woodstock, LSD, pot, ethanol, and almost anything else one can imagine was at least marginally available. T
Most of the 80 arrests at Woodstock were made on drug charges involving LSD, amphetamines and heroin. Marijuana smokers, estimated to be the majority of the audience, were not arrested at Woodstock.
Helicopters ferried the performers to and from the stage and their off-site lodging.
Helicopters were our lifeline in VietNam. Everything moved by rotary wing aircraft. We were picked up for insertions, provided close air support, resupplied with ammunition, food, and water, medevac, and sometimes extracted by those marvelous vehicles and their heroic crews.
Medical care at Woodstock was mostly minor ER in nature. There were three births, three documented deaths, and not a lot of other documented injuries/illnesses. In VietNam, the gamut of injuries and illnesses included malaria, dysentery (amoebic and bacterial) intestinal worms and othe parasitic infestations. Battlefield injuries were immediately infected, including burns, blast trauma, lacerations, gunshot and shrapnel wounds that harvested parts of young men without concern for their lives. The use of helicopters as air ambulances was responsible for saving many injured who would not have survived any slower means of transport to surgical hospitals.
At Woodstock, there was heavy rainfall catching many attendees with no rain protection or insulation from the resulting water and mud. Large mudslides were created and provided communal amusement. In VietNam the SW monsoon was still in effect. Troops lived and worked in mud, ankle-deep or deeper. Rain was always a factor during the SW monsoon. The troops in the field were always uncomfortable, hot,and wet or cold and wet until the monsoon direction reversed and the conditions changed to hot and dusty. No one in the field would have enjoyed mudslides.
The festival ended after 3 days, leaving a mountain of trash behind for the promoters to clean up.
. In VietNam the war was ongoing. The process of “Vietnamization,” shifting the burden to our unwilling and often incapable allies was beginning. The drawdown was initiated, making it even more likely that some small action somewhere might interfere with our departure..
I was treated to a ten day drop, courtesy of Nixon and Kissinger. I prided myself on being resistant to superstitions. However, after some shrapnel injuries early in August, I stayed close to a bunker at nearly all times. I avoided all crowds except a ETS party held for a flight warrant officer on the roof of Michelin plantation building where we consumed champagne and watched the fast movers work over Nui ba Dinh. That, to the best of my memory, took place during Woodstock. We had great fireworks to watch.