U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History
Skip Navigation, go to content

HISTORY OF THE OFFICE OF MEDICAL HISTORY

AMEDD BIOGRAPHIES

AMEDD CORPS HISTORY

BOOKS AND DOCUMENTS

HISTORICAL ART WORK & IMAGES

MEDICAL MEMOIRS

AMEDD MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS External Link, Opens in New Window

ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORIES

THE SURGEONS GENERAL

ANNUAL REPORTS OF THE SURGEON GENERAL

AMEDD UNIT PATCHES AND LINEAGE

THE AMEDD HISTORIAN NEWSLETTER

Introduction

Table of Contents

Introductory Note

The aim in compiling this history is to produce a comprehensive account of the militarily important skin diseases that afflicted U.S. Army forces in the Vietnam war. A portion of this goal is to engender a sense of what made these diseases militarily important; another is to describe the diseases themselves-their natural history, epidemiology, and clinical features. The overriding objective is to put the diseases in balanced perspective, both individually and in aggregate, and thereby to indicate accurately the past and future importance of the historical facts. The possible contribution of a history such as this is best suggested by Santayana's well-known aphorism: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Although the focus has been almost exclusively military, there also may be something here for those engaged in purely civilian pursuits. The common skin diseases among troops in Vietnam were, in the main, greatly exaggerated versions of diseases prevalent in civilian populations of temperate as well as tropical countries. The insights and opportunities for study afforded by the Vietnam war contributed substantially toward the understanding and control of such common conditions as ringworm infections, bacterial sores, and water-caused injuries of the skin.

The magnitude of the skin disease problem in Vietnam was such that it required the combined services of a number of medical and scientific disciplines to help find solutions. Dermatologists were joined in this endeavor by microbiologists, epidemiologists, entomologists, preventive medicine specialists, and developers of special items of clothing and footwear. All brought their expertise to bear on problems so multifaceted that no single discipline would have been effective alone. Their efforts produced the uniquely large pool of information from which this history was drawn.

An enormous debt is owed the military authorities and the ordinary soldiers who made it possible to gather the information contained herein. The extent of this obligation was forcefully impressed upon those of us who had an opportunity to spend time in the field with combat units and to witness the spectacle of rifle companies going on operations at half strength because of disabling skin diseases. This record, then, is in large measure the record of their experiences and their lessons learned.

So many individuals, groups, and agencies contributed directly or indirectly to this history that it is not possible to acknowledge all of them individually. Nonetheless, profound thanks are due each for invaluable assistance in amassing the background material, clinical observations, and


data necessary to compile this volume. Special mention should be made of those physicians who generously gave of their time, talents, and experience to this enterprise. These include Maj. Gen. Spurgeon Neel, MC; Col. Andre J. Ognibene, MC; Col. Raymond W. Blohm, Jr., MC; Col. Robert J. T. Joy, MC; Col. Nicholas F. Conte, MC; Stanley E. Jacobs, M.D.; Henry E. Jones, M.D.; Thomas L. Watt, M.D.; and William J. Hennessy, M.D.

None was of greater assistance than my mentors in the field of skin disease research-Harvey Blank, M.D.; Col. William A. Akers, MC; and David Taplin. To Professor Taplin, particularly, I owe a special debt of gratitude for unfailing assistance at every turn, for a wealth of sound advice and practical suggestions, and for companionship while investigating skin diseases in the nethermost regions of Vietnam.

The photographs for figures 47, 48, 50 (top), 50 (bottom), 53, 57, and 58 were contributed by Colonel Akers. Stanford I. Lamberg, M.D., contributed figures 63, 64, and 65; and David Taplin, figures 27 and 28 (top). The remaining figures are from photographs on file in the office of the Medical Illustrations and Audio-Visual Services, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. Many of these photographs were taken by Emanuel G. Kuflik, M.D., and David Taplin.

The statistical data came from a variety of sources, but the majority were contributed by the Army Surgeon General's Medical Statistics Agency, recently redesignated the U.S. Army Health Information Systems and Biostatistical Activity. Mr. John H. Vinyard, Jr., a member of the Activity, was especially helpful in furnishing data.

The Editor of the Internal Medicine series of the History of the United States Army Medical Department in Vietnam, Col. Andre J. Ognibene, MC, set a fast pace, encouraged constructive innovation, and furnished ample quantities of the difficult-to-define but indispensable quality called leadership. Those at the Army Medical Department's Historical Unit, recently redesignated the Medical History Division, U.S. Army Center of Military History, performed the vital services of finalizing the manuscript and competently taking care of a great deal of detailed editorial processing. Especially notable in this regard were Mr. Charles J. Simpson, the Medical History Division's Executive Officer, who skillfully coordinated the editorial process, and Mrs. Mary D. Nelson, the prepublications editor, who painstakingly weeded out factual inconsistencies and infelicities of grammar and style and prepared the index and artwork.

Final appreciation must go to Mrs. Brenda C. Gonzales and Mrs. Evie G. Sales, who ably provided many hours of professional secretarial support.

ALFRED M. ALLEN
Lieutenant Colonel, MC, USA