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Wizard 6: A Combat Psychiatrist in Vietnam (Texas A & M University Military History Series, 104)


In 1969, six psychiatrists were assigned to combat divisions in Vietnam. Captain Douglas Bey, "Wizard 6," was one, serving with the 1st Infantry Division during 1969-'70.


"[A] psychiatrist 'helping men adjust to a crazy place...,' illuminating." -- "Z bits," ASO Magazine

"Dr. Bey and his medical team treated people with a wide range of coping mechanisms, including counterphobic reactions, self-medication with drugs and/or alcohol...bed-wetters, sleepwalkers, C-4 toxicity, cerebral malaria, a case of pseudologia fantastica, and other cases that were unique to the military as well as Vietnam." -- The VVA Veteran


Dr. Douglas Bey is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Chicago. He has been practicing for 35 years.


I call Dr. Bey in Normal, Illinois. "You were a young psychiatrist in 1968 when you were appointed a captain in the Army medical corps. You trained at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, along with other doctors, learning the barest rudiments of military deportment and skills, like how to about-face and fire a weapon. When ducks flew over the firing range, you docs started shooting. At your graduation ceremonies, you all sang the Mickey Mouse Club song. (The military band joined in.) The next year you were ordered to Vietnam, and the base camp of the 1st Infantry Division, where it was even wilder.""The base was a real crazy environment," says Dr. Bey.

"Speaking of which," I say, "you actually witnessed what I thought was an apocryphal Vietnam story about an army dentist."

"Dr. Maurice, yes. He was African American, a Guardsman, had finished school heavily in debt, rented his offices, bought all the equipment and then was activated and sent to Vietnam. Upsetting. He'd disassociated himself from the military. He wore only loud sports shirts, flip-flops, and shorts -- usually boxers. And he danced all the time -- bopped. In the monsoon rain, during inspections by generals -- it didn't matter. One day a nervous infantryman arrived in the dental area with a problem. In comes a black guy in a bright red short-sleeved tropical shirt and boxer shorts, who looks in his mouth and asks the corpsman assisting what he thinks is wrong. The corpsman says, 'You're the doctor, Doctor.' Dr. Maurice looks in the man's mouth again and says, 'I never should have left the motor pool. Looks like we'll have to blast.' He tears off a long piece of dental floss, anchors it in the guy's teeth and lights the other end. Then retreats to a corner, crouches down, and plugs his ears with his fingers. The poor patient leaps out of the chair and runs, trailing smoke."

"Did the generals really fly in their mistresses?"

"One did, yeah. Apparently he had done this in Korea, too."

"Most of your peers dodged service. What were you doing in the Army? In Vietnam?"

"I was from the Midwest. My dad and uncle had served, my cousin did two tours as a Marine pilot, and I just kinda thought, 'well, everyone's going.'"

"You mention in the book that you were shocked to learn Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara already in 1965 thought the war was unwinnable. Most of the 58,000 fallen are still alive at that point. Yet it's rolling forward."

Douglas Bey sighs. "Yeah, I was ticked off. I was angry about that. I didn't realize I had that much feeling about it, actually, until I heard that. Because the war resulted in a lot of unnecessary loss of life, tremendous expense...and look at all the damage we did to the Vietnamese."

"You touch on that, expressing regret at a couple points at what we had done to them. What did we do?"

"We skewed their economy and corrupted a lot of the rural people. I thought we bullied the Vietnamese and threw our money around. We went into Saigon and indulged ourselves at expensive French restaurants with white tablecloths and crystal and us wearing grubby fatigues. We must've looked like the Nazis did to the French. The Vietnamese women became bar girls, and the males were involved in illegal activities. We ruined their farmland with bombs and ordnance and defoliants. One of our Army trucks, I remember, ran over a child on the road. What looked like a pink football in the middle of the street were this kid's brains that had squirted out of his head. People were injured, a lot were orphaned."

"It's surprising how little knowledge the American side had of the enemy's tunnel systems. They must have been tunneling for decades. You mention one of the VC tunnels was eight stories deep."

"Yeah," says Dr. Bey. "They had a big hospital installation in it. Two thousand beds, refrigeration for plasma, and all of this literally under the feet of a division [which had set up its huge base camp on top of this complex]. I don't have a desire to go back, but I'd be curious to see what the tunnel complexes looked like in our area and what was actually going on there. Whenever there were B-52 strikes, the civilian workers would cry because their relatives were out there in the tunnels. One GI was brought to us who was hearing voices. It turned out he had a tunnel underneath his tent."

"You write that schizophrenic patients loved marching, loved drilling. How did you make that discovery?"

"In the psychiatric unit at Ft. Knox, Sgt. DeLeon would line 'em up and march 'em. The 'behavior disorders,' trying to get out of the Army, bitched and moaned. The schizophrenic patients thought it was terrific. They felt part of the Army, loved the order of it."

"So there you are, a psychiatrist in Vietnam, handling 400 patients a month, among them soldiers with hysterical symptoms who have gone mute or blind or been paralyzed in combat from no apparent injury. You conduct sodium amytal interviews that sound amazing."

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