Staff Finds: Augustus White in Vietnam

By , September 19, 2017
Augustus A. White

Augustus A. White

From 1966 to 1968, Augustus A. White served as a Captain in the United States Army Medical Corps and from August 1966 to August 1967, he was deployed as a combat surgeon at the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon, Vietnam. During his deployment, he volunteered during his off-duty time at the St. Francis Leprosarium, earning a Bronze Star for this work, as well as for a volunteer mission to help retrieve an injured soldier from a mountainside. Subject to a special physicians’ draft, White could have chosen service in the the National Guard, Navy Reserve, or Public Health Service, but instead chose active duty service, as he describes in Seeing Patients:

Here I was, fully trained, after so many years. I couldn’t wait to get out on my own and be what I had worked so hard to be. And where in the world could I do that instantaneously at the highest volume in the most needed place other than Vietnam? Besides, I thought, I’m not going over to kill people; I’m going over to save them. And besides that, how about what I owed? I had grown up during World War II … Our soldiers had protected me then. Shouldn’t I be giving something back?

While in Vietnam and caring for badly injured soldiers, White struggled with feelings of helplessness. Again, from Seeing Patients:

Finding a way to deal with all this emotionally was crucial. If you allowed yourself to get dragged into thinking too much, you’d simply be crushed to pieces. I mulled over the idea of sending a letter and photos to Lyndon Johnson. I composed the letter in my head a dozen times, thinking about what words might have the most dramatic effect. I tried to figure out how I might actually get it to him so he would read it. I imagined getting him and other world leaders down into a MASH unit operating room before they’d be allowed to start their wars. Grab them by the collar and force them to watch a terrified young man writhing in pain with his legs mangled or his belly ripped up. But of course that was just escapist fantasy. The reality was that there wasn’t the slightest thing I could do to stop what was going on.

The Augustus A. White papers, 1951-2010 (inclusive), contain records related to White’s service in Vietnam. This includes typed and annotated excerpts from White’s diary kept during his Vietnam service, detailing his day-to-day thoughts and activities, including his work at the leprosarium (see below for diary excerpts and a letters from his commanding officer John Feagin). The collection also contains copies of his articles “Vietnam Memoirs: River of Blood” and “Notes and Impressions at Vietnam Memorial”, drafts of a manuscript about his experiences in Vietnam, and an after action report (see below for excerpts) detailing the air transfer of a badly wounded soldier from Vietnam to Walter Reed Hospital, Washington D.C.

The finding aid for the White papers can be found here.

For information regarding access to this collection, please contact the Public Services staff.

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