HOW BAD WAS VENEREAL DISEASE DURING THE KOREAN WAR?

By Christine Stevens DeLorenzo


Oh, it was bad. So bad that Jack shared the particulars with Anne a number of times in his letters to her. Something most young soldiers wouldn’t dream of telling their new wives.


Here is one of Jack’s excerpts from “Before I Go Berserk, Hon” telling Anne about a particular incident: “They took about 50 prostitutes away yesterday to give them a V.D. check. They came up from Haeundae the other day. Honey, please believe me when I tell you that I am not fooling around with any of them. They walk around half naked and I don’t even look twice. No kidding. I love you and nobody else excites me.”




V.D. (venereal disease) is acquired as a result of sexual intercourse with an individual who is afflicted. During the Korean War, gonorrhea - a contagious, catarrhal inflammation of the genital mucous membrane of either sex, caused by infection by the gonococcus, Neisseria gonorrhoeae - accounted for three-fourths of all V.D. diagnoses. In case you didn’t know, gonorrhea can also affect other structures of the body, not just the genitals.



During both World Wars and the Korean Conflict, soldiers were lectured via posters, pamphlets, and movies not to pick up good-time girls and to use condoms so not to catch or spread V.D. The army even included warnings, patriotic precepts, and moral advice to remain faithful to loved ones at home in – of all places – K-ration cartons.


Why all the beseeching from the powers that be? Before 1944, a soldier with gonorrhea meant a hospital stay of 30 days. Curing syphilis took even longer – six months. The next year, sulfa drugs and penicillin reduced the average case of gonorrhea to 5 days. In many cases, the afflicted soldier remained on duty status while being treated. Still, there were over 500 servicemen sidelined by V.D. every day.




If soldiers couldn’t control their temptation or urges, condoms were issued at a rate of six per man, per month, free. Soldiers could also purchase them from the PX. Emergency Prophylactic Treatment Kits, sometimes called V-Packettes, were also distributed two per man, per week.


These kits allowed soldiers – who feared V.D. was present – to cleanse themselves and apply ointment. Sulpha and other pills were distributed just in case. Kits included:

1. Tube containing 5 Grams of Ointment (30% Calomel + 15% Sulfathiazole)

2. Direction Sheet

3. Soap-Impregnated Cloth

4. Cleansing Tissue


In “Before I Go Berserk, Hon” Jack tells Anne about a house of pleasure not 100 yards from his barracks. Houses of pleasure were designated places where American soldiers could have sex with prostitutes. These brothels were developed and funded by both the U.S. and the South Korean military to serve American troops on and off U.S. military bases. No doubt some soldiers – married as well as virgins – hungered for a woman’s touch not knowing whether they’d be alive the next day. Those that wore condoms dodged the bullet. Those that didn’t, got infected. And those that got infected and ignored treatment suffered consequences life-changing not only to the G.I., but to his family back home. Jack shares one of those devastating after-effects for one soldier with Anne:


These guys laugh and razz me but when they took a kid to the hospital today they stopped. He has V.D. and his Stradivarius has to be amputated. It’s hard to believe but that isn’t the first one. That guy was 23 and had a wife and 2 kids. He cried like a baby. I feel sorry for him in a way but then again how much could he have loved his wife? When I see examples like that I get unfrustrated very fast.”

I have to give credit to Jack for divulging to Anne such intimate and gory details about the soldiers’ getting V.D. and that prostitutes were available to them. He certainly must have shocked her. For me, that’s what makes Jack’s letters unique - his brutal honesty and his lack of filter.

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