Vietnam’s Park Lane Cigarettes

Vietnam’s Park Lane Cigarettes

Vietnam's Park Lane Cigarettes

Disclaimer: Though of age, I did not serve in Vietnam. I had a college deferment and then was fortunate to get a 332 lottery number. When I meet veterans who said they were in Vietnam and then ask what I was doing, I explain that I was trying to get them home.

 Smokestack El Ropo

I, like many in the late 60s, had a subscription to Rolling Stone magazine. Smokestack El Ropo occasionally published “Fables” in it.  Each typically had to do with people about to have, having,  just having had an enhanced experience.

In 1972, Straight Arrow books published Smokestack El Ropo’s Bedside Reader, which the it described as “A heavy-duty compendium of fables, lore and hot dope tales, from America’s only rolling newspaper.

Vietnam’s Park Lane Cigarettes

Shocking Tale of GI Drug Abuse

Since there weren’t enough Fables to fill a book, Smokestack included writings by many others, but each fit the theme.  Among the others was Arthur Leon’s  Shocking Tale of GI Drug Abuse. The title was misleading in the sense that the troop behavior described was not abuse, but simply getting high.

Like any first-hand account, we must take its veracity with a grain of salt or one toke over the line, so let’s be careful.

Leon  describes his arrival in Saigon and how quickly a fellow GI introduced him to its thriving drug scene. The most common drug was local cannabis and the most common cannabis delivery system was cigarettes.  Workers removed the tobacco from actual packs of cigarettes and refilled them with cannabis. Park Lane cigarettes were the most popular refill, but Salem, Winston, and Marlboro were also around.

Leon and friends became friendly with these entrepreneurs and “…were able  to get our price down to the equivalent of four US dollars per carton of 200.”

Vietnam’s Park Lane Cigarettes

GI Drug Use

Drug use by GIs was not permitted and subject to severe punishment. According to the Thailand Law Forum site:

A survey in 1966 by the U.S. military command in Saigon found that there were 29 fixed outlets for the purchase of marijuana.  Some enterprising individuals removed the tobacco from regular tailor-made cigarettes and repacked them with dried cannabis and sold them by the pack. These pre-rolled and pre-packaged marijuana cigarettes were sold under the brand names Craven “A” and Park Lane.

Reports indicate that US troops began smoking marijuana soon after their arrival in 1963. Although marines were subject to being court-martialed for possessing even the smallest amount of cannabis, the army only prosecuted dealers and users of hard drugs. The arrests for marijuana possession reached a peak of up to 1,000 a week.

In 2002, Peter Brush in a Free Republic article wrote about how GIs had an unwritten rule that cannabis was off limits out in country and lives depended on being alert. But back in Saigon or away from the fighting, enforcement was less important. The article goes on…

In fact, marijuana use was a problem chiefly because it conflicted with American civilian and military values. Use of marijuana did not constitute an operational problem. Smoking in rear areas did not impact operations. Use among combat personnel took place when units stood down rather than in the field. The commanding general of the 3rd Marine Division noted, “There is no drug problem out in the hinterlands, because there was a self-policing by the troops themselves.” Combat soldiers knew their survival depended on having clear mental faculties.

Army Major Joel Kaplan of the 98th Medical Detachment, while noting the high rate of marijuana use by military personnel, said, “I think alcohol is a much more dangerous drug than marijuana.” One Air Force officer understood well the difference: “When you get up there in those early hours, you want the klunk you’re flying with to be able to snap to. He’s a lot more likely to be fresh if he smoked grass the night before than if he was juiced.”

A much larger problem was on the horizon for American military commanders in Vietnam—heroin. When its use became commonplace, one Army commanding officer rationally said of marijuana use, “If it would get them to give up the hard stuff, I would buy all the marijuana and hashish in the Delta as a present.”

Vietnam’s Park Lane Cigarettes

Clever GIs

Park Lane cigarettes were widely advertised outdoors on billboards and posters,  and in newspapers.The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam counter-attacked with posters of their own. In Vietnam, the most enjoyable things were rated “10” and the least rated “1.” The MACV poster–a soldier smoking with the curl of the cigarette smoke spelling POT–were extremely popular with the troops. They hung the poster in their barracks with the 10’s zero crossed out.

Scott Manning, an Armed Forces Radio Network DJ (not  AFRN radio DJ Adrian Cronauer upon whom Robin Williams’s character in Good Morning Vietnam was loosely based) produced a daily serial called Parker Lane: “Flying” Traffic Reporter who commented on Saigon’s scooter and truck congestion.  The brass killed the serial.

Vietnam’s Park Lane Cigarettes

Mail home

Arthur Leon also speaks of GIs taking advantage of  the mail. When heading home, the military would send up to a 200 pound parcel for the GI, sometimes for free or at least at a very reduced rate. Leon tells the story of his roommate buying two Japanese speakers, gutting them, filling each one with 50 cartons of “modified” Park Lane cigarettes, re-packaging the speakers, and getting them home the day after his discharge.

On a much smaller scale, GIs would buy a tape box (reel-to-reel) which held 39 Park Lanes. Wrap the box, write “Tape Recording: Please Do Not X-Ray” on the outside, write a fake return address, and send it home. Free.

Vietnam’s Park Lane Cigarettes

Park Lane Stateside

On January 16, 1971, the New York Times published a short article on page 52 about Park Lane’s presence in the US.

Here is a piece of a video with an American reporter in Saigon looking for weed and finding many GIs ready and willing to speak about it, its accessibility, and Park Lane.

Pre-20th Century News Music

Pre-20th Century News Music

The term “Protest Music” is often used to describe songs that brought the listener’s attention to an issue the songwriter felt important, but not all songs are obviously protesting. Many point out a possible solution in a clever manner or simply point out the inequalities built into a society’s everyday norms. Others demean the oppressor.

My term, by no means the best, for this music is “News Music” and the following are mainly American examples from the 17- and 18-hundreds.

“Yankee Doodle Dandy”

In 1776: when America’s revolutionary soldiers sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” they were proudly and deliberately adopting to themselves a slur aimed at their uniform’s comparative lack of military sophistication.  A “doodle” was a fool and “macaroni” referred to a stylish wig—thus a failed attempt at ridiculing the colonists saying they were fools who would put a feather in their hat and think they had one of these wigs. [Wikipedia]

Yankee Doodle went to town,

Riding on a pony;

He stuck a feather in his hat,

And called it macaroni

(full lyrics)

Pre-20th Century News Music

The Chimney Sweeper

In 1789: English poet William Blake wrote a series of poems called Songs of Innocence and Experience. One of these poems had to do with child labor. It is called The Chimney Sweeper and in 1995 Greg Brown put many of these poems, including The Chimney Sweeper, to music.

 When my mother died I was very young,
And my father sold me while yet my tongue
Could scarcely cry ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep! ‘weep!
So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep.

There’s little Tom Dacre, who cried when his head,
That curled like a lamb’s back, was shaved: so I said,
“Hush, Tom! never mind it, for when your head’s bare,
You know that the soot cannot spoil your white hair.”

And so he was quiet; and that very night,
As Tom was a-sleeping, he had such a sight, –
That thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack,
Were all of them locked up in coffins of black.
And by came an angel who had a bright key,
And he opened the coffins and set them all free;
Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run,
And wash in a river, and shine in the sun.

Then naked and white, all their bags left behind,
They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;
And the angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy,
He’d have God for his father, and never want joy.

And so Tom awoke; and we rose in the dark,
And got with our bags and our brushes to work.
Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm;
So if all do their duty they need not fear harm

Pre-20th Century News Music

“La Marseillaise” 

April 24, 1792: Claude de Lisle (1760 –1836) wrote “La Marseillaise” which became the French National Anthem three years later. It begins with the rousing words:

The day of glory has arrived!

Against us of tyranny

The bloody banner is raised, (repeat)

Do you hear, in the countryside,

The roar of those ferocious soldiers?

They’re coming right into our arms

To cut the throats of our sons and women!

To arms, citizens,

Form your battalions,

Let’s march, let’s march!

That an impure blood

Waters our furrows

Allons enfants de la Patrie

Le jour de gloire est arrivé !

Contre nous de la tyrannie,

L’étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)

Entendez-vous dans les campagnes

Mugir ces féroces soldats ?

Ils viennent jusque dans nos bras

Égorger nos fils et nos compagnes !

Aux armes, citoyens,

Formez vos bataillons,

Marchons, marchons !

Qu’un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons!

Arise, children of the Fatherland,


Many filmlovers are familiar with the song from Casablanca.  The German officers precede La Marseillaise with Die Wacht Am Rhein (The Watch/Guard on the Rhine) a mid-19th century

German patriotic song based on a poem. The poem was written in response to a perceived French threat to land (around the Rhine River) considered German.

A call roars like thunderbolt,
like clashing swords and splashing waves:
To the Rhine, the Rhine, to the German Rhine,
who guards tonight my stream divine?Dear fatherland, no fear be thine,
dear fatherland, no fear be thine,
Firm and True stands the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!
Firm and True stands the Watch, the Watch at the Rhine!
Es braust ein Ruf wie Donnerhall,
wie Schwertgeklirr und Wogenprall:
Zum Rhein, zum Rhein, zum deutschen Rhein,
wer will des Stromes Hüter sein?Lieb’ Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,lieb’ Vaterland, magst ruhig sein,Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!Fest steht und treu die Wacht, die Wacht am Rhein!
Pre-20th Century News Music

“Hard Times Come Again No More”

In 1854:  “Hard Times Come Again No More” is a song by Stephen Foster. It was written in 1854 as Foster’s Melodies No. 28. Well-known and popular in its day, both in America and Europe, the song asks the fortunate to consider the plight of the less fortunate and ends with one of Foster’s favorite images: “a pale drooping maiden”.

 Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears,

While we all sup sorrow with the poor;
There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears;
Oh hard times come again no more.

Tis the song, the sigh of the weary,
Hard Times, hard times, come again no more
Many days you have lingered around my cabin door;
Oh hard times come again no more.

While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay,
There are frail forms fainting at the door;
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh hard times come again no more.
There’s a pale drooping maiden who toils her life away,
With a worn heart whose better days are o’er:
Though her voice would be merry, ’tis sighing all the day,
Oh hard times come again no more.

Tis a sigh that is wafted across the troubled wave,
Tis a wail that is heard upon the shore
Tis a dirge that is murmured around the lowly grave
Oh hard times come again no more

Pre-20th Century News Music

Follow the Drinking Gourd

In 1860s: African Americans sang of their dream for freedom and equality before the Civil War, during it, and long after. Though its origin is sometimes disputed, Follow the Drinking Gourd is still thought of as a song used by “riders” on and “conductors” of the Underground Railroad system used to help slaves escape to safety and freedom by using coded directions. The “drinking gourd” likely refers to the North Star in the Little Dipper’s handle.

Follow the drinking gourd

Follow the drinking gourd

For the old man is a waitin’

For to carry you to freedom

Follow the drinking gourd

When the sun comes up

And the first Quail calls

Follow the drinking gourd

For the old man is a waitin’

For to carry you to freedom

Follow the drinking gourd

The riverbank will make a mighty good road

The dead trees show you the way

Left foot, peg foot travelin’ on

Following the drinking gourd

The river ends between two hills

Follow the drinking gourd

There’s another river on the other side

Follow the drinking gourd

Pre-20th Century News Music

The Internationale

In 1871:  Frenchman, Eugène Pottier (1816–1887), wrote “The Internationale.”  Pierre De Geyter (1848–1932) set the poem to music in 1888 and shortly thereafter it became widely used.

In 1944 it became the national anthem of the Soviet Union and is often still sung today as a worker anthem. Its lyrics are even more rousing than “La Marseillaise.” The first stanza is:

 Debout, les damnés de la terre
Debout, les forçats de la faim
La raison tonne en son cratère
C’est l’éruption de la fin
Du passé faisons table rase
Foule esclave, debout, debout
Le monde va changer de base
Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout
C’est la lutte finale
Groupons-nous, et demain
Sera le genre humain

 Stand up, damned of the Earth
Stand up, prisoners of starvation
Reason thunders in its volcano
This is the eruption of the end
Of the past let us make a clean slate
Enslaved masses, stand up, stand up
The world is about to change its foundation
We are nothing, let us be all
This is the final struggle
Let us group together, and tomorrow
The Internationale
Will be the human race

In 1990 singer Billy Bragg recreated the song: Stand up, all victims of oppression

For the tyrants fear your might
Don’t cling so hard to your possessions
For you have nothing, if you have no rights
Let racist ignorance be ended
For respect makes the empires fall
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by one and all

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on
The Internationale
Unites the world in song
So comrades come rally
For this is the time and place
The international ideal
Unites the human race

Let no one build walls to divide us
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the dawn and stand beside us
We’ll live together or we’ll die alone
In our world poisoned by exploitation
Those who have taken, now they must give
And end the vanity of nations
We’ve but one Earth on which to live

And so begins the final drama
In the streets and in the fields
We stand unbowed before their armour
We defy their guns and shields
When we fight, provoked by their aggression
Let us be inspired by life and love
For though they offer us concessions
Change will not come from above 

See “Early 20th Century News Music” for next group or Mid-20th for another group.

Pre-20th Century News Music

July 2020 COVID 19

July 2020 COVID 19

We ended June with some States reaching the upper phases of reopening their economy, yet others, that  had opened too soon, having to go back and restrict contact. It would be a terrible month in the US and many other parts of the world.

July 1: the United States reported 49,932 new coronavirus cases, the fifth single-day case record in eight days, according to a New York Times database. North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas also hit daily records, with Texas reaching more than 8,000 new infections.

As new cases rose, states and localities reversed course on reopenings. New York City decided not to let its restaurants resume indoor service next week as originally planned. Miami Beach said that it would reinstate a nightly curfew beginning Thursday at 12:30 a.m., extending until 5 a.m., to try to curb the spread. And California shut down bars and halted indoor dining at restaurants in 19 counties that were home to more than 70 percent of the state’s population. [NYT article]

July 2020 COVID 19

532,687 COVID Deaths Worldwide

July 4: 11,364,440 cases; 532,687 deaths worldwide

132,302 COVID Deaths USA

July 4: 2,934,168 cases; 132,302 deaths in the United States

July 2020 COVID 19

States Shatter Coronavirus Records

July 4: NPR reported that state authorities had again reported a record-breaking number of new coronavirus cases.

Florida and South Carolina  both reported passing their previous single-day highs, while AlabamaTexas and a slew of others continued to reel from recent records of their own.

In Florida on July 3 alone, there were more than 11,400 newly confirmed cases of the virus. That sum shatters a record that was set in the state just a couple of days ago — around the same time that the U.S. as a whole recorded the world’s highest-ever daily tally, with more than 55,000.

In a desperate bid to curtail the latest spike in the statewide caseload, local leaders in Florida implemented a slew of measures to tamp down the weekend’s usual holiday festivities. Miami-Dade County, for one, has instituted a curfew beginning at 10 p.m. “until further notice,” while beaches across much of South Florida are closed.

July 2020 COVID 19

July 4: the NY Times reported that the emerging clusters of infection increasingly confirm what many scientists had been saying for months: The virus lingers in the air indoors, infecting those nearby.

If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients.

Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors.

The World Health Organization had long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.

July 2020 COVID 19

Trump administration moves to formally withdraw US from WHO

July 7: the White House officially moved to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO), a senior administration official confirmed, breaking ties with a global public health body in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. submitted its withdrawal notification to the United Nations secretary-general, the official said. Withdrawal requires a year’s notice, so it will not go into effect until July 6, 2021, raising the possibility the decision could be reversed. [The Hill article]

July 2020 COVID 19

Another national record & at least five states set single-day records for infections

July 8:  the NY Times reported that as President Trump continued to press for a broader reopening, the United States set another record for new coronavirus cases, with more than 59,400 infections announced, according to a New York Times database. It was the fifth national record in nine days.

The previous record, 56,567, was reported July 3.

The country reached a total of three million cases July 7 as the virus continued its resurgence in the South and West. At least five states — MissouriTennesseeTexasUtah and West Virginia — set single-day records for new infections on this date.

As of July 7 the country’s daily number of new cases had increased by 72 percent over the past two weeks. And by this date 24 states had reported more cases over the past week than in any other seven-day stretch of the pandemic.

July 2020 COVID 19

552,781 COVID Deaths Worldwide

July 9: 12,196,982 cases; 552,781 deaths worldwide

134,883 COVID Deaths USA

July 9: 3,159,514 cases; 134,883 deaths in the United States

July 2020 COVID 19

Another US record

July 12: the Florida Department of Health reported at least 15,299 new Covid-19 cases, the highest number of new cases in a single day by any state since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The test positivity rate — which could indicate how rampantly the virus was spreading — reached 19.6% as of July 12, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Across the country, more than half the states are dealing with increased rates of new cases compared to last week. And more than half the states have paused or rolled back their reopening plans in hopes of getting coronavirus under control. [CNN article]
July 2020 COVID 19

572,227 COVID Deaths Worldwide

July 13: 13,062,585 cases; 572,227 deaths worldwide

137,787 COVID Deaths USA

July 13: 3,414,105 cases; 137,787 deaths in the United States

July 2020 COVID 19

July 14: the Trump administration ordered hospitals to bypass the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and send all Covid-19 patient information to a central database in Washington beginning July 15. The move alarmed health experts who feared the data will be politicized or withheld from the public.

The new instructions were posted  in a little-noticed document on the Department of Health and Human Services website. The department — not the C.D.C. — would collect daily reports about the patients that each hospital is treating, the number of available beds and ventilators, and other information vital to tracking the pandemic.

Officials said the change would streamline data gathering and assist the White House coronavirus task force in allocating scarce supplies like personal protective gear and remdesivir, the first drug shown to be effective against the virus. But the Health and Human Services database that would receive new information was not open to the public, which could affect the work of scores of researchers, modelers and health officials who rely on C.D.C. data to make projections and crucial decisions.

Historically, C.D.C. has been the place where public health data has been sent, and this raises questions about not just access for researchers but access for reporters, access for the public to try to better understand what is happening with the outbreak,” said Jen Kates, the director of global health and H.I.V. policy with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. [NYT article]

July 2020 COVID 19

582,320 COVID Deaths Worldwide

July 15: 13,504,043 cases; 582,320 deaths worldwide

139,189 COVID Deaths USA

July 15: 3,548,546 cases; 139,189 deaths in the United States

July 2020 COVID 19

White House reversal

July 16: the US Department of Health and Human Services changed course  on its controversial decision about hospital data, directing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to re-post public hospital information onto its website.

On July 14, the HHS had told hospitals to stop reporting the data on coronavirus hospitalizations to CDC, saying the agency was posting the information too slowly. HHS, the parent department of CDC, said it would manage the information instead.
CDC had taken down some of the data from its website on July 15th, but on the morning of July 16, HHS said it was directing the agency to put the data back up. [CNN story]

July 2020 COVID 19

July 16: from the NYT: as clashes over face-covering mandates and school reopening plans intensified throughout the United States, the country shattered its single-day record for new cases on Thursday — more than 75,600, according to a New York Times database.

This was the 11th time in the past month that the record had been broken. The number has more than doubled since June 24, when the country registered 37,014 cases after a lull in the outbreak had kept the previous record, 36,738, standing for two months.

As of July 15, the country’s seven-day average case number exceeded 63,000, up from about 22,200 a month before.

July 2020 COVID 19

For 1st time, Trump urges Americans to wear masks

July 21: the daily death total in the United States exceeded 1,000 for the first time in weeks, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were likely far more infections than have been reported.

The news came as President Trump abandoned his consistently rosy forecasts and told reporters during his first coronavirus briefing since April that the outbreak would probably “get worse before it gets better.”

Having previously described recent outbreaks around the country as just “embers” of the virus, Mr. Trump conceded that there were now “big fires,” particularly in Florida and elsewhere across the South and West.

He also reversed his past resistance to masks, for the first time imploring Americans to wear them and acknowledging that “they have an impact.” [NYT article]

July 2020 COVID 19

620,292 COVID Deaths Worldwide

July 22: 15,121,827 cases; 620,292 deaths worldwide

144,958 COVID Deaths USA

July 22: 4,028,733 cases; 144,958 deaths in the United States

July 2020 COVID 19

July 24: the United States came just short of breaking its single-day record for new coronavirus cases, adding more than 73,400, the second-highest daily total, and signaling that infection rates show no signs of slowing.

The single-day record, set on July 16, is 75,697 cases. Since June 24, the seven-day average had more than doubled, from 31,402 to more than 66,100 on this date, which was also the fourth consecutive day with more than 1,100 deaths reported.

As the number of cases has continued to climb, so has the number of hospitalizations, which had skirted its own record in recent days.

The number of people known to be hospitalized with the coronavirus in the United States was 59,670, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a few hundred short of the record of 59,940 reported by the database on April 15. [NYT article]

July 2020 COVID 19


July 26: Florida recorded more coronavirus cases than New York. Only California, the most populous state in the country, had more.

As of July 26, data from Johns Hopkins University showed 423,855 people in Florida had tested positive for the coronavirus, compared to 411,736 in New York. California lead with 450,242 cases.

New York, once the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S., managed to bring the number of deaths and hospitalizations under control in late spring, as cases began to surge in many Western and Southern states.

In Early July, Florida reported 15,299 new resident cases in one day, marking the largest single-day increase in any state since the start of the pandemic and overshadowing a record New York had set in April. It recorded more than 9,000 new cases per day since then.

And its death toll was starting to catch up. On July 23, Florida reported 173 new deaths, its largest increase in a single day.

Florida logged 9,338 new cases among residents and 77 new deaths on July 26, while New York’s latest daily numbers reflect 536 new cases and three deaths. [NPR story]

July 31: The United States recorded more than 1.9 million new infections in July, nearly 42 percent of the more than 4.5 million cases reported nationwide since the pandemic began and more than double the number documented in any other month, according to data compiled by The New York Times. The previous monthly high came in April, when more than 880,000 new cases were recorded.

The virus was picking up dangerous speed in much of the Midwest — and in states from Mississippi to Florida to California that thought they had already seen the worst of it.

Previous COVID-19 posts:

What's so funny about peace, love, art, and activism?