I was in Vietnam from late '68 to late '69 in a combat infantry unit. When we were back in the fire bases or back at our base camp most everyone I knew either drank or smoked dope to socialize, ease the pain of lost buddies or the stress of the last mission and try to get emotionally ready to go out on the next one. I don't say it was right or even condone it. We never did anything out in the jungle, not even smoke cigarettes. We were 10,000 miles from home, we were young and crazy but not stupid. We had to cope with life that was now extremely violent, totally unpredictable and made no sense from what we learned growing up.
I never did drugs and drank very little before going into the Army. I was in Vietnam for a month and a half when I lead our company into an ambush that took the lives of my entire squad plus 50% of our company were dusted off (flown out to a hospital). I was nearly overwhelmed with shock, grief, guilt and loneliness. Practically everone I had known since arriving in country were gone. Back at the fire base I walked around in a fog, just empty inside when I saw a group of survivors sitting around laughing and enjoying each others companionship. I desperately needed something and decided to sit and smoke with them for the first time in my life - to be part of a group who were supporting one another with humor and light heartedness.
At first I thought that getting high would make the pain go away or help me understand why things happened. It didn't, smoking and joking provided only a tempory relief but we would listen to one another, comisserate together, joke and laugh at things others would never understand (combat humor is strange). There was no official help for combat stress, soldiers were supposed to suck it up and "handle it", so we helped each other get through the horror and fear for 365 days.
I ended up walking point for a total of ten months. We rotated the three platoons to the point position each day, so I only was up front every third day. After that first big ambush I walked us into, we never had another casualty while I was on point. I don't think smoking dope back in the fire bases and base camp made me less allert in the jungle. I was no John Wayne, I just survived.