An Army Nurse Corps Veteran Answers
Questions from a High School class in 1996
Sat, 09 Mar 1996
I will try to answer your questions about Vietnam as honestly and accurately as possible. I will always answer from my own experience, not someone else's, so if you hear another story that contradicts mine, that is not unusual. The Vietnam war occurred over a long period of time and over a long country. What was typical of one time and place might not have been typical of another time and place. I was in Vietnam from March of 1966 to March of 1968.
How many people came in and out of the hospital on a daily basis?
The 2 largest hospitals I worked in had about 300 beds. These were regular surgical and
medical hospitals that received soldiers on sick call as well as wounded from the field.
We would get in about 100 patients a day. We treated them as quickly as possible and sent
them either back to their units if they were well enough or on to Japan if they still
The average length of stay was 3 or 4 days. I was an operating room nurse, so I would work on anywhere from 5 to 20 surgeries in a day. I worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. When there was a big battle, everyone worked around the clock for several days at a time, and nobody got to get off duty. For a couple of months I worked at a clearing company, which was a small medical unit set up in the field to treat casualties as they came in, get them stabilized, and send them to the appropriate hospital by helicopter. Since we didn't actually do much surgery unless we
had to, we saw many more patients each day. There were only 2 nurses assigned to this unit, one doctor, and several medics.
Do you still have any kind of relationship with people you helped or worked with?
I do get letters now and then from men I operated on, and I am still friends with
several nurses. The hospitals have a reunion every 5 years, but I am not too interested. I
didn't like a lot of the doctors I
worked with, and they are the ones who usually show up at the reunions. The people I liked
best were the medics and the dustoff helicopter pilots, and they usually don't go to the
reunions. When I came back to the U.S., I came back by myself. The other nurses I knew
either were still there or
they had already left. Most of us didn't write to each other. The worlds were just too
different. For years after the war I tried to forget about it completely, and didn't want
to have anything to do with the other women who had served. I didn't want to find out if
they were adjusting better than I was, or, God forbid, they were even worse off!
Where did you sleep?
Sometimes I slept in tents, if the hospital I was at was just being built. (This happened to me twice. When I went to Vietnam, there were 12 Army hospitals. When I left, there were 24.) I also of course slept in a tent at the clearing company, since it was out in the boonies. Our more usual billets were what were called tropical hootches. They had walls about 5 feet high, then a screened part up to the roof. The outside walls were protected with sandbags to about 4 feet.
There were 2 rooms on either side of a central "living room." Each of us had
our own room, but it was not much bigger than an average size bathroom. I slept on an iron
Army bed, twin size. During rocket attacks we were supposed to put on our flak jackets and
helmets, crawl under the beds with our heads to the wall, and wait. My room had only a
foot locker and my bed.
Were the hospitals sanitary?
They were as sanitary as we could make them given the fact that we had no time, and supplies frequently ran short because they were stolen before they got to us. The hospitals were not all air conditioned, and there were flies everywhere. The hospitals were really groups of quonset huts, not buildings like you think of as hospitals. (They looked like airplane hangars.)
We used big floor fans to keep the patients cool. The operating rooms were air conditioned because anesthetics are gases that will explode in tropical heat. Walking out of the operating room to another part of the hospital always made me dizzy, sweaty, and nauseated because of the difference in temperature.
We didn't have time to clean patients up much after surgery because we were short of
personnel. the operating rooms were as clean as operating rooms in the U.S., but
the wards were dirtier because it rains 6 months a year in Vietnam, and then the whole
place turns to dust for 6 months, and with as much traffic in and out of the wards, it was
impossible to keep out the mud and dust. We also had a problem with rats. There were huge
flying insects that the medics called "nurse killers."
Was I treated well?
Not by the doctors who were in charge of the hospital. I thought they were arrogant and
self-important. We had to be careful on base because we might get raped by soldiers. At
the average base camp there might be 5,000 males and 40 females. It wasn't safe to go
strolling around. We couldn't go anywhere except the hospital compound alone. But the
wounded guys treated us like we walked on water. Some of my head nurses were very kind and
understanding, and others just wanted to enforce stupid rules about uniform regulations
and what time the men had to be out of our billets, that sort of petty nonsense.
I hope these are complete answers to the questions. Please feel free to ask for an explanation of anything that I didn't make clear. Since this can't be a real-time conversation, it isn't easy to know when I've used a word or phrase that needs clarification. I hope you and your classmates have an informative unit on Vietnam. When I was in high school, I was supposed to interview a World War II veteran. I tried to get my father to talk, but he wouldn't say anything! I'm hoping he will talk to me about it before he dies and all that history is forever silenced. I look forward to hearing from you again.
As they said in the Sixties, Peace--
Mon, 15 Apr 1996
You asked about nightmares about the war: I had nightmares off and on for a long time, but I don't have any right now. I used to work in the shock-trauma unit in Baltimore, but I had to quit because I would have flashbacks and not be able to concentrate on my work. (Flashbacks are sort of like nightmares that happen when you're awake. The real world and memories exist side-by-side for a time, something like a split screen on a TV.) That made me dangerous, of course, because if I got confused about the dosage of a drug I was giving someone, I could kill them, or if I forgot to check a piece of equipment, the same thing could happen. So I taught health for a long time, and now I am back in a hospital, but working in managed care administration. It's boring--not the same as taking care of sick people--but I have had a number of operations on my feet and although I think I could handle it emotionally now, I don't think my feet can take any more! I also hurt my shoulder lifting a patient, and it has hurt ever since. I don't want to aggravate it any more, because if I damaged it further, it could keep me from doing ordinary, daily things to take care of myself like cooking or dressing myself.
Date: Mon, 22 Apr 1996
No, my foot injuries are not due to the war. Once I was knocked out when a jeep I was in overturned--a Vietnamese kid was trying to blow us up, and we had to take serious evasive action--but I came back from the war with no injuries. Some nurses were wounded in Vietnam, and 8 were killed, but I was lucky. My foot problems are mostly from nursing--standing on my feet
so much in operating rooms and in ICUs. I have weird feet that need orthotics, but no doctor suggested it until a few years ago, after the damage had been done.
This coming weekend I am having a party and a theater outing for the 25th Infantry Division Association. The 25th Division is the Army division that the hospital I was at in Vietnam took care of. We get together every year on the weekend nearest April 30, which is the date of the fall of Saigon (in 1975). We take that time to remember our fallen soldiers and to remember the South Vietnamese who lost their country. April 30, 1975 is when the North Vietnamese government finally defeated the South Vietnamese government, and the Republic of Vietnam ceased to exist. We had fought the war for a long time and had 58,000 killed and 300,000 wounded Americans, but the South Vietnamese lost anyway. It is a sad time for Vietnam veterans.
So much for the history lesson--I was starting to talk about the play we are going to
see. It is called "A Piece of My Heart," and it is about women who served in
Vietnam, both civilian and military. It was adapted from a book of interviews. You might
get it from the library -- I recommend you read it. The author is Keith Walker. It also
has some pictures of the women while they were in Vietnam. I know 6 or 7 of the women in
the book. Two other good books about Vietnam are "Shrapnel in
the Heart" by Laura Palmer, and "American Daughter Gone to War" by Winnie Smith. "Shrapnel in the Heart" is about people who left letters at the Wall and the people on the Wall they wrote the letters to. "American Daughter Gone to War" is the memoir of an Army nurse in Vietnam.
Date: Fri, 24 May 1996
Tomorrow I am going to Washington, DC for Memorial Day. There are gatherings and ceremonies at the Wall all weekend, and it is a special time, along with Veterans Day. If you ever get a chance to go, stop by. I belong to a group called the Vietnam Memorial Day Writers' Project, and they have a tent there all weekend on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and people (usually veterans) read their poems and stories, and sing their songs. One guy even shows his paintings. It is a nice, friendly group of people who get together to laugh and cry. So I will spend a lot of time there reading my poems. There is also a group called Friends of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, who help people look up names on the Wall, and find relatives of people whose names are on the Wall. They have a ceremony to honor the names of people who died after the war was over of war-related causes, such as Agent Orange. I like to talk to the family members of those people to find out their stories and give them a chance to talk to someone who understands. Memorial Day is a special time for me and for other veterans.
Date: Sun, 2 Jun 1996
We also went to the Memorial Day ceremonies at the Wall in Washington last weekend. It was chilly and rainy most of the weekend, unfortunately. It is usually nice in Washington on Memorial Day weekend.
I read some of my poetry at the Memorial Day Writers' Project, and ran into some people I know. It is interesting to go to the women's memorial and watch people's reactions to it. There are several benches a few yards away from the statue. I don't watch people at the Wall itself because it is intrusive. I don't like for people to watch me, and I don't watch them.
But I do read the notes people leave, and look at the pictures and mementoes. This year someone left a beautiful replica of a hill tribe house. If you ever get a chance to go to Washington, take good walking shoes and enjoy! It is beautiful and there is so much to do and see you never get through it all.
Questions from a High School class in 1997
Tue, 28 Jan 1997
The Vietnam war was an interesting time musically . If you can send them back, I will send you some tapes of the radio station we listened to in Vietnam. I have a couple of tapes that were recorded off the air (very bad sound), and a couple from National Public Radio programs on the war. It is rather hard to tell from the movies what music was popular in Vietnam. They only show you what music was popular in the States during the war. In Vietnam we listened to many different sorts of music, and tended to classify each other and make friends on the basis of what kind of music we liked.
As for my background, I was born in Germany but grew up in Texas. I joined the Army on the Army Student Nurse Program. It was a program in which the Army would pay my nursing school and living expenses in return for three years of active duty and three years of reserve duty in the Army when I got my nursing license. (Nursing school is usually three years, including summers.) I graduated from nursing school and joined the Army in 1965. I went to basic training in San Antonio, Texas, at Fort Sam Houston. In basic training they taught us how to march, use a compass and a map, set up field hospitals, set up sanitary conditions in military camps, and do emergency procedures. After basic training I spent six months in training to be an operating room nurse. As soon as I was finished with OR training, I was sent to Vietnam after a month's leave to go home. I volunteered for Vietnam because I was obligated to serve a year on an overseas assignment, and I had a choice between Vietnam and Germany. I did not want to spend a year in Germany, so I went to Vietnam.
When I was there, the war was just beginning, and they were sending more and more soldiers every month. The first place I was sent to was the Ninth Field Hospital in Nha Trang, on the coast in the middle of the country. Nha Trang is a beautiful city, and the beaches in Vietnam are beautiful. One thing people do not realize about Vietnam is that it is a stunningly beautiful country. I worked in an operating room in Nha Trang for six months, and then was sent to the 12th Evacuation Hospital
(12th Evac) in Cu Chi, which is between Saigon and the Cambodian border.
Cu Chi was very dusty in the dry season, very muddy during the rainy season, and dangerous all the time. It was a huge base, much bigger than the one in Nha Trang that I was used to. Cu Chi was also much hotter than Nha Trang, and very difficult to get used to the heat and humidity. While I was serving in Cu Chi I went on R&R (rest and recuperation) for 5 days in Japan. It was the first time in 9 months that I had taken a real bath instead of a cold shower! It was the first time I didn't hear artillery firing all night long while I was trying to sleep. The hotel room was air conditioned, and I was amazed!
After completing my year in Vietnam, I returned to Texas, but could not stand being back in the United States, where nobody cared about what was going on in Vietnam. I was supposed to go to Fort Riley, Kansas, but I had my orders changed and I went back to Vietnam for another year.
When I came back from Vietnam I got out of the Army. I moved to Maryland and went to graduate school on the GI Bill. I also worked in the country's first shock/trauma unit in a hospital in Baltimore. It was not a good time. The war was still going on, but I was no longer a part of it, and I could do nothing about stopping it or saving any soldiers' lives any more. There were riots on the college campus where I was going to graduate school. It was a very strange time to live through.
I got married but ultimately the marriage did not work out. I lost several babies before I finally had my son, who is now 22 years old.
I really don't know what you might want to know about Vietnam, the war, or women in the war, but if you ask, I will try to answer as fully and honestly as possible. I hope the semester is an interesting one for you.
There is also a great book on the Internet that was written by some high school students in New York who just finished a semester project on the literature of the Vietnam war. Some students interviewed veterans, and others wrote poetry about what they learned about. The Internet address
Questions from a High School class in 1996
We read your poetry and thought the poems were great. We
loved "Welcome Home I." In "Hello, David," is David a real person or
is it a fictional character made from all of the soldiers you came in contact with?
Yes, David was real. It was a "slow" day in the operating room, and we worked on David all day. It was obvious that he wasn't going to make it, and if we had lots of casualties, we probably wouldn't even have operated on him. After my regular shift in the operating room I stayed with him in post-op ICU (intensive care unit). I really don't know why. Sometimes I worked there in the evening for a few hours after my regular shift just to calm down from the day so I could sleep. One of my friends was the head nurse of the ICU and I liked being around her. David was not much different from lots of other kids. I just happen to remember him. Maybe it was because he reminded me of my brother: same sandy hair, same freckles, skinny, too young to be dying that way.
What was wrong with the most injured soldier that you
That's impossible to say. I helped perform surgery on guys that were missing both legs and an arm, or two arms and one leg, with multiple internal injuries as well. We called them "train wrecks," because you just didn't know where to start, and they were probably going to die from shock anyway.
Were you ever discriminated against for being a women?
I don't think I was discriminated against in Vietnam for being a woman, because I was expected to do a certain job because I was a nurse, not because I was a woman. There were some male nurses in Vietnam too.
However, we did have our share of what today would be called sexual harassment. Back then we didn't call it that: we just called men who behaved that way jerks. We thought it was up to us to learn how to handle men who wanted sex when we didn't. The upper level officers (majors, colonels) were the worst with the nurses. The nurses were officers, and we didn't have any problem with the enlisted men, because they could be court martialed for such things. But the officers--that was another story.
Were your quarters an ungrateful place to live?
The nurses' billets were called "hootches" or "hooches." There was a large living room with tiny rooms on all sides. Each nurse had a tiny room for sleeping, but we mostly hung out in the living area. It had a radio, a telephone so the hospital could call us if they needed us, and an electric skillet in which we cooked all sorts of terrible food, like Chef BoyArDee pizza, sloppy joes, chili, and popcorn. The hootches were not air conditioned. The bottom part of the walls on the outside were lined with stacks of sandbags, and the windows were up at the top of the walls near the roof. You opened the window from the outside by raising a tin cover and propping it up with a pole. My room in the hootch had a steel cot that was smaller than twin size, and a metal trunk where I stored my clothes. I had a wooden box with a light bulb inside that we called a "hot box." It was for keeping your clothes in during the rainy season. The light dried out the clothes. If you didn't use a hot box, everything you owned mildewed. It was really disgusting. We had other furniture that we either scrounged or had guys make for us out of crates. I had a table that I could pull up to the bed for writing and keeping my books. My mom sent me a set of metal canisters to keep my cookies and popcorn in. The rats chewed into everything else, like cardboard boxes or plastic canisters. There were no flush toilets. We had outhouses with 55-gallon barrels to catch the waste. They burned it every day. Our showers were plywood boxes on a concrete slab, with a big tank of water overhead. If you got there the wrong time of day, the water was freezing!!!!! To this day I will never take a cold shower. If the hot water goes off in my apartment, I go dirty or find a place to take a hot shower rather than deal with that cold water again. Living like we did in Vietnam makes you appreciate the little things you take for granted living in this huge rich country.
Do you have flashbacks or ever still think about when you were in Vietnam?
I used to have flashbacks, from about 1985 to 1993, but I haven't had any "real" ones in the last several years. I think about Vietnam every day. Every day I wake up and I know I am still alive and someone died in Vietnam on this particular day. I've had 26, or 27, or 28, or 29 years that they didn't have. Sometimes little things remind me of Vietnam, like hearing Oriental music, or a thunderstorm on a really hot day, or a helicopter.
It seems as though being involved in a war such as Vietnam would strengthen or toughen a young women like you, mentally, spiritualy, or physically. Did it for you? If so, in what way?
It changed my values. I no longer cared what everybody else thought about me. I didn't care about having the latest clothes, or being "nice" so everyone would like me. I knew how precious and how fragile life is. I saw death up close and it changed me in all ways and for all time. In some ways I am tough, yes. But in some ways I am more tender. I am more sincerely loving and understanding and forgiving of other people's quirks, because I know it isn't worth the hassle of being angry and annoyed all the time. We aren't here for very long. Why spend the time being grumpy? On the other hand, I don't suffer fools gladly. I absolutely HATE laziness and incompetence. In Vietnam laziness and incompetence could easily get someone killed. I never got out of the habit of doing my best and
expecting the best from others.
Do you regret being apart of the Vietnam?
No. I regret that the war happened, yes, but I don't regret my part in it. I didn't do anything to be ashamed of. I did my best, and probably some guys are walking around today and playing with their kids because I was there. That makes it worth it.
How old were you when you left for Vietnam the first time?
I was 20. I graduated from nursing school in May, passed my licensing boards in August, and started basic training in August. Then I had 6 months of operating room training before going to Vietnam. Most of the nurses were at least 21, but I started grade school when I was five, skipped second grade, and graduated from high school a year early.
04:02 PM 3/20/97
We are studying World War I in world history right now. I wanted to ask you about trench-foot. Have you ever dealt with a soldier that had trench-foot?
Oh, yes, that was a nasty one. In Vietnam we called it "immersion foot" and "jungle rot." It happened when GIs had no way of getting their feet dry for days and weeks at a time. The flesh of the foot would become like soap that has been left in water. We treated it with antibiotics and scraping away the dead tissue and keeping the area dry.
We learned that U.S. would send statements to Vietnam saying you were winning when you really weren't, to keep your hopes up. What all do you know about that?
I never heard anything like that. The generals that were running the war had a press conference every day in Saigon. All the reporters would show up, and the generals would tell them how we were winning the war.
Everybody called it the "Five O'Clock Follies." We weren't stupid. We could see what was happening, no matter what the generals said. The press knew it too. They just quoted what the generals said. At that time there were no videotapes. All reporters' film was sent to Bangkok by plane, and it was developed, edited, and sent to New York from there. There weren't
any live broadcasts like there are now, so they could get away with more, I suppose. We read "Stars and Stripes," but we didn't have much contact with the press or what they were saying at home.
Did you become close to any certain soldier or soldiers specifically? If so, how would you spend time together?
The female nurses became very close to the male nurses and the medics who worked on our wards. The ward usually had about 70 wounded, and one or two nurses and two medics to take care of all of those guys. We worked very hard and had to work very closely together, and we developed a lot of respect for each other. We couldn't date the medics because they were enlisted and we were officers. Most of us wouldn't want to anyway because they were younger than we were. The nurses also hung around with the helicopter pilots. We were allowed to have men in our billets until 11:00
p.m., and we would sometimes hang around in the common area together, drink beer, pop popcorn, play tapes, sing if anybody had a guitar, etc.
What were your flashbacks you mentioned like?
Well, I've had different types of experiences that I call "flashbacks." Sometimes I'll just get an overwhelming feeling that what I'm experiencing is back in Vietnam. For example, if I hear an explosion and I'm in a tired or jumpy frame of mind already, I might forget that it is 1997 and I'll throw myself to the ground and try to figure out why I don't have my helmet and flak jacket. Other times I have seen several Vietnam-type helicopters and my heart started pounding, and I looked around for the hospital so I could meet the helicopters at receiving and emergency. Sometimes I just smell something that I know isn't really there, but it's a smell from Vietnam. Sometimes I see something happening in Vietnam and at the same time see what is really happening in the present time. I know the Vietnam scene isn't real, but I can't make it go away. It just has to go away by itself.
What did your training consist of, or did you have training?
Nurses had 6 weeks of basic training, which consisted of learning Army protocol and rank, learning how to treat battle injuries, how to read a map and compass, how to march (very useful in Vietnam!), and how to control sanitation in the field. None of it was very useful in Vietnam. If we wanted specialized training, like surgery or anesthesia, we had to sign up for additional time in the Army. I had six months of operating room training before I went to Vietnam. It consisted of working in an operating room at an Army hospital as an apprentice. It was very much like nursing school.
We enjoyed your poetry so much because you made the places, uniforms, and other people sound so attractive. Most people would have complained about the uniforms and combatboots, but you seemed as though they made you feel good. Is this true?
I really hated green. I look nauseated in green. But the nurses' uniforms actually were quite comfortable, and the boots were practical. I preferred the utility uniform to dress uniforms because they were like wearing jeans.
One thing I liked about uniforms was that the rich girls didn't look any better or fancier than the poor girls, and the poor girls had an equal chance at attracting men! The other people I was with were attractive to me because I loved them.
I am on an e-mail list for women Vietnam veterans and I asked them to describe the places they lived in Vietnam. I am forwarding their answers to you (there are several). This one was from a civilian woman who worked for Special Services.
Subject: Re: Billets and Hootches
A wooden fort - high wood fence with bright spotlights shining down - a dirt courtyard area where we used to sunbath while guys in choppers hovered overhead - long raw wood row building in an L-shape (from what I recall) segmented into small private rooms with individual doors (like a motel) - concrete floor - slanted wood slat walls with screening - ceiling open to the rafters and the other rooms - single bulb light fixture hanging down - always seemed dark in the room - OD narrow metal
locker - single metal bed with mosquito net - Special Services, Red Cross, and nurses all lived in the compound - very sparse and smelled like wood and had attacks of giant roaches throughout the building on occassion. (Somebody else was probably in Bearcat and remembers better. I was only there a short time. I hated this place.)
Slave quarters on what was a French rubber plantation - private yellow stone building for 2-4 Special Services girls (no other American women on base) - concrete floor - Large high screen windows with metal shutters on the outside that could be lowered in bad weather - inside grey walls with gheko lizards (friendlies) crawling up them - living room with grey plastic sofa and club chair, a wood bookcase we painted bright red, a copy of a psychedelic painting of John Lennon, a large landscape oil painting done for us by a Korean PX worker, a large wood bar and barstools built for us by 34th Engineers, a hemp carpet, and a phone, TV, and, eventually, air conditioner - small kitchen with bare deep sink and tap water from a water tank on the roof, a chrome table and chairs, and a big, modern refrigerator/freezer given to us by the CO - bathroom with small sink, toilet with a pull chain, a metal dresser, a curtained shower, and wall shelves where things fell from whenever there was a B-52 strike nearby - at first a large single bedroom with several metal beds, dressers, and lockers and a cement patio with a plastic fence around it painted with Snoopy (yes, the dog) figures - later two small bedrooms added over the old patio, but only set on top of it so that they flooded during the rainy season and we waded to our beds - my bedroom had a beaded curtain on the door and a photo of Audrey Hepburn on the wall - outside the front door of the hooch, there was a small dirt underground bunker with crawly things in it - oh, yes, the roof was corrugated metal, so rain sounded like battering rams - the hooch was located inside Headquarters compound with rows of other buildings like it housing Air Force FAC pilots, Public Information guys, and the Brigade offices, but we could see the rubber trees through the wire fence (where the enemy came from when we were getting overrun) - Phuoc Vinh was very small then - the Service Club, where we worked, was outside Headquarters compound, across a field and down a dusty road aways. This was home and I loved it.
Ann was a civilian who went to Vietnam with her husband, who was in the military. She lived in a real house, unlike most of the military women who were in Vietnam.
Subject: Re: Billets and Hootches
The day I first arrived with my three pre-school kids, my husband took me to a walled villa at 117 Tran Qui Cap - it had a small "garden" inside the seven-feet high, concrete walls. This wall had broken glass imbedded in the top. The house had a small living room/dining area and two small bedrooms which were the coldest place in temperature I had ever encountered. I think the air-conditioning in each was meant for a house! It felt really good - and the children and I, exhausted, fell into an immediate, coma-like sleep.
This is the second part of Ann's answer about her quarters. She is the civilian wife.
I arrived in Saigon; that was the wall around our house which had the glass embedded in the top.
When I woke up - finally - my husband was the re, but there were two Vietnamese ladies with lacquered teeth smiling at me..... they spoke NO English. I had always prayed for someone to help me with these lil children - my dream had come true!
My husband did not get home until 2200 that night and he had bad news - they were sending him to Hawaii for four weeks of TDY......now what!! It was fish or cut bait time! Thus began my first two and one half year adventure in Vietnam.
How was your second welcome home?
The second was worse than the first, if that could be believed. I was hitchhiking to the airport in San Francisco from Travis Air Force Base, and four college age came toward me in a nice car. They threw half- empty beer cans at me. I got beer all over my uniform, and one of the cans cut my shin.
I read that most of the nurses that worked at Vietnam were red cross volunteers.
The Red Cross was a totally different program from the Army nurses. Army nurses were members of the Army and just like everyone else in the Army had to follow orders and were obligated to a certain length of enlistment. Nurses volunteer for the Army and they usually volunteered for duty in Vietnam, but some of them were sent on orders without volunteering first. Not all Army or other military nurses are women.
If a male nurse was drafted, he could serve in the Army Nurse Corps.
The Red Cross are civilians, and they all volunteered for duty in Vietnam. There were three programs for Red Cross women in Vietnam. One was for hospital workers. They were not nurses. They wrote letters for wounded soldiers, talked to them, helped make contact with family members in family emergencies, notified soldiers of new babies, etc. Another type of Red Cross worker went to bases and played games with and chatted with the soldiers. The idea was to take their minds off the war for a while and build morale. There was also a third program but I forget exactly what they did. No Red Cross workers in Vietnam were nurses, however. Besides the Army, the Navy and the Air Force had nurses in Vietnam. A total of 10 nurses were killed in Vietnam. Eight of them were women: 7 Army and 1 Air Force nurse. Two of them were men : they were both Navy nurses.
Were you a volunteer?
Yes, I volunteered for the Army in order to have the Army pay for my nursing school, since that was the only way I would have enough money to go to school after high school. I volunteered for Vietnam because I was obligated to do one year of overseas duty. I had a choice of Vietnam, Korea, and Germany. I did not want Korea because it is very cold. I did not want Germany because my mother is a Holocaust survivor, I was born in Germany, and I didn't feel like spending a year among the Germans, who are not all that fond of Jews. That left Vietnam. When I went to Vietnam the war was just starting to get worse. Not many soldiers or nurses were there yet. They kept telling us it was not going to last long. I thought it would be no big deal. I was wrong of
course, but I couldn't know that at the age of 20.
While I was on the internet reading some of your poems I ran across a few by different authors. Some were veterans writing to their nurses. I was wondering what your opinion of the importance of vietnam nurses and the credit they were granted? Do you think they did more than what they got credit for?
Most people have no idea what we did, or how difficult the circumstances were in which we did our jobs. They imagine hospitals in Vietnam to be like hospitals in the United States, and they think that nurses were away from the fighting and away from the danger. They are wrong about all of that. We worked a minimum of 12 hours a day, and we only had one day off a week, which we spent going to orphanages and villages and taking care of civilian children. There was very little time to do anything except work. We were exhausted all the time, and the heat was incredible. Our quarters were not air conditioned, and Vietnam is a tropical country. Worse than Georgia! There are only two seasons: wet and dry. It is ALWAYS hot in south Vietnam. Our supplies were sometimes limited, and there weren't enough nurses. I am sure that we did more than we got credit for, but I never thought about recognition. It was just my job. The soldiers we took care of are usually quite grateful to us for what we did, because they saw the conditions we worked under, and they knew how hard it was, because they were there. They knew we didn't have to be there, but we wanted to be there for their sakes, so naturally they feel gratitude for whatever we could do. The male veterans treat me like a queen.
Thanks for the kind words. I just hope you never have to get involved in anything like Vietnam except as a school project!
How many male nurses were there?
Most of the nurses were women, but there were quite a few male nurses as well, many of them in the Navy. Lots of male nurses went into the military because they were more accepted there than in civilian hospitals. Two of the nurses killed in Vietnam were men. There were male nurses in every hospital I was stationed at, and there was an all-male hospital in Quang Tri, near the DMZ. It was considered too dangerous to send women to. I think maybe later in the war they sent women as well, but I'm not sure about that.
What kind of medical instruments did you use?
We generally used the same kind of instruments we would in the US, but sometimes we had to improvise because of shortages, or because something didn't work as efficiently on wounds as we would like.
Did you later finish college?
I finished college while I was getting my surgical training, before I was sent to Vietnam. I went to graduate school on the GI Bill a few years after I got out of the Army.
What were the children's homes like?
They were like large dormitories. Children of the same age were housed in the same room. The nurseries had 30 or so cribs in them. The older children slept in large rooms with bunks around the walls. There was a school and a large cafeteria. The children usually wore uniforms, the same colored cotton shirt and cotton pants. For some reason I remember them always being blue. The children had few toys. The food was mostly rice and maybe a little piece of fish and some green vegetable Many of the orphanages were run by Vietnamese or French nuns. Some of the American GIs also built orphanages. All of the ones I saw were old French buildings (stucco) with vinyl tile floors, or cinder block ones built by our guys.
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My Vietnam Related Websites: My Other Websites: Other Important Websites:
Women in Vietnam ~ Read about ALL the women who served . . .
The Irish on the Wall ~ An effort to locate the Irish who died in Vietnam
Tim O'Brien's Home Page ~ National Book Award Winner and Americal Vet
Emily's Poetry ~ By a Red Cross Donut Dolly
Shrapnel in the Heart ~ The most moving book you will read on Vietnam
All About Vietnam ~ An annotated bibliography of books about Vietnam for sale thru Amazon Worldwide!
Battle Dressing ~
Project Hearts and Minds ~ Help put Viet Nam back together
Photos from a Holts' Military History Tour ~ My trip to Vietnam, February 1998
Maybe Later . . . ~ My Creative Nonfiction
Irish in Korea ~ Irish men and women who gave their lives in the Korean War
Literature of the Korean War ~ Don't let the literature be forgotten
Samuel Pepys ~ One of my favorite authors
Chicago Theatre Z - A ~ This is the best theater town in the country!
Soccer Literature ~ I'm a fan and I read
O'Leary Lantern ~ Fire! Fire! Fire!
Gil Thorp ~ THE Coach (apologies to The General!)
Poetry of the First World War ~ Owen, Hardy and others
Chi-COW-go ~ Cowz plus Commentary (this used to be a cow town)
Graham Fulton, Scottish Poet ~ Charles Manson Auditions for the Monkees
The Truth About Caroline ~ a really good Young Adult book by my niece, Stacey
Remember Oklahoma City ~ The Civil Service and Military will NEVER forget!
My Vietnam Related Websites:
My Other Websites:
Other Important Websites:
|Page last updated July 17, 2007|