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Nurses in Vietnam: Putting Themselves in Danger to Keep Men Alive

by Enochadmin

“In Pleiku, the sound was faint at first, then step by step grew louder; a medevac chopper someplace within the evening sky,” writes Diane Carlson Evans, a former Military Nurse Corps captain and the founding father of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, in her ebook Therapeutic Wounds. “For grunts, the sound was a benevolent god with rotor blades; for nurses, an adrenaline-pumping fowl that introduced us cruel, soul-harrowing work.”

For nurses in Vietnam that work occurred in Military subject evacuation, surgical and MUST (Medical Unit, Self-contained Transportable) hospitals, on Navy hospital ships and aboard Air Pressure helicopters and planes. The typical age of nurses was 23. About 65 % had lower than two years of expertise, and 79 % had been ladies. They served in each lively responsibility and reserve items. There was a variety of tour lengths for nurses, though Military nurses, like different troopers, served one-year excursions.

U.S. Military nurses on the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in Lengthy Binh, close to Saigon, in 1968, work to stabilize a affected person. Nurses in Vietnam usually confronted not solely intense calls for for affected person care but additionally the specter of assaults on close-by navy services and even the hospitals themselves.
(B.J. Greenway Rasmussen Assortment, Army Girls’s Memorial)

Straightforward Targets

Medical services had been steadily close to provide depots and airfields—targets for enemy fireplace, which may come from any course at any time. Some hospitals suffered vital harm from shelling. Guards had been on patrol 24/7, and barbed wire encircled the compounds. Nurses additionally needed to cope with the lack of electrical energy, a scarcity of working tables and shortages of provides and gear.

They responded with resourcefulness and creativity. Tables had been constructed with discarded lumber and diverse scrap. Pink Cross baggage had been full of stones and used as traction weights. Fight nurses had been scheduled for a 72-hour week—12 hours a day, six days every week—however after a significant firefight with heavy casualties, a nurse’s shift may be 24 hours or longer. Regardless of all of the difficulties, nurse veterans say a excessive degree of camaraderie and the appreciation of their sufferers stored morale excessive.

Nurses in Vietnam usually confronted extra intense calls for for affected person care than had been the case in earlier wars. The widespread use of UH-1 Huey medevac helicopters enabled extra of the severely wounded males to get to a hospital quick, generally inside half an hour, considerably rising the workload and strain on nurses stationed there. Services for medical therapy admitted 133, 447 wounded personnel between January 1965 and December 1970, and 97,659 of them had been hospitalized.

this text first appeared in vietnam journal

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The mixture of quick transport and advances in medical care resulted in a survival fee of 98 % for these reaching a hospital in an hour or much less. On common, Vietnam Conflict sufferers left the hospital before these in World Conflict II and Korea due to the improved medical care. Through the Vietnam Conflict, the hospital mortality fee per thousand was 2.6 %, in contrast with 4.5 % throughout World Conflict II.

First Responders

Photo of USS Repose
Hospital ship USS Repose, which operated primarily in northern South Vietnam, sailed to areas of heavy preventing so helicopters may transport casualties to the ship.
(Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

Nurses had been among the many earliest U.S. service members in Vietnam. The primary navy ladies to reach had been Military Nurse Corps Majs. Jane Becker, Francis Smith and her sister, Helen Smith, who landed in Saigon on April 29, 1956, on a brief responsibility project with U.S. Army Help Advisory Group’s Medical Coaching Staff. Their activity was to coach South Vietnamese nurses in medical procedures. In the summertime of that yr, Navy cellular development battalions, the Seabees, made their first look in Vietnam. Hospitals had been placed on the Seabees’ to-do checklist because the American navy presence expanded within the early Sixties.

Military nurses arrived in Vietnam at one among two websites: Tan Son Nhut Air Base close to Saigon and Bien Hoa Air Base, about 20 miles outdoors town. The Tan Son Nhut arrivals went to the 178th Alternative Firm at Saigon’s Camp Alpha. The Bien Hoa arrivals reported to the ninetieth Alternative Battalion at close by Lengthy Binh. From these factors, it was on to their responsibility assignments. Quite a lot of buildings had been transformed into hospitals. Some services had been turned over to the Military by the South Vietnamese. Usually the acquired areas had been reconfigured into an “X” form with the nurses within the heart, the place they might higher monitor all of the sufferers.

Previous to 1967, tents had been the first residing quarters for nurses. The tents had been changed with Seabee-constructed buildings equivalent to easy residing quarters known as hooches and Quonset huts. Hooches, like these within the Central Highlands city of Pleiku, had been usually made from wooden-framed buildings with window screens. Some Quonset hut residences, prefabricated buildings of corrugated steel, had particular person rooms. In others, the nurses shared an open bay. When hospitals moved nearer to fight operations, the nurses ended up in tents once more.

Navy nurses additionally got here to Vietnam early within the conflict. They served on two hospital ships, USS Sanctuary and USS Repose, and at two land services: Station Hospital Saigon and Station Hospital Da Nang.

Photo of Medical assistants unload a wounded man from a rescue helicopter onto the Repose in 1966.
Medical assistants unload a wounded man from a rescue helicopter onto the Repose in 1966.
(Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

Navy Matter

In 1963 the Navy assumed duty for civilian and navy medical actions on the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. Two members of the Navy Nurse Corps reported in February of that yr. They labored at Navy Station Hospital Saigon, a five-story inpatient facility with an working and emergency space. 4 Navy nurses connected to the hospital acquired Purple Hearts after a Christmas Eve 1963 Viet Cong bombing of the bachelor officers’ quarters, the place the nurses had been staying. They had been the primary feminine members of the U.S. armed forces to earn Purple Hearts through the Vietnam Conflict.

Photo of Lt. Cmdr. Dorothy Ryan, a Navy nurse, checks on a Marine aboard the Repose in 1966.
Lt. Cmdr. Dorothy Ryan, a Navy nurse, checks on a Marine aboard the Repose in 1966.
(Naval Historical past and Heritage Command)

The Repose arrived in February 1966 and was stationed off the coast of the Hue/Phu Bai space in northern South Vietnam. It served there till March 1970. The Sanctuary reached Vietnam in April 1967 and was stationed at DaNang. The ship’s unofficial motto was, “You discover ’em, we bind ’em.” The Sanctuary left Vietnam in April 1971.

In March 1966 the Navy’s Saigon hospital was transferred to the Military. Throughout its Navy days, greater than 6,000 sufferers had been hospitalized. Roughly 130,000 outpatients acquired remedies. The Navy nurses on the Da Nang hospital served from August 1967 to Might 1970, when that hospital was additionally turned over to the Military. It turned the biggest casualty therapy heart on this planet, with 600 beds and 63,000 affected person admissions.

In 1966 the Air Pressure shipped to Vietnam 400-square-foot containers modified to be used as hospitals. Inside the subsequent two years, a hospital at Cam Rahn Bay, about 200 miles north of Saigon, was the second largest within the Air Pressure, with 475 beds and 100 extra for a causality staging facility. In the end, Cam Rahn Bay developed into the aeromedical evacuation website for the whole theater.

In 1968 the Air Pressure despatched the primary airplane particularly designed for medevac operations to Vietnam. The plane, a McDonnell-Douglas C-9A, was named “Nightingale” to honor Florence Nightingale, the English nurse famous for her work through the 1853-56 Crimean Conflict. The Air Pressure assigned its first feminine nurses to Vietnam in 1966, the bulk in Cam Rahn Bay. The next yr, feminine flight nurses turned a part of the medevac crews.

Military of Care

As America’s fight forces elevated, so did the nursing drive. In 1965 the Military had 113 hospital beds and 15 nurses in Southeast Asia. By December 1968, there have been 900 nurses in Vietnam working in 23 Military hospitals and one convalescent hospital, totaling 5,283 beds. That yr there have been 11 Reserve and Nationwide Guard medical items in Vietnam.

Throughout an 11-year stretch from the opening of the eighth Area Hospital within the central coastlands city of Nha Trang in March 1962 till March 29, 1973, when the final Military nurses departed after the cease-fire that ended U.S. navy involvement in Vietnam, an estimated 11,000 ladies served there, together with not solely nurses but additionally different navy ladies and civilians.

Second Lieutenant Kathleen M. Sullivan treats a Vietnamese child during Operation MED CAP, a U.S. Air Force civic action program in which a team of doctors, nurses, and aides travel to Vietnamese villages, treat the sick and teach villagers the basics of sanitation and cleanliness. Date  1967 Current location  National Archives and Records Administration, College Park Link back to Institution infobox template Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives Services Division (NWCS-S)
Air Pressure 2nd. Lt. Kathleen Sullivan comforts a Vietnamese little one as a part of the navy’s Medical Civic Motion Program, MEDCAP, which assisted folks in villages.
(U.S. Air Pressure))

The rising demand for nurses in Vietnam put staffing pressures on the Military Nurse Corps, which was concurrently offering nurses in Europe, Guam, Japan, the Philippines and the USA. A shortfall of two,000 nurses made recruitment the best precedence for Col. Mildred Clark, chief of the Military Nurse Corps from 1963 to 1967. (Her successor, Col. Anna Mae Hays, who held the place from 1967 to 1971, was promoted to brigadier basic on June 11, 1970, making her the primary American girl to earn a basic officer’s rank.)

Why Did Girls Volunteer to Grow to be Nurses in Vietnam?

Nurses volunteered for an array of causes—together with patriotism, a calling to assist troopers in want and a want for journey. Reflecting on a 30-year navy profession in a 2006 interview with American Nurse, Vietnam veteran Mary Jo Rice-Mahoney mentioned: “It supplied me the chance to journey world wide, find out about totally different cultures, carry out varied nursing procedures, make lifelong mates, and dwell by a fight expertise. It’s the place my love of nursing started.”

Photo of the C-9 Nightingale medical transport plane.
The C-9 “Nightingale” was staffed with nurses and medical technicians who cared for sufferers transported from Vietnam to bigger hospitals within the Philippines. (U.S. Air Pressure)
(U.S. Air Pressure)

Rice-Mahoney joined the Military Scholar Nurses Program at St. Joseph’s School in Emmitsburg, Maryland, in 1968, throughout her third yr in nursing college. She was commissioned a second lieutenant within the Military Nurse Corps six months earlier than commencement after which reported to Fort Dix, New Jersey. She labored in an orthopedic ward and received what she described within the American Nurse interview as a crash course in “Fight Accidents 101.” In March 1969, Rice-Mahoney was ordered to report back to the 67th Evacuation Hospital at Qui Nhon within the central coastal area of South Vietnam.

What Did Vietnam Conflict Nurses Do?

Photo of An Air Force crewman seriously injured in the crash of a C-5A Galaxy transport plane on April 4, 1975, is treated at a Saigon hospital. The aircraft was carrying Vietnamese orphans to the U.S. as Saigon was about to fall to communist forces.
An Air Pressure crewman severely injured within the crash of a C-5A Galaxy transport airplane on April 4, 1975, is handled at a Saigon hospital. The plane was carrying Vietnamese orphans to the U.S. as Saigon was about to fall to communist forces. Among the many useless within the crash was Air Pressure nurse Capt. Mary Klinker.
(AP Photograph/Neal Ulevich)

Nursing in Vietnam encompassed greater than the therapy of fight wounds. As in earlier wars, illnesses had been the most typical risk to a service member’s well being, accounting for practically 70 % of hospital admissions from 1965 to 1969. Ailments equivalent to malaria and hepatitis had been frequent. Among the many worst accidents had been burns. The required therapy was the appliance of Sulfamylon, a thick cream utilized to the affected space. It was reapplied each 4 to 6 hours after the earlier cream had been eliminated, a really painful course of. A heavy dose of narcotics didn’t preserve many from crying out in ache.

Army nurses additionally handled allied forces, American civilians and Vietnamese males, ladies and youngsters. Of their free time, many visited native villages and their hospitals to take part in U.S.-funded well being applications by the Medical Civic Motion Program, or MEDCAP.

Time for rest was uncommon. The seashores at Cam Rahn Bay and China Seaside in Da Nang had been common gathering spots. Nurses received collectively for music and dancing, broke the principles by driving in helicopters and airplanes to view the panorama and the South China Sea, attended USO performances that includes common entertainers and had a one-week furlough for relaxation and recuperation in another country. Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Thailand had been areas obtainable for R&R.

LEAving Vietnam

The final Military nurses left Vietnam on March 29, 1973, two months after the cease-fire. Nonetheless, extra service and sacrifice had been nonetheless to return. On April 4, 1975, as Saigon was about to fall to communist forces, the Air Pressure performed Operation Babylift to fly orphans from Vietnam to the Philippines, a cease on their technique to the USA for adoption. Air Pressure Nurse Corps Capt. Mary Klinker and about 130 passengers died when a Babylift C-5 cargo airplane skilled a malfunction shortly after taking off from Tan Son Nhut airport and crashed. Klinker was 27.

In this Aug. 30, 1968, photo provided by Philip Bigler, author of Hostile Fire, U.S. Army nurse Sharon Lane is congratulated by a military official as she's promoted to first lieutenant in Aurora, Colo. Lane, the only American servicewoman killed by hostile fire in the Vietnam War, has been immortalized in books, statues and a television show, and veterans still gather at her grave five decades after her death. (U.S. Army/Hostile Fire/Vandamere Press via AP)
U.S. Military nurse Sharon Lane, being congratulated upon her promotion to first lieutenant in August 1968, was killed in June 1969 throughout a Viet Cong rocket assault on the hospital the place she labored.
(U.S. Military/Vandamere Press through AP)
Vietnam veteran nurse/memorila advocate Diane Carlson Evans (L) standing nr. artist Glenna Goodacre as she works on an unfinished clay sculpture which features a nurse stroking the head of a fallen soldier as another woman scans the sky for evacuationas. sistance while a 3rd bows    (Photo by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)
Diane Carlson Evans, founding father of the Vietnam Girls’s Memorial and creator of Therapeutic Wounds, left, observes Glenna Goodacre’s work because the sculptor varieties the clay model of what’s going to be a bronze statue.
(Dirck Halstead/Getty photographs)

The names of eight ladies are engraved on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. All had been nurses—4 died in airplane or helicopter crashes, one from sickness, one from a stroke and one from enemy fireplace. On June 8, 1969, 25-year-old 1st Lt. Sharon Lane of Canton, Ohio, was killed in a Viet Cong rocket assault on the 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai in northern South Vietnam.

Evans, creator of Therapeutic Wounds, got here up with the concept for the Vietnam Girls’s Memorial in 1983 and based the Vietnam Girls’s Memorial Mission in 1984. Ten years later her dream was realized. A groundbreaking was held on July 29, 1993, and the memorial was devoted on Nov. 11, 1993. The centerpiece of the memorial is sculptor Glenna Goodacre’s bronze statue displaying three navy ladies with a wounded soldier.

WASHINGTON, :  An unidentified visitor to the Vietnam Women's Memorial lays flowers in tribute to their service during Veteran's Day observances in Washington, DC 11 November. US President Bill Clinton hosted ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery.    AFP PHOTO  Luke FRAZZA (Photo credit should read LUKE FRAZZA/AFP via Getty Images)
Guests lay flowers on the memorial, which depicts three ladies caring for a wounded soldier.
(Luke Frazza/afp through Getty Photos)

The 6-foot, 8-inch sculpture honors not solely nurses however all 265,000 ladies, navy and civilian, who served all through the world through the Vietnam period. It’s positioned about 100 yards from the apex of the V-shaped wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Evans served as president and CEO of the Vietnam Girls’s Memorial Basis (her group’s identify since 2002) for greater than 30 years.

Nurses who got here residence carried with them experiences and feelings that modified their lives. “I discovered so many classes, nevertheless it took me years to place them into phrases or concrete ideas,” Janis Nark, a Detroit native who served as an Military nurse in Vietnam 1970-71, mentioned in a 2015 article, “Angels of Conflict,” revealed on the web site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. “Vietnam hardened me,” she added, but additionally mentioned, “It heightened my humorousness. It made me understand what’s vital in life, and what isn’t.”

Tom Edwards, a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam 1968-69, is a contract author/photographer in Forest Lake, Minnesota. He thanks Diane Carlson Evans for her help with this text.

Nurses on the Wall

Eight ladies died within the fight zone. All had been nurses.

2nd Lt. Carol Ann Elizabeth Drazba, 22, Pennsylvania, Military, third Area Hospital, Saigon. Killed Feb.18, 1966, in a helicopter crash.
2nd Lt. Elizabeth Ann Jones, 22, South Carolina, Military, third Area Hospital, Saigon. Killed Feb. 18, 1966, with Drazba in a helicopter crash.
Capt. Eleanor Grace Alexander, 27, New Jersey, Military, eighty fifth Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon within the central coastal area. Killed Nov. 30, 1967, in a airplane crash.
1st Lt. Hedwig Diane Orlowski, 23, Michigan, Military, 67th Area Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon. Killed Nov. 30, 1967, with Alexander in a airplane crash.
2nd Lt. Pamela Dorothy Donovan, 26, Massachusetts, Military, eighty fifth Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon. Died July 8, 1968, attributed to pneumonia.
Lt. Col. Annie Ruth Graham, 51, North Carolina, Military, 91st Evacuation Hospital in Tuy Hoa within the central coastlands. Died from a stroke on Aug. 14, 1968.
1st Lt. Sharon Ann Lane, 25, Ohio, Military, 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai
on South Vietnam’s northern coast. Died June 8, 1969, when a rocket struck the hospital the place she labored.
Capt. Mary Therese Klinker, 27, Indiana, Air Pressure, medical crew onboard a C- 5 Operation Babylift airplane transporting Saigon orphans destined for the U.S. Killed April 4, 1975, when the airplane crashed after experiencing strain issues after takeoff.

This text appeared within the Autumn 2022 situation of Vietnam journal.

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