Femmes et guerres

Forgotten Veterans : U.S. Women in Vietnam

Lucy Palmersheim

Monday, Apr 11, 2005

WALLA WALLA, Wash. – Given her inte­rest in gender and women’s issues, Lucy Palmersheim was sur­pri­sed to learn that rela­ti­vely little has been writ­ten about the thou­sands of American women who served in-coun­try during the Vietnam War.

After resear­ching and wri­ting a paper for one of her his­tory clas­ses, Palmersheim talked about her fin­dings at last week’s Whitman Undergraduate Conference. She was one of about 140 Whitman stu­dents who gave research pre­sen­ta­tions or musi­cal and artis­tic per­for­man­ces.

Palmersheim, a junior his­tory major from Gig Harbor, Wash., titled her pre­sen­ta­tion “Forgotten Veterans : Women Who Served in Vietnam.”

“Despite the large body of his­to­ri­cal works about the Vietnam War and the men who fought there, very little infor­ma­tion has been com­pi­led about the 10,000 mili­tary women and 50,000 civi­lian women who served,” Palmersheim told her audience in Olin Hall.

While women did not par­ti­ci­pate in combat, they worked in govern­ment agen­cies and sup­port posi­tions. The vast majo­rity of the mili­tary women were nurses. In retur­ning to the U.S., they were “forced to confront the issues of iso­la­tion faced by all Vietnam vets,” Palmersheim said. Their dif­fi­culties were heigh­te­ned, howe­ver, because they also felt iso­la­ted from male vete­rans.

The hard­ships endu­red by combat nurses in Vietnam were extreme, she noted. “They were very young and inex­pe­rien­ced, but they were expec­ted to do work far beyond their trai­ning. They were also in cons­tant danger. In pre­vious wars, hos­pi­tals had been behind the front lines, but in Vietnam, the entire coun­try was a bat­tle­ground, so nurses served in hos­pi­tals that were regu­larly under enemy fire.”

“They were expec­ted to be eve­ry­thing for a young sol­dier – nurse, doctor, girl­friend, mother, the­ra­pist,” Palmersheim said. The assis­ted doc­tors, made triage deci­sions, per­for­med sur­gery when neces­sary. Some “days” lasted 24 to 48 hours, in some cases longer.

In the deca­des fol­lo­wing the war, Vietnam’s women vete­rans have gone through three dis­tinct adjust­ment periods, Palmersheim said. The years from 1965 to 1983 were marked by an ina­bi­lity to come to terms with their expe­rience. The years from 1983 through 1993 marked a strug­gle for inclu­sion. Only during the past decade have female vete­rans recei­ved grea­ter, although still incom­plete, recog­ni­tion.

From the moment they retur­ned home, nurses faced dis­cri­mi­na­tion and insen­si­ti­vity. Most civi­lians dis­coun­ted their war­time expe­rien­ces, vie­wing them as less dif­fi­cult than what sol­diers had gone through. The public was gene­rally una­ware that “these women had been in a combat zone, where they could have been killed by enemy fire,” Palmersheim said. They felt igno­red and iso­la­ted with no way to net­work with other female vete­rans. No one wanted to hear about their expe­rien­ces. One nurse wrote that she and others “kept quiet and tried to pick up our lives. I was bitter, disillu­sio­ned and felt like 22 going on 80.”

“When women tried to join vete­rans groups such as the VFW, they were usually told that they were not combat vete­rans, and so were not eli­gi­ble to join,” Palmersheim said. While their pain­ful and eye-ope­ning expe­rien­ces in Vietnam turned many female vete­rans against the war, they were not wel­co­med by the anti-war move­ment at home.

Women Vietnam Statue

The ini­tial post-war period of confu­sion and depres­sion began chan­ging in 1983, when a nurse named Lynda Van Devanter publi­shed a book titled “Home Before Morning,” which chro­ni­cled the many tra­ge­dies she faced in Vietnam. With Devanter’s book, cou­pled with the pas­sage of more time, women “star­ted to rea­lize the full extent of the psy­cho­lo­gi­cal pain they still car­ried,” Palmersheim said.

“During the 80s, new unders­tan­dings of the psy­cho­lo­gi­cal and phy­si­cal pro­blems confron­ting vete­rans allo­wed women to stop labe­ling them­sel­ves as crazy or over-emo­tio­nal,” she conti­nued. But when Post Trauma Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) was first accep­ted by the psy­cho­lo­gi­cal com­mu­nity in 1979, it was applied to male combat vete­rans only. Recent esti­ma­tes indi­cate that as many as 50 per­cent of the nurses suf­fe­red from the disor­der.

The ini­tial lack of recog­ni­tion, Palmersheim said, had “ter­ri­ble reper­cus­sions for female vete­rans, espe­cially for at least one who was put in a mental ins­ti­tu­tion for nine years, diag­no­sed with schi­zo­phre­nia, and given 45 shock treat­ments before she was cor­rectly diag­no­sed with PTSD.”

“Many felt emo­tio­nally numb, or uns­ta­ble, and night­ma­res and fla­sh­backs to trau­ma­tic scenes were common,” Palmersheim said. Many avoi­ded coun­se­ling and psy­cho­lo­gi­cal care, fea­ring they would not be allo­wed to conti­nue in the nur­sing pro­fes­sion. Others were denied treat­ment at vete­rans’ hos­pi­tals. When they peti­tio­ned for care, they found a system unpre­pa­red to deal with women’s issues.

The Vietnam Memorial, built in 1982, inclu­des the names of eight U.S. nurses who were killed in the conflict. Nurses and combat vete­rans alike were drawn to the wall of names, taking com­fort in society’s recog­ni­tion and from mee­ting onsite with other sur­vi­vors. Palmersheim quoted the wri­ting of one nurse, who went to the memo­rial’s dedi­ca­tion, not kno­wing what to expect :

“But when I saw all those guys, I felt so at home … Because they gree­ted me so affec­tio­na­tely and warmly. And you know you just don’t think of some big brute of a guy, an ex-marine, coming up to you with tears in his eyes, hug­ging you, than­king you, being so open about his fee­lings … I sat down and looked at all the names. And sud­denly I couldn’t stop crying … It was as if I’d never be able to stop. And I’d always had this thing about self-control and nobody seeing me crying.”

When a statue at the Vietnam memo­rial was com­mis­sio­ned and por­trayed three sol­diers, women vete­rans suc­cess­fully peti­tio­ned Congress for a second statue, one that showed nurses aiding a young G.I. The second statue was dedi­ca­ted in 1993.

In the years since 1993, the female vete­rans of Vietnam have conti­nued to gain more recog­ni­tion and sup­port. As Palmersheim notes, howe­ver, aca­de­mic research about their expe­rien­ces is still lag­ging. Little has been writ­ten about them with the excep­tion of a few arti­cles in the 1980s.

“It is impor­tant to exa­mine the expe­rien­ces of women Vietnam vete­rans because many of the same issues they have faced are resur­fa­cing today with vete­rans of more recent conflicts,” Palmersheim said. “It is impor­tant to see what sup­port sys­tems were help­ful for women Vietnam vete­rans so that women vete­rans today can bene­fit … The expe­rien­ces of Vietnam vete­rans also show what issues still must be addres­sed.”

Palmersheim is consi­de­ring doing more in-depth research next year, using it as the basis for a senior honors thesis.

Source : http://www.whit­man.edu/content/news...

Minnesota’s Women Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project

Oral his­tory inter­views of the Minnesota’s Women Vietnam Veterans Oral History Project

Dates : 2000-2007.

Quantity : 40 sound cas­set­tes ; 11 trans­cripts in 11 fol­ders

pdf, 70.2 ko

This pro­ject chro­ni­cles the lives of Minnesota nurses who par­ti­ci­pa­ted in the Vietnam Conflict. One focus of the inter­views dis­cus­ses suf­fe­ring from and hel­ping those who suffer from post-trau­ma­tic stress syn­drome (PTSD). Another aspect of these inter­views chro­ni­cles post­war invol­ve­ment inclu­ding work with vete­ran’s orga­ni­za­tions and the deve­lop­ment of two monu­ments dedi­ca­ted to the mili­tary ser­vice of women. Some of the sub­jects dis­cus­sed include edu­ca­tion prior to ente­ring mili­tary ser­vice ; hos­pi­tal condi­tions in Vietnam ; gender roles in the mili­tary ; reac­tions of family mem­bers after enlis­ting ; civi­lian life after Vietnam ; invol­ve­ment in PTSD groups ; invol­ve­ment in the Veterans Administration (VA) ; crea­ting the Women in Military Service to America Memorial (WIMSA) ; basic trai­ning through the Army Nurse Corps ; the Anti-War Movement ; thoughts on the Iraq War ; crea­ting the Vietnam Women’s Memorial ; Communism and the Cold War ; modern per­cep­tions of the Vietnam Conflict : and the impor­tance of women in the mili­tary.

Source : http://www.mnhs.org/library/fin­daid...

Unarmed and under fire : An oral history of female Vietnam vets

salon.com | Nov. 11, 1999

By Austin Bunn

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs knows exactly how many men served in Vietnam (2,594,200) and how many were killed in action (58,188). It can fur­nish all kinds of stats about those sol­diers, like the per­cen­tage of men who worked in supply (bet­ween 60 and 70 per­cent) as oppo­sed to combat (30 to 40 per­cent). But ask about the women who served in Vietnam — women other than nurses — and the num­bers disap­pear. The records are mudd­led, they say ; the files don’t work that way. Yes, the armed forces sent women to Vietnam, but an offi­cial record of their pre­sence there doesn’t really exist.

At least 1,200 female sol­diers were sta­tio­ned in Vietnam in various bran­ches of the mili­tary as pho­to­jour­na­lists, clerks, typists, intel­li­gence offi­cers, trans­la­tors, flight control­lers, even band lea­ders. They served pro­mi­nently in Saigon, in the Mekong Delta and at Long Binh, which was, for a time, the lar­gest Army head­quar­ters in the world.

They could not fight, nor were they allo­wed to carry wea­pons to defend them­sel­ves. Most were part of the pio­nee­ring Women’s Army Corps (WAC), crea­ted in 1942 to inte­grate the armed forces. All of them enlis­ted for ser­vice in Vietnam, mostly in the early part of the war.

Like a lot of Vietnam vete­rans, these women have been dogged by their expe­rien­ces in coun­try ; unlike many vete­rans, they do not feel offi­cially reco­gni­zed and have been reluc­tant to seek help. Some have been pla­gued by symp­toms of post-trau­ma­tic stress syn­drome and expo­sure to che­mi­cals. Others have har­bo­red the fact of their ser­vice like a sha­me­ful secret.

« For eight years, my hus­band didn’t know I was a vet, » says Agnes Feak, who par­ti­ci­pa­ted in an air eva­cua­tion of Amerasian chil­dren called Operation Baby Lift. « I kept my mouth shut when I came home. He found a photo of me in fati­gues and said, ’Who’s that ?’ And I said, ’That’s me.’ »

Linda Watson, who was a pri­vate first class, says, « I didn’t think I qua­li­fied for bene­fits, because I didn’t consi­der myself a Vietnam vet. It’s just recently I came to the rea­li­za­tion I am. I didn’t see all the atro­ci­ties. But I saw enough for me. »

This week, the WAC women who served in Vietnam are having their first reu­nion, a three-day « home­co­ming » in Olympia, Wash. For some of them, it will be the first time they have talked about the war. Some won’t go, because they still can’t.

« I’m loo­king for­ward to [the reu­nion] with tre­pi­da­tion, » says Karen Offutt, who served as an admi­nis­tra­tor in Vietnam. « I don’t know what memo­ries will come out. On the other hand, I’m hoping that it will put clo­sure to it. »People keep saying, Why don’t you forget Vietnam ? I don’t think I’ll forget Vietnam, because it chan­ged my trust in people — it iso­la­ted me. I seem like a very socia­ble person. But I’m very much a recluse. It just chan­ged me. The babies that I took care of — babies with their legs blown off and shrap­nel wounds, I felt so hel­pless and the guilt of having seen what I had.

« I’d like to forget about it, but I think about it every day. »

[Editor’s note : Reporter Austin Bunn conduc­ted dozens of inter­views with WAC vete­rans of Vietnam for Salon Mothers Who Think. Their memo­ries and reflec­tions follow.]


- Name : Marion C. Crawford

In coun­try : Tan Son Nuht, Long Binh, October 1966 to June 1968

Rank : First ser­geant, in charge of all enlis­ted per­son­nel (works with com­man­der)

Age in Vietnam : 36

Current age : 69

Current home : Eustis, Fla.

When I first got there, it was like nothing I had ever expe­rien­ced. The minute the plane went nosing into the air­port in Tan Son Nhut — they have to come in at such a steep angle because of ground fire — we were han­ging on by our toe­nails. It was a real quick lan­ding with a jerk stop.

When you got out of the plane, it was all guys with heavy wea­pons wal­king around. And, of course, I was a novelty being a female sol­dier with a dia­mond [for ser­geant] on my arm. All the guys looked at me and said, « She’s got a dia­mond, that means there are women coming ! » And they all kept yel­ling at me, « When are the women coming ? When are the women coming ? » I lau­ghed.

That’s one of the rea­sons why there was a fence around the WAC detach­ment, because there were 50,000 guys and I was get­ting in 109 women.

- Name : Karen Offutt

In coun­try : Long Binh, Saigon, July 1969 to June 1970

Rank : E5

Age in Vietnam : 19

Job : Stenographer, office of the chief of staff

Current age : 50

Current home : Wesley Chapel, Fla.

I didn’t have a clue about where Southeast Asia was. When I got off the plane, these guys were chee­ring and I thought they were chee­ring for us. But then I looked at them and I rea­li­zed they were chee­ring because they were get­ting to leave. They looked just so old. It was depres­sing.

They put me on this bus and I thought I was going to Saigon, but I went to Long Binh [Army head­quar­ters]. On the bus, there was chi­cken wire on the window and I asked the guy next to me and he mum­bled some­thing. And I said, « What’s that ? » And he said it was to deflect the gre­na­des. And I just thought, Oh, my God. I looked back at the plane to see if I could get back on it.

My first night they star­ted hit­ting us with mortar rounds. The whole buil­ding shook. It was a hor­ri­ble night. I just laid there. I was para­ly­zed. And I figu­red I wasn’t going to make it out. There were four or five of us in the room. And they were saying don’t worry about it — the Vietnamese are bad shots. I thought, Yeah, right.


- Name : Precilla Wilkewitz

In coun­try : Long Binh, January 1968 to September 1969

Rank : E5

Job : Administrative assis­tant for U.S. Army Vietnam (USARV) ins­pec­tor gene­ral’s office

Age in Vietnam : 19

Current Age : 51

Current Home : Zachary, La.

They didn’t issue us wea­pons in Vietnam. At basic trai­ning in Fort Benning, Ga., we trai­ned with M-16s, M-14s. We had to do marks­man­ship and be in fox­ho­les and we had to do moun­ted and dis­moun­ted attacks. But they didn’t issue women wea­pons [in coun­try].

One night we had a human mass attack on all four cor­ners at Long Binh. We had mortar attacks that could have landed on our com­pound and killed all of us. Did we have any­thing to pro­tect us ? No, all we had was prayer. And I did a lot of that.

- Name : Claire Starnes (the orga­ni­zer of the reu­nion)

In coun­try : Long Binh, February to July 1969 ; Saigon, July 1969 to February 1971

Rank : Staff ser­geant (E6)

Age in Vietnam : 25

Job : Translator, Army Engineer Construction Agency Vietnam (USAECAV) ; pho­to­jour­na­list, Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Observer news­pa­per

Current age : 55

Current home : Conowingo, Md.

The big­gest fear was to be taken pri­so­ner. Can you ima­gine what kind of night­mare in terms of public rela­tions it would have been ? What a coup for the NV ? Apparently in 1968 mili­tary intel­li­gence had gotten a docu­ment off a North Vietnamese that they were offe­ring a $25,000 reward for a white American female. Our own govern­ment gave us life insu­rance which was worth only $10,000. We lau­ghed about it, because, boy, we were worth more to the NV.

Precilla Wilkewitz : All women had to eat at the 24th Evac Hospital. So when we went there we had to eat with the patients. Some of them had mis­sing arms, legs, eyes, and had IVs sti­cking out and all these little gad­gets han­ging from that wal­king thing.

There were only two red­heads there in the first place. And I would sit down with the patients and they would start crying. And many, many of them asked me if they could touch my hair, because they saw very few round-eyes and eve­ry­body who was there had an aunt or a friend or school­mate who was red­hea­ded.

It was so trau­ma­tic that I quit going. I don’t think I ate 20 times in the mess hall because they would cry. How can you sit there and eat while these sol­diers are crying ?


- Name : Priscilla Mosby

In coun­try : Long Binh, Mekong Delta, March to June 1970, August 1971 to April 1972

Rank : E4

Job : Stenographer, band­lea­der

Age in Vietnam : 20

Current age : 48

Current home : Cleveland, Ohio

In Vietnam, first they had the USO tour shows coming through, but they weren’t cut­ting it because they only would send them so far into the bush. So they tried a com­mand mili­tary tou­ring show which consis­ted of all mili­tary per­son­nel that could go out and enter­tain the troops and build the morale.

So I went to Saigon and audi­tio­ned. I sing and play the key­boards. I used to go down to Louisville and volun­teer to sing at the chur­ches — gospel sin­ging was my hobby. [In Saigon], I sang « Summertime » [at the audi­tion] and I had to do it a cap­pella. When I opened my eyes, I asked the gent­le­man who was over­seeing the pro­gram, « Did I pass ? » and he said, « Lord, yes. » He told me, « I’m going to put you toge­ther a really good band. »

I had a nine-piece band, one hel­luva band. There was this singer named Johnny Taylor who made « Who’s Making Love. » His lead gui­ta­rist was my guitar player. My orga­nist, he played for James Cleveland in the Angelic Choir. My sax player was a guy named Danny Hall, he played with a group named Cold Blood. He was very ver­sa­tile.

We wrote most all of the songs — love songs, coun­try, jazz, bal­lads. We did Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand, because I never knew where I was going to go — and there was no gua­ran­tee that it was going to be a pre­do­mi­na­tely mino­rity crowd. My first band was called « Phase 3, » because there are four phases before you die. If you’re out in the field, you’re in phase 3. You’re han­ging on — you may make it and you may not.

I went from the Mekong Delta and DMZ [the demi­li­ta­ri­zed zone bet­ween North and South Vietnam]. I played fire bases. I had to sign a dis­clai­mer because I was a female and I wasn’t sup­po­sed to be out of Long Binh. I stayed out in the field for eight months.

Half the time we couldn’t hook up the elec­tri­cal ins­tru­ments that we had, because there was no elec­tri­city. So we had to just rough it, and that was even more fun. I was the show leader and I said, « The show must go on. » If you played bass, you would stand up there and go « Da-Dom-Dom-Dom » and make the sound with your mouth. It was beau­ti­ful.

We per­for­med for three hours. I was the only female out there in the field. We had some wild times. The main thing I kept in mind was to be decent and dedi­ca­ted and deter­mi­ned and to let them know that it was going to be all right. They could let off steam, sin­ging and dan­cing and pou­ring beer on me, wha­te­ver — [my bottom line was] just don’t rape me. And nobody tried.

The American Consulate was using us for all kinds of expe­ri­men­tal things, trying to deve­lop a diplo­ma­tic friend­li­ness bet­ween the coun­tries. We did some music for Vietnamese soap operas over there and our role was ... the music. It was strange — I didn’t unders­tand a word they were saying.

[Then], we were in Bihn Thuy which is in Mekong Delta. I was in the little city Bien Simoa, where I was doing some shop­ping. I heard that we were get­ting hit. When there is inco­ming you know — bombs are flying and people are run­ning and scram­bling. I knew it was going to be a little dan­ge­rous to walk right into the fire­fight. I took refuge in a res­tau­rant. I went through the pro­ce­dure of coming out of mili­tary clo­thes — strip­ping down to my pants. I took my top shirt off and tied it around my waist. I had my T-shirt on. They had black people over there [who were] Cambodian. And I could speak Vietnamese pretty well, so some­ti­mes I could pass. That helped me.

I stayed there until my ins­tincts told me to move. When I came out, I saw a couple of guys that I knew who were Navy SEALs and I went with them. It was like an uns­po­ken pro­ce­dure, and you just act like it’s no big deal.

So, I got back to the base and someone tells me that the bunker has been hit. My guys — the bar­racks they were in — were totally demo­li­shed. My entire band had been killed.

I remem­be­red some­thing that one of the guys told me and we lau­ghed about it. He said, « If I ever croak, make sure they don’t cre­mate me because I don’t want to burn twice because I know I’m going to hell. » I thought about it and star­ted lau­ghing. I lau­ghed. Someone said to me it’s not a lau­ghing matter. But that’s the only way that I knew how to handle it.

- Name : Doris I. « Lucki » Allen

In coun­try : Long Binh, Saigon 1967 to 1970

Job : Intelligence, Army Operations Center

Rank : E7

Age in Vietnam : 40

Current age : « 7thank you2 »

Current home : Oakland, Calif.

I worked in the ope­ra­tions center. There were 300 men to every one women on the Long Binh post. Run that around in your mind.

I star­ted [doing] intel­li­gence ana­ly­sis in USRV, the Army Operations Center. Every intel­li­gence report, every infor­ma­tion report that had to be writ­ten down from all over Vietnam, came across my desk. Usually they would throw them out. [The report] would say Charlie cros­sed the street last night. Another report, way down, would say Charlie walked down the street and he went into the third house ... I was the one who sat there and said, « Hmm hmmm, » and put it toge­ther.

The reports would come in saying Allies had five killed and 20 woun­ded and three enemy killed and 81 woun­ded. Most of the time we did better than they did, because all you can say is I think I killed them. It got so bad that down in My Toh one of the com­man­ders told his troops, « When you come back here you bring an ear and I will know that he’s dead. » And that’s when they star­ted cal­ling them « apri­cots » in order to prove that some­body had died.

I got there in October of 1967. Tet Offensive was January 30th of 1968. Thirty days prior to that hap­pe­ning, I turned in a report called « 50,000 Chinese. » I knew a major offen­sive was coming from all that I had read. There couldn’t have been that many Viet Cong in the world. The report was a page and half. I took it to my super­vi­sing offi­cer and he said, « Take it to Saigon. » It was that impor­tant — he belie­ved in me. I took it to Saigon. I took it to MACV (Military Assistance Command in Vietnam). I talked to the big­wigs. I was thin­king, You better dis­se­mi­nate this. They said, « No. I don’t think we can do this. »

I asked myself why they weren’t lis­te­ning. I just came up recently with the reason they didn’t believe me : They weren’t pre­pa­red for me. They didn’t know how to look beyond the WAC, black woman in mili­tary intel­li­gence. I can’t blame them. I don’t feel bitter. That’s just people, baby. When you aren’t pre­pa­red for some­thing, you just aren’t pre­pa­red.

I came back to the states with no guilt. I had sad­ness, I saw those names on the wall, but I kept doing my job.


- Name : Peggy E. Ready

In coun­try : Tan Son Nhut, Long Binh, 1966 to 1969

Rank : First lieu­te­nant

Job : first WAC com­man­der of the first WAC detach­ment

Age in Vietnam : 29

Current age : 61

Current home : St. Augustine, Fla.

If a man had pro­blems with me, I mostly igno­red it. I tried not to take an abra­sive approach to any­thing. But I do recall one funny inci­dent when we were still down at Tan Son Nhut.

We were in a brie­fing with my com­man­der’s staff one mor­ning and they had come up with a plan for what eve­ryone was sup­po­sed to do if we were under attack. Everybody had all these oppor­tu­ni­ties to go hide here or go do that, and what they wanted the women to do was rally around the flag­pole in front of the head­quar­ters.

So, I’m thin­king, This is the most absurd thing I have ever heard in my life. The flag­pole was right out­side of head­quar­ters. I let the S3 — the ope­ra­tions guy — go through his speech. When he fini­shed, I raised my hand and said, « I really don’t know much about tac­tics and stra­tegy of war, but if it would seem that if the enemy were trying to get our head­quar­ters, they would aim right at the flag­pole, no ? »

People just star­ted fal­ling out of their chairs, lau­ghing. And he turned beet red. He had not thought of that. And the next day, they star­ted buil­ding the first sand­bag bunker for us women.

Karen Offutt : I remem­ber fee­ling like I should be out there figh­ting. I really wished that they would have let us, even though I guess there are some pro­blems about women and men figh­ting. I felt guilty about that.

Towards the end, I felt some­thing snap­ped in my head. We worked 12-to-15-hour days. We didn’t get a lot of time off. I remem­ber they called us in for spe­cial times at night after we worked all day. One day they were giving the dic­ta­tion about where they were going to hit that night. It hit me right then that I was hel­ping to kill people. And I star­ted thin­king about how many vil­la­gers, how many kids would be killed that night. And I star­ted having a lot of conflicts.

I worked for seve­ral gene­rals — they just trea­ted me like a daugh­ter. One was espe­cially concer­ned — he would never let me ride with him. He would never get any hint of impro­priety. The rest were pretty nice. I was a hard worker.

There were some people put­ting their arms around me. I was always such a weak little thing. I remem­ber near the end this one colo­nel put his arms around me and kept put­ting his arms around me and I spun around and said, « I’ll knock you flat if you do that again. » I was 123 pounds ! I didn’t put up with any­thing after I was there for a while.


- Name : Marilyn Roth

In coun­try : Long Binh, April 1968 to April 1969

Rank : E4

Job : Clerk typist

Age in Vietnam : 25

Current age : 56

Current home : Melbourne, Fla.

"I wei­ghed over 200 pounds and I had dates every night. Thank God I have the memo­ries because I haven’t had a date in five years. I had a lot of action, because these guys didn’t care what you looked like as long as you had round eyes. They stood in line at my door.

I made eve­ry­body laugh. I was fat and bubbly. I had a won­der­ful time in Vietnam. I did. We par­tied every night. It was a year of just bliss for me. I had a great time. Best year of my life in Vietnam.

Karen Offutt : I was 19 when I went. I went over in July and came back [to the United States] in October because my grand­fa­ther passed away. When I came back [to Vietnam], I was an emo­tio­nal wreck from the fune­ral. I was deter­mi­ned to live my life — all my poetry showed that I was thin­king that I was going to die.

When I turned 20, I thought I had res­pec­ted my parents’ wishes and that I had lived a moral life. I was intro­du­ced to some­body [in Saigon] and it turned out that that was the first person I was inti­mate with.

We had a day­room across the hall from my room. It had a couch and a TV, I would go in there and do my tapes home for my parents. That’s where the das­tardly deed was done. There wasn’t a lock on the door. It lasted two minu­tes. I waited 20 years for two minu­tes.

Then, a couple of weeks later, they told me that they had all lied to me, that he was mar­ried. So not only did I sleep with some­body, but it was a mar­ried some­body. And I was raised really Christian. It affec­ted me really deeply. I felt that not only was I going to die in Vietnam, I was going to go to hell.

I found him four years ago and called him. He was a sol­dier and he’s now a deputy she­riff in Arizona. I just said, « Do you remem­ber me ? Do you remem­ber that you took my vir­gi­nity ? » And he said, « Yeah. » And that was the end of the conver­sa­tion basi­cally. It was all a long time ago. I got some kind of clo­sure.

Priscilla Mosby : One guy, Jessie Montague, he got killed on Valentine’s Day. That was in 1972. He and I were sta­tio­ned toge­ther at Fort Knox before I went. When I volun­tee­red to go, he deci­ded that he was going to sign up to take care of me. He was a mili­tary police and he got a job as an escort with my band.

We were on our way back to Saigon, from the last show that I had done. I was going home in April and I wasn’t going to per­form any­more. We were sit­ting around the camp and we wanted to bed down for the night because it was mon­soon and it was rai­ning so hard you couldn’t see any­thing.

We got under sniper fire — that’s when they just start shoo­ting at you. Jessie put me in the bushes, in a rice paddy behind some bamboo shoots. He said, « Stay here. » And he gave me the .45 and said, « If you think you’re going to get cap­tu­red, take this, and blow your brains out. » And I said, « Got it. »

I stayed there all night. I still have leech marks on my legs where they got me. I wasn’t going to say nothing. I know what hap­pens when you open your mouth. A couple of times I heard spla­shes behind me. That was Viet Cong that some­body in our camp had spot­ted. And all I did I was pray, « Lord. Please. Help me. »

Eleven hours later, when all the smoke clea­red, Jessie was the only one who got hit. He got killed from the sniper fire.

- Name : Donna Loring

Rank : E2, E3, then E2

Location : Long Binh

In coun­try : November 1967 to November 1968

Job : Communications center spe­cia­list

Age in Vietnam : 19

Current age : 51

Current home : Richmond, Maine

I had one real good friend, an Australian guy. The Australians had troops there, too. We would go out on our off-time — we would go to the NCO (non-com­mis­sio­ned offi­cers club) and meet up. His name was Spook. He was repor­ted killed in action. Somebody told me that.

And then one night, a little after 10, some­body came in and said, « Spook’s out­side and he really wants to see you. » And I went out­side and the duty offi­cer said, « You can’t go out there. I’m giving you a direct order you can’t go out there. » And I said, « I’m sorry. I have to go. » And so I went out. And he was there and I talked to him. And when I came back I got busted for that. I got demo­ted to E2.


- Name : Camilla Wagner

In coun­try : January 1968 to January 1969

Age in Vietnam : 25

Rank : Lieutenant, Women’s Air Force (WAF)

Job : Supply

Current age : 56

Current home : Lawrence, Kan.

"We were in a hotel over there in Saigon and almost all of them have a wall around them. A bus came around at 6:30 a.m. and picked eve­ry­body up. And as we were wal­king out of the gate toward the bus, some­body threw a gre­nade.

There were Chinese guards for our hotel and one of them was killed. I had three or four pieces of shrap­nel in my leg, and some in my back. Not much, but if you’re woun­ded at all from enemy fire, you can get a Purple Heart. A lot of people ask about it, like, « Were you bra­ving gun­fire ? » but it isn’t really that way.

Peggy Ready : I was in Saigon November through June, during Tet. It was scary. I lear­ned real quick that you tried not to get in a crowd, and if you did, that you wat­ched out for things like any­body who had any­thing in their hands. You don’t get near that person. If you’ve dri­ving down the street, you never did any­thing so foo­lish as run over a crum­pled bag, because too often it had a bomb in it.

And to this day I find myself, if I’m dri­ving down the street, and there is trash on the road like a crum­pled bag or a box, no matter how small, I will do with prac­ti­cally eve­ry­thing to get away from it, before I rea­lize that it pro­ba­bly doesn’t have a bomb in it these days.

- Name : Jeanne Bell

In coun­try : Saigon, March 1968 to October 1969

Age in Vietnam : 19

Rank : E5

Job in Vietnam : Administrative ser­vi­ces

Current age : 51

Current home : Thonotosassa, Fla.

I got there right after Tet. I had seve­ral inci­dents when I was afraid for my life. In Saigon, it was more of a psy­cho­lo­gi­cal war­fare — you never knew when you were going to get mor­ta­red.

One time, I was coming downs­tairs into the hotel lobby to get my ride to work. We took machine gun fire and eve­ry­body hit the floor. We just got into the ele­va­tor and went up to the eighth floor, because we didn’t have any wea­pons.

Another time, I left my office to go to lunch and we had two gray sta­tion wagons. I took one and left. I was about three blocks away when I heard an explo­sion. That’s not uncom­mon and you just look around and you kind of hit the gas and keep going. But shortly after I had left, the other sta­tion wagon had blown up. Somebody had plan­ted plas­tics on it. The people in my office thought I was dead. When I came back, eve­ry­body was white-faced and they grab­bed me and hugged me and they told me what hap­pe­ned.


- Name : Agnes Feak

In coun­try : Tan Son Nhut Airport, 4 flights of Operation Baby Lift, April 1975

Age in Vietnam : 17

Rank : E4

Job : Nurse

Current age : 46

Current home : Jupiter, Fla.

Operation Baby Lift was a huma­ni­ta­rian pro­ject to get the Amerasian chil­dren out. This was the chil­dren of the American men. They had blue eyes and blond hair, plus you had African-American kids. If they stayed around in Vietnam, they would be mur­de­red by the North Viet Cong.

They were in dif­fe­rent orpha­na­ges in South Vietnam, run by Catholic South Vietnamese nurses. Usually the mothers put them there, or left them at the front door.

We flew into Saigon. You just did your job, which was to pull kids into the plane. They were just loa­ding them as fast as we could so we could get the hell out of there. We were just grab­bing kids. You felt shock. Civilians were grab­bing the planes just to get out. We were called « lap hol­ders. » The chil­dren were extre­mely young. We had to hold them during the flight.

We brought out 10,000 to 15,000 chil­dren. We esti­mate as many as 40,000 kids were left behind.

One flight went down. That one had Capt. Mary Klinker on it — she was the last nurse to die in Vietnam. The back door blew open and it cra­shed into the rice paddy. She was in the back and she blew out. Some people say it was sabo­tage. Some people say it was an acci­dent. That was in April 1975. It was right when I star­ted.

One baby, I don’t know if she sur­vi­ved, I’ll never forget her. She was so sick — so sick, we couldn’t get her fever down. And she just smiled. She had the most beau­ti­ful blue eyes. And she just smiled. She never cried. Sometimes she was so sick that I rocked her just to see if she was OK. She was 6 months old but she looked more like 3 months. She was under­nou­ri­shed.

Her little hands would cling to my uni­form. When I had to hand her over to the doc­tors [in the United States], I left crying because I had gotten so atta­ched to her. These kids were heroes. They went through hell. People have to unders­tand, war is not John Wayne. It is about death, des­truc­tion and it means civi­lian death. These chil­dren were casual­ties.


Claire Starnes : It was the trip from hell. There were some parts that I don’t remem­ber because of the stress. I was in the nor­thern part of Vietnam. I walked into the hotel and I was in the fati­gues from the day before. Mama-san came up to me and said, « The cha­plain’s downs­tairs. » And I knew just what it was. I went downs­tairs and I said to the cha­plain, « My mother died, right ? » And he said, « You need to leave right away, we’ve star­ted the paper­work. »

I went up to head­quar­ters and my room­mate was packing my stuff. They told me that I had to get down to the International Airport in Saigon, which was in Tan Son Nhut. They said, « You’ll have time to change in Fort Travis when you get back to the States. » I’m two days now without sho­we­ring.

So I get on the plane and now we’ve got a 22-hour flight. I get to Travis and they say your flight is lea­ving out of San Francisco. I say, « I’ve got to change, » and they say, « No, your bus is lea­ving. » I get to Frisco and they are hol­ding the plane up. I haven’t slept, I was really tired. I looked like hell and pro­ba­bly smel­led like hell too.

And now I’m in Frisco and now I’m run­ning to the plane. And all of the sudden I hear, « Hey Sarge, how’s the war going, kill any babies lately ? » And I looked back at these guys and I said, « Screw ’em. » I kept on going, but they kept fol­lo­wing me. I saw the gate and they kept on and at that point, my blood was boi­ling. I said, « That’s it, I’ve had enough. » I turned around. I said, « You want a piece of me ? Come on, let’s go. » The atten­dant at the gate, he’s yel­ling at me, he’s clo­sing the doors and he’s yel­ling at me. So I headed straight for the door. I sat down and thought, « Jesus I don’t want to be here. »

And I sat down next to this girl, and I thought, « Oh, no. » We had the idea of what a pea­ce­nik looks like, and this girl had long, matty-type hair and she had large, horn-rimmed glas­ses and I thought, « She’s one of those hip­pies from Frisco. » But it turned out she was very inte­res­ted in what was hap­pe­ning in Vietnam. But I thought, « I want to be back in Vietnam. There, you were on pins and need­les all the time but at least you knew you had to be. » Here, we thought, « I’m home, I’m sup­po­sed to be safe. »


Marilyn Roth : I was Claire Starnes’ and Precilla’s room­mate ... [but] I have a lot of Vietnam that is blo­cked out. Precilla would tell me sto­ries about things we used to do and places we used to go and I don’t remem­ber any­thing.

I really didn’t think about Vietnam until much later in years. I just put it in the back of my mind. The only time I would men­tion Vietnam is when I was in uni­form. And people would say, « How come you’re wea­ring a Vietnam patch ? » And I would say, « Look at my records, I was in Vietnam. » And that would bring back some memo­ries, but then I would forget until next time.

Precilla Wilkowitz : When I got back, I had lost 40 pounds by nerves and impro­per diet. My sister used to say, « You just ignore things. » Petty things didn’t mean any­thing to me. People would say to me, « Don’t you think [that woman’s] dress is short ? » and I thought that was igno­rant. I had been to Vietnam. Those were not things that you thought about. If you did not have hot water that night, that was not impor­tant.

What I couldn’t get over was color. In ’Nam, eve­ry­thing was brown and dirty and there wasn’t any color. I came home for Christmas. And that first night when I came home, my mother found me asleep under­neath the Christmas tree. Because of the lights. I couldn’t get enough.

Karen Offutt : I got mar­ried and the hus­band I mar­ried, he wouldn’t let me talk about Vietnam. He hated it because he had gra­dua­ted from USC and he had orders for Vietnam, [but] he had a friend change them. I made him feel chi­cken and cowardly.

Nobody talked to me for all those years about Vietnam. It was until I divor­ced [my hus­band] in 1986. I had night­ma­res and I would wake up, swea­ting and figh­ting. I was always woun­ded or cap­tu­red in my dreams, I guess it was to make up for the fact that I wasn’t a real sol­dier. Then I star­ted having anxiety attacks.

Before Vietnam, I was a socia­ble person, and when I came back, I just didn’t want to socia­lize really. I didn’t talk about any­thing. I was dif­fe­rent. I would go to the store and I would be dres­sed up and someone would drop a can and I would hit the floor. If I was in a dres­sing room and someone slam­med the door, I screa­med. I was totally humi­lia­ted.

I had twins 15 months after I mar­ried my hus­band. One was born with cancer of the kidney and one was born with ADHD (atten­tion defi­cient hyper­ac­ti­vity disor­der). As soon as he could walk, he was diag­no­sed. He had some bone defects too. Then I had a daugh­ter who had epi­lepsy.

In the late ’70s, I went to a mee­ting they had in town for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. They were tal­king about all their kids’ birth defects. And this one guy was tal­king about Agent Orange sprayings. And I said, « My kids are all messed up but it’s not from Agent Orange because I was in Saigon. »

He pulled out this aerial spraying map and he said, « Where were you ? » I showed him. And he said, « Which year ? » And I told him. He said, « That was the hea­viest spraying year in the war in the area you were in. » Many of us have memo­ries of them spraying ove­rhead and by trucks in the road, but it’s just a hazy thing.

I don’t know hardly any­body who doesn’t have cancer. One of my friends was a nurse in Pleiku — she had sto­mach cancer, thy­roid cancer, breast cancer and breasts remo­ved. She has it in her liver now.

My twins are 27 now. My son was just here from Oregon and we talked about it. I have these lumps on my body that just appear some­ti­mes — and he was sho­wing me on his chest and under his arm where he has those too. My daugh­ter and other son have them as well. I’ve had 11 pre-mali­gnant polyps remo­ved out of my colon. I’ve had two breast lumps that they’ve remo­ved. I’ve got four more they are fol­lo­wing right now.

My grand­mo­ther is 92 and is still really heal­thy and my parents are like Jack LaLanne. They are still wor­king a three-and-a-half-acre place in California. They all live until their 90s.

Doris Allen : Good God. I still dream about [Vietnam]. I have PTSD — post-trau­ma­tic stress disor­der. I have trou­ble in crow­ded situa­tions. I used to go to the jazz fes­ti­vals. I can’t go now. I don’t go where there are a lot of people like that. I can’t do that. The noises trig­ger it. I get ner­vous. Something in me just turns over in a big fear sort of thing. I still hit the floor some­ti­mes when I hear loud bangs. And I have night­ma­res. I’m get­ting a little bit over that. I’m jumpy.

Jeanne Bell : I was mar­ried to a Vietnam vet. But we never talked about Vietnam. We were sta­tio­ned in the same place, mar­ried for 14 years, but we never talked about Vietnam.

When we first came back from Vietnam, all we wanted to do was blend in, because people didn’t unders­tand. People called me « baby killer » and people hated the sol­diers. It was not a good thing to talk about. There was a lot of rio­ting. You just didn’t talk about it. When you did talk about it, I used to think about it some­ti­mes at night and I would get very depres­sed and I would actually cry. I had some memen­tos that I would look at. So you tried not to think about it more than you abso­lu­tely had to.

I used to talk to my dad about it. I knew and unders­tood from him, that when you serve your coun­try, espe­cially in a war zone, there are a lot of unplea­sant things that happen and you deal with it the best you can. I didn’t know that they had a name for it.

Today I have coun­se­ling and I take medi­ca­tion. Today I have control. But for a lot of years, I lost jobs. I had uncontrol­la­ble anger. I would have fla­sh­backs.

When I got so sick. I was already divor­ced from my hus­band. But I went to see him and told him what was going on and asked him if he had it too and he said, « Yes. » We sat and talked about it. That was like 18 years after we came back. There were a lot of forces in our mar­riage that were beyond our control. It was the first time that we had talked about having fla­sh­backs.


- Name : Kathy Oatman

In coun­try : Long Binh, February 1969 to May 1972

Rank : E6

Age in Vietnam : 35

Job in Vietnam : Senior admi­nis­tra­tive ser­geant in data pro­ces­sing unit

Current age : 63

Current home : St. Petersburg, Fla.

Most of the groups over there spon­so­red an orpha­nage one way or ano­ther. And we went into the Tam Mai orpha­nage. It was a little town. It was right off of Ben Wai Air Force Base.

I got atta­ched to one little boy there and I star­ted paying a lot of atten­tion to him. One day we had a staff picnic at the bar­racks, and we’d go out and get the kids and keep them there in the bar­racks with us for the day. When it became time for them to go home, my com­man­ding offi­cer asked me, « What are you going to do about Kevin ? If you don’t get star­ted you won’t be able to get that baby out of coun­try. »

So I went to work on get­ting the paper­work going. I got him out of the orpha­nage and he stayed with me at the bar­racks for about a month. The orderly room would baby­sit while I went to work — the rest of the time he was in my room. I always laugh about it because when I had him at Long Binh and I would take him out at night, the other [women] in the bar­racks would say, « Get him out of the night air. » And if I didn’t take him out, they would say to me, « Take him out. Quit kee­ping that baby locked up. » He had so many mothers it wasn’t funny.

Then I deci­ded I didn’t want to raise him by him­self, so I thought, « I’ll have to go find me ano­ther one. » I come from a big family myself and I just couldn’t ima­gine a kid being raised on its own. I went to World Vision and I found my daugh­ter there, Kimmy. They had a little hos­pi­tal there. The Vietnamese govern­ment would bring their babies with medi­cal pro­blems to World Visions to get help. [But] the orpha­na­ges would try to take them back when it came time, [because] the Vietnamese govern­ment paid the orpha­na­ges by [the number of chil­dren they had in their charge].

Well, when I deci­ded on Kim, I asked one of the ladies who worked there, « What are we going to do ? When they come to take her back to the orpha­nage, I’m not going to get her back ? » ... So I found a Vietnamese lawyer who could speak English, and I got the paper­work and I let him take over. He got the birth cer­ti­fi­cate and eve­ry­thing. The mili­tary chan­ged the rules real quick after that, chan­ged the policy on single parents adop­ting kids while you’re in the mili­tary. Now, you can’t do it.

I exten­ded my time by ano­ther six months because it took a while to get this done. So my next step was to go to the American Consulate and get them on the visa list. If I had been mar­ried, they could have imme­dia­tely left coun­try as soon as their paper­work was fini­shed. But because I was single, they had to wait for a visa ... I was frus­tra­ted.

When I went in with Kevin, to get him on the list, [the vice consul] just fussed over him and she thought it was won­der­ful that I was doing this. I went back in and said, « I’m taking ano­ther one. » And she couldn’t believe it. But what I found out later is that she put Kimmy on the list at the same time she put Kevin. It was so they could leave the coun­try at the same time.

Kevin is now 30 and Kim is 29. I used to wonder about [whe­ther] either of my kids had any desire to go back [to Vietnam]. In the town we used to live in, there was a little Vietnamese lady who used to run the alte­ra­tions shop. And Kim went in there the one day, and the lady asked her if she ever wanted to see her real mother. And she poin­ted out to the car to me, and said, « That’s my real mother. That’s the only mother I know. » So I rea­li­zed I didn’t have any­thing to worry about.

Source : http://www.salon.com/life/fea­ture/1...