ADVANTAGES

Army Nurse Corps, Vietnam, 1968 to 1969...An experience that I approached with much reluctance and ambivalence. How ironic that the experience I most feared and dreaded has become one of the most rewarding, fulfilling, and gratifying experiences of my personal and professional life, an experience of which I am proud. I can say "proud" now; however, for many years after returning from Vietnam, it was too difficult to talk about being part of the unpopular war. People were too busy protesting the war to listen or be concerned about what was happening in the minds of the veterans. The 22-hour flight to Vietnam is somewhat of a blur in my mind. Women, of course, were in the minority, and I felt somewhat isolated realizing I was the only woman on the flight with approximately 200 young men. I will never forget the absolute quiet as we approached and landed at Bein Hoa Air Base. I felt fairly safe being in a war zone as a medical person, however, I wondered how many of us would be returning in a year. Reality struck home as we were shuffled quickly from the plane to buses in the black of the night. The windows were blacked out and armored guards briefed us on what to do if we were attacked, as had happened several weeks before. The bus drove without lightsalmost a total blackout. My first days of duty in the recovery room, Intensive Care Unit ward, were mentally and physically fatiguing. I soon learned a new and painful appreciation of what our young men were being exposed to. Our shifts were 12 hours, six days a week, and since we were few nurses, we depended tremendously on our Corpsmen. It was not unusual to receive 20 casualties at a time being flown in by helicopter. The sound of the choppers was constant, both day and night. At the 93rd Evac Hospital, we had daily evacuation flights. We gave immediate treatment and sent them to the States as soon as possible. Long Binh was the target of the Tet Offensive that year. For three nights, we were in total blackout with the hospital set up for triagethe emergency situation of sorting and treating patients. I was in the area to treat the more minor wounds and send the person back to the field. It was a frightening time. There were three evacuation flights a day, making a constant turnover of patients. As I was giving medication to a patient one morning, I noticed a photo on the table next to him. It was an action shot of guys running to the bunker, obviously under fire. He said, "that's the last picture I'll ever take." Yes, he stopped too long to get a picture, and the result was that his arms were amputated. My good memories of Vietnam are the friendships and a special closeness to my fellow Americans. The hardest part was seeing these young people die when you were over there to try to keep them alive.

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