Last week I revealed the cover of my new book!
Close Up on War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy in Vietnam is scheduled for release in early 2021. But it is available now for pre-order.
Catherine Leroy spent most of her time in Vietnam in the field with U.S. troops. She rarely saw American women, even female journalists who were there at the same time.
Plenty of military and civilian women went to Vietnam War during the war, but their service and sacrifice was not always appreciated.
More than 6,000 military nurses, most of them female, served during the war. Eight women died.
I first learned of former army nurse Diane Carlson Evans when she wrote the forward for my book Pure Grit: How US Military Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific. She was instrumental the fight to get a Vietnam Veteran's Memorial constructed in Washington DC.
Diane had been born and raised on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota and moved to the city to attend nursing school in Minneapolis, after which she joined the Army Nurse Corps. She arrived in Vietnam in 1968, when she was twenty-two. The blast of heat and the smell of jet fuel hit me first, then the sight of GIs with MI6s and bandoliers of ammunition slung across their strapping chests.
Diane knew that her parents would be watching the war unfold on the nightly news. The saw the body bags, helicopters crashing into the jungle, napalm burning villages and civilians running from the flames.
But what they did not see were the nurses in helmets and flak jackets running to the hospitals and treating the men whose torsos and limbs had been ripped open by high-velocity weapons.
They did not hear the sound of mortar thuds and rockets piercing our billets and hospital roofs and walls or see us throwing mattresses on top of the patients to protect them from shrapnel.
They did not see us hanging blood bags, suctioning tracheotomies, and frantically evacuating patients from the hospital to allow more room for mass casualties.
Diane, shown below at work at the 36th Evac Hospital, had seen trauma close up as a nurse in Minnesota. But farm mishaps, auto accidents, drownings, and homicides, she says, could be understood and accounted for.
In Vietnam, I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of our young soldiers, Vietnamese and Montagnard civilians who had been blown apart by heinous weapons of war.
I hadn’t realized how much loving the soldiers would make me hate the war. I wanted to know what they were dying for.
Two decades after her year-long tour, Diane founded the Vietnam Nurses Memorial Project, later expanded to include all American women of the Vietnam War. She had no idea it would take seven years of testimony before three federal commissions and two congressional bills to gain permission for a memorial to honor the women she had served with in Vietnam.
One man represents the kind of attitude Diane and her fellow veterans encountered. Carter Brown led the federal Commission on Fine Arts, which they hoped to get on their side. But when the group approached him for support, he demurred. Brown said if the committee considered installing a statue honoring women, "then they might find themselves having to consider doing one for the dogs who served."
After what these nurses accomplished in Vietnam, one misogynist bureaucrat and those of similar attitude would not stop them. After their steady efforts for nine years, this statue was dedicated, November 1993, on the Mall in Washington DC near the famous Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The 15-foot bronze, designed by sculptor Glenna Goodacre, helps serve the mission of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project Foundation, including to promote healing of the 11,000 women, including nurses, other military women and civilians who served.
The sculpture also helps educate the public about women's roles in the conflict and helps facilitate research into the after affects of their wartime experiences.
Vietnam Women's Memorial: History of the Vietnam Women's Memorial
Foreword, Diane Carlson Evans, Pure Grit: How American WWII Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories from history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
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