Women Vietnam Veterans share experiences during commemoration event


shadow

Late last month, VA’s Center for Women Veterans held a special event to salute women Veterans who served during the Vietnam War Commemoration period – the timeframe authorized by Congress to recognize all men and women who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from Nov. 1, 1955, to May 15, 1975, regardless of duty assignment location.

A panel of four women Vietnam Veterans — three of them VA employees — shared the challenges and triumphs of their personal military experiences from this pivotal time in history.

Image of Dr. SchartzDr. Linda Spoonster Schwartz — a U.S. Air Force nurse during the Vietnam War, and currently VA’s Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning — hosted the event.

Schwartz, who served in the Air Force nearly 20 years, said that more than 265,000 women joined the military at a time when many men left the country rather than serve in the military.

“In many respects,” she added, “women were like a well-kept secret … they came in thousands to serve their country.”

After her own paperwork went through for the Air Force, she received a note from her county’s draft board. “In actuality, they sent me a letter to thank me for volunteering, because they said it would lessen the quota for our county by one man, because I joined. And so from the very beginning, I did not think that women were not as equal to men.”

As a flight nurse in Japan, Schwartz and her colleagues received the battle casualties straight from Vietnam.

“At that time we didn’t have the super aircraft that we have now,” she explained, “so therefore, people had to come to us, and we would stabilize them for the long journey home … so in many respects, we got to see the casualties of war as they were just beginning to understand what had happened to them.

“We’d never seen anything like this … And I had the opportunity to meet some of those Veterans and tell them how the nurses and everybody really tried very hard. It brought out the very best of us, and made me decide that I would never go back to civilian nursing; and I didn’t. I stayed in the military.”

Image of Barbara WardBarbara Ward, as an Air Force charge nurse, cared for the seriously wounded troops arriving from the war by MEDEVAC. She now serves as the director of VA’s Center for Minority Veterans.

“I was always around Veterans and active-duty military,” she said. “My military friends became my family … I decided my passion and love was for serving Veterans, and so I went to work for the California Department of Veterans Affairs. So, from my perspective, I had the two years that I served in the Air Force … probably one of the highlights of my life, without a doubt. And it certainly well prepared me for being a leader in private industry, throughout my career.”

 

Formal uniform Karen S. VartanPanelist Karen S. Vartan, R.D.N, M.Ed., currently serves as a program analyst in VA Navigation, Advocacy & Community Engagement. As a U.S. Navy officer coming in at the end of the Vietnam era, she saw many changes.

“There was transition in society, in the mores, the culture (and) education,” she said. “So what was in between that created that gigantic shift in just three years?”

According to Vartan, as the country’s wartime operations slowed to accommodate peacetime, there were a number of reasons.

“People had to adjust in many ways. I think the confluence of the Equal Rights Amendment and the end of the draft and these other changes … just helped really facilitate a very positive spotlight on women and leadership in the services.”

Image of Four-MarshaMarsha Tansey Four was stationed in Vietnam with the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, and is a recipient of the Bronze Star Medal for her work in Vietnam. She is currently the vice president of Vietnam Veterans of America.

“I went into the Army Nurse Corps on the student program,” said Four. “The Army came in and said, ‘You know we got the perfect place for you here. When you graduate, you’re not going to have to look for a job … and you can request one of three assignments that we’ll send you to, never leaving the states unless you request it … and while you’re at school, we’re going to pay you money.’ Let me tell you something. That was real enticing.”

Four spent one year in country at the18th Surgical Hospital.

“It was a small facility. We had very limited capabilities, (and) only about 15 nurses. We had an emergency room, one medical unit, one post-op unit, and one ICU recovery room. I was assigned to the intensive care recovery room. One nurse and two corpsmen on 12-hour shifts, and usually we would get two days off every two weeks,” she recalled.

Four’s service in Vietnam was more than four decades ago, but it still has a strong influence on who she is today.

“It was for me the most important year of my life. It was for me, not only the time, but the place I grew up,” she said. “I am who I am because of it. Sometimes that’s positive, and sometimes it isn’t, but I’d like to think in the end … that I can believe that I was a part of something much bigger than myself, and that the things that I did brought help to others, consolation to some, and life for those that had their families put back together.”

In closing the celebration, an official pinning ceremony recognized those Veterans in attendance who had served on active duty during the Vietnam Commemoration period. Those eligible Veterans each received a lapel pin with the inscription: “A grateful nation thanks and honors you.”

 

Author

Jennifer Sardam

– Jennifer Sardam is a VA public affairs specialist and a U.S. Army Veteran who served as an Army journalist during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. She retired in 2014 from the Maryland Army National Guard’s 29th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, after 20 years in the Army.

Comments

  1. DannyG    

    Hello my Sisters. It is an honor to meet you. THANK YOU!

  2. Karen Vartan    

    It was really a wonderful event, cathartic in many ways. Having the support of such an enthusiastic audience was wonderful. Thank you!

  3. Judy Miller    

    I now am very proud I served as a flight nurse during the Vietnam War. In the years after I was too angry to talk about it at all. I was very young but so were the Marines we cared for. Jane Fonda was not my best friend. Then when I returned to a base the charge nurse made me start working within a few days of my arrival. I was so insulted that no one respected or knew the things I had seen and done. They thought I should rush home and start work with no time to process. That’s when I never spoke about it again. it was 20 something years later when a therapist asked about that time of my life. My kids didn’t even know my story. Well, the tears welled up from deep inside me. Still do If I talk about it.

  4. Elia Astrid Ortega    

    As I read the different experiences of VN era nurses I realized in myself that the year I served as an Army Nurse did alter my whole life. I was 21 years old grew up fast and saw much anguish in a short time. Try to get help for my PTSD was a big fight and caused me a lot of anger. Now that I am retired have had time to find peace within myself. Thank the Goddess for Army Nurse Corps female friends.

  5. Anne Patricia Watts    

    I am a British nurse / midwife who served as a civilian in Vietnam. Based in Qui Nhon ‘Oct ’67 – Dec’68 and Kontum June ’69 – Dec ’70.
    I read this report of the event you all attended with tears in my eyes. I saw up close and personal what you all went through, your working conditions, the sights you saw, the life changing injuries of your young men that you nursed.
    I salute each and every one of you. (is a civilian allowed to do that!!).
    I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for each and every one of you.
    My e mail address is annewatts67@aol.com
    The 67 is the year I went to war – and changed my life and the way I look at it.
    I would like to make contact with Barbara Ward, Karen Vartan, Marsha Tansey Four or Dr Linda Spoonster Schwartz.
    My book Always the Children has been placed in your VVA library in Maryland. Apparently, according to Mark (critic VVA magazine,) it is the only quality memoir of Vietnam written by a British civilian nurse. I wanted it to be a tribute to you all.
    my web site http://www.annewatts.co.uk has a section called Inspirational Nurses which will interest you.
    Please get in touch one of you. (I live in Oxfordshire, England.) The internet makes us close neighbours – and sisters in arms.

Comments are closed.