The recent Pentagon decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat is huge news for both the military and for women. However, ban or no ban, thousands of women have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq recently, and many have worked for the military in past wars as well, just in a different capacity. In fact, about 7,500 served in Vietnam–80 percent of them as nurses.
In Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam (Minnesota Historical Society Press), Kim Heikkila explores the role women played in the Vietnam War. She explains that nurses played a significant role in the war zone, providing high levels of care under tough conditions. Like many soldiers, they also often came back home with psychological trauma.
“It took us a while to realize even nurses were vulnerable to PTSD,” Heikkila told The Minnesota Press. “They took on tremendous responsibility, suffered in much the same way and participated in the same kinds of heroic, patriotic acts other veterans did. Then they came home and felt so abused and misunderstood that many women simply never talked about their experiences, or were very cautious about talking to people about it.”
In her book, Heikkila tells the stories of 15 Vietnam War nurses from her home state of Minnesota. Most of the nurses were young girls from modest backgrounds who were looking for a way to serve their country and get nursing experience. They could have never prepared themselves for the experience they were about to undertake.
Many of them took cover from military strikes and often worked under fire, sometimes getting attacked as their aircraft arrived in the country. The Post says “They dealt with war wounds no training could have prepared them for, including chemical weapons. Nurses watched human bodies, still alive, literally come apart in their hands, and held soldiers as they died. They also healed and sent home very high percentages of veterans.”
Do you know any women who served in Vietnam? Have you ever considered working as a military nurse? Let us know more in the comments below.
Source: The Minnesota Press