WOMEN IN VIETNAM
Approximately 11,000 American
military women were stationed in Vietnam during the war. Close to ninety percent
were nurses in the Army, Navy, and Air Force.
Others served as physicians, physical therapists, personnel in the Medical Service Corps, air traffic controllers, communications specialists, intelligence officers, clerks and in other capacities in different branches of the armed services. Nearly all of them volunteered.
By 1967, most all military nurses who volunteered to go to Vietnam did so shortly after graduation. These women were the youngest group of medical personnel ever to serve in war time.
Because of the guerilla tactics of Vietnam, many women were in the midst of the conflict. There was no front, no such thing as "safe behind our lines." Many were wounded; most spent time in bunkers during attacks. The names of the eight military women who died in Vietnam are listed on the "Wall."
Medical personnel dealt with extraordinary injuries inflicted by enemy weapons specifically designed to mutilate and maim. During massive casualty situations, nurses often worked around the clock, conducted triage, assisted with emergency tracheotomies and amputations, debrided wounds and inserted chest tubes so surgeons could get to the next critical patient. Over 58,000 soldiers died in Vietnam; 350,000 were wounded.
It is estimated that approximately 265,000 military women served their country during the Vietnam war all over the world in a variety of occupations. Thousands of women served in Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Hawaii, and other stateside hospitals caring for the wounded and dying who had been stabilized and flown out of the war zone. Many Navy women were stationed aboard the USS Repose and the USS Sanctuary, hospital ships stationed off the coast of South Vietnam. Air Force nurses served both "in country" and on air evacuation missions.
An unknown number of civilian women also served in Vietnam as news correspondents and workers for the Red Cross, the USO, the American Friends Service Committee, Catholic Relief Services and other humanitarian organizations. Like their military counterparts, many of these women were wounded in the crossfire. More than 50 civilian American women died in Vietnam.
Many Vietnam women veterans have never told their friends, colleagues or even loved ones about their tour of duty in Vietnam. The majority of them were only in their early 20s when they returned to a country that did not understand what they had just experienced. Although most were there to save lives, they received the same hostile treatment as the returning combat soldiers.
When the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project was started in 1984, Project leaders (all volunteers) were struck by the lack of information about the women who served during the Vietnam era. Veterans groups and the government had few records of them – there were no networks established and no easy way to find out where these women were. Although the Foundation is making steady progress in researching available documentation there is still no official, accurate record of the number of women who served during the Vietnam era.
According to a recent Veterans Administration report, 48% of the women who served during the Vietnam conflict will suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) during their lives. Yet, few have sought documented help for it. Many women also have suffered health problems associated with Agent Orange exposure. Some have committed suicide.