Diane Carlson Evans
1Lt. Diane Carlson Evans, ANC RVN (born 1946) served as a nurse in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. Diane Carlson Evans is the Founder of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation (formerly the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project), and former President and CEO of the Board of Directors.
Carlson Evans was born and raised on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota and graduated from nursing school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon graduation, she joined the Army Nurse Corps and served in Vietnam from 1968-1969. She served in the burn unit of the 36th Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau and at Pleiku in the 71st Evacuation Hospital. Including her one year in Vietnam, she completed six years in the Army Nurse Corps.
Evans envisioned the idea for a memorial to honor over 265,000 women who served during the Vietnam war. A former Army combat nurse and Vietnam veteran she led the ten-year struggle to complete the circle of healing with the placement of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Although the eloquent wall of names at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. lists the names of eight women nurses who died in Vietnam, Evans felt deeply that the memorial, with its statue of three fighting men, did not acknowledge adequately the women. In her words, “…women are also soldiers. Women also need to heal. Their service is worthy of honor and recognition.” That recognition took place on November 11, 1993 with the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
In 1984, Evans incorporated the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project as a non-profit organization. Its mission encompasses three broad objectives: to place a Memorial honoring the women who served during the Vietnam war at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.; to identify the women who served, document their needs and facilitate research to address those needs; and to universally educate about the service of women during the Vietnam war.
Today she serves as Chair, Vietnam Women’s Memorial/Eastern National Advisory Group and liaison to the National Park Service Regional Representative on the Mall, Washington DC. The Foundation was located in Washington, DC. She testified before every Congressional and federal agency hearing in Washington, D.C. regarding site and design approval for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, was instrumental in developing the design competition performance for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and for conceptualizing the three-day Patriotism and Courage to commemorate the dedication in Washington, D.C. Ms. Evans currently volunteers for the Eastern National and National Park Service efforts on behalf of the VWM. Evans participates in educational activities throughout the United States, speaking at universities and schools and before civic and humanitarian organizations. Her work today focuses on readjustment services for veterans.
Eight women, all nurses, are among the more than 58,000 names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Most were killed in airplane or helicopter crashes. Only one was killed by enemy fire.
Captain Eleanor Grace Alexander, U.S. Army had been working in a hospital in Pleiku to help out during mass casualties from Dak To when her plane crashed on the return trip to Qui Nhon on November 30, 1967. She was with the 85th Evacuation Hospital. She was from New Jersey and is remembered on Panel 31E Line 8.
2nd Lieutenant Pamela Dorothy Donovan, U.S. Army died of a rare Southeast Asian virus on July 8, 1968. Born in Ireland, she was assigned to the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon. 2LT Donovan is remembered on Panel 53W, Line 43.
2nd Lieutenant Carol Ann Elizabeth Drazba, U.S. Army was killed in a helicopter crash near Saigon on February 18, 1966. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, she is remembered on Panel 5E, Line 46.
Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham, U.S. Army suffered a stroke on August 14, 1968. She was from North Carolina and was the Chief Nurse with the 91st Evacuation Hospital in Tuy Hoa. Her name can be found on Panel 48W, Line 12.
2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Ann Jones, U.S. Army was flying with 2LT Drazba and was killed in the same helicopter crash near Saigon. She was assigned to the 3rd Field Hospital. 2LT Jones was from South Carolina and is remembered on Panel 5E Line 47.
Captain Mary Therese Klinker, U.S. Air Force was part of an on-board medical team during Operation Babylift. Her flight was carrying 243 infants and children when it developed pressure problems and crashed while attempting to return to the airport. Captain Klinker was killed on April 4, 1975, just three weeks before the Fall of Saigon. A native of Indiana, she is remembered on Panel 1W, Line 122.
1st Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane, U.S. Army was killed by a rocket explosion on June 8, 1969, less than 10 weeks after she arrived in Vietnam. Assigned to the 312th Evacuation Hospital, 1LT Lane was working in the Vietnamese ward of the hospital when the rocket exploded, killing her and her patients. She was from Ohio and her name can be found on Panel 23W, Line 112.
1st Lieutenant Hedwig Diane Orlowski, U.S. Army was onboard with Capt. Alexander when their plane crashed on its return trip to Qui Nhon. She was assigned to the 67th Evacuation Hospital, 1LT Orlowski was from Michigan. She is remembered on Panel 31E, Line 15.
There are eight women, all nurses, whose names appear on The Wall. Of the 265,000 women who served during Vietnam, nearly 10,000 military women served in-country during the conflict. Barred from combat, these women served in health care, communications, intelligence, and administrative positions. Civilian women served as foreign correspondents for news agencies, worked for organizations such as the American Red Cross and the USO, or served in other government agencies, such as USAID or at the embassy.
In late 1983, Diane Carlson Evans, a nurse who served in the Army in Vietnam, conceived of the idea to add a statue to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial site to honor the women who served. She incorporated the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project (VWMP) in 1984. In 2002, the group changed its name to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation (VWMF).
The memorial was established not only to honor those women who served, but also for the families who lost loved ones in the war, so they would know about the women who provided comfort, care, and a human touch for those who were suffering and dying.
The 2,000 pound, 6-foot 8-inch sculpture portrays three women, one of whom is caring for a wounded male soldier. In the surrounding site, eight yellowwood trees were planted to symbolize the eight women whose names are on The Wall. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated on November 11, 1993.
Civilian women also volunteered and served as foreign news correspondents, worked for organizations such as the American Red Cross, Army Special Services, United Service Organizations (USO), Peace Corps, and various religious groups such as Catholic Relief Services, or served in other government agencies.
In April of 1956 three women arrive in Saigon to teach South Vietnamese nurses medical procedures and techniques. This was the start of American nursing during the Vietnam War. In Vietnam nurses could be male or female, however the majority were women with the average age being 23. Tours lasted twelve months, but differences hospital size and locations made each experience unique. These young women were tasked with performing medical procedures in a radically different environment than their predecessors had in World War II. Helicopters meant that service members who would have previously died on the long haul from the battlefield could now get a medevac and be seen within minutes. The swiftness of this care meant a higher rate of survival, but also saw nurses dealing with more intense traumas. Working long shifts in sweltering and dangerous conditions nurses ensured that service members, some in their final hours, found healing and care. More than 5,000 nurses served in America’s longest war and 8 gave their lives. Their names are engraved upon the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
In Her Voice
Diane Carlson Evans was born and raised on a dairy farm in rural Minnesota and graduated from nursing school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Upon graduation, she joined the Army Nurse Corps and served in Vietnam from 1968-1969. She served in the burn unit of the 36th Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau and at Pleiku in the 71st Evacuation Hospital. Including her one year in Vietnam, she completed six years in the Army Nurse Corps.
Evans recalls the challenges of being a young nurse in Vietnam, the impact of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and the gratitude she has for the women who served.
As many as 11,000 women served in Vietnam during the war and close to 90% were nurses. A few of these nurses recount their most vivid memories caring for te horribly wounded. They also discuss how they helped their patients die with dignity.
The names of eight women are inscribed on The Wall, but the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and honors the women. The 2,000 pound, 6-foot 8-inch sculpture portrays three women and remembers all who served in a variety of capacities. Hear why it’s so meaningful to so many women.