Women in Vietnam
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. First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane, an Army nurse listed on Panel 23 West, Line 112, was killed during a rocket attack on June 8, 1969, less than 10 weeks after she arrived in Vietnam. Assigned to the 312th Evacuation Hospital, Lane was working in the Vietnamese ward of the hospital when the rocket exploded, killing her and her patients. She was from Canton, Ohio.
Overall, more than 265,000 women served in the military during Vietnam — and approximately 10,000 military women served in-country during the conflict.
It is a common misconception that all women serving in Vietnam were nurses. Barred from combat, military women served in health care, communications, intelligence and administrative positions.
All had to be volunteers, and like their male counterparts, they volunteered for a variety of reasons: duty to one’s country, a desire to help those serving overseas, or an interest in advancing one’s military career to name a few.
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 Vietnam and eight women, all nurses, gave their lives. Their names are inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The civilian women of the American Red Cross Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas were frequently known by another name, Donut Dollies.
Distinctive in their light-blue dresses, all had to have college degrees and typically were between the ages of 21-25. Donut Dollies originally were part of The American Red Cross Clubmobile Service and originated during the Second World War. The women who volunteered with Clubmobiles were meant to bring “a connection of home” to service members during war. They eventually became known as Donut Dollies because one of their many tasks was making and serving donuts. During the Vietnam War the Donut Dollies were brought back as a morale booster, organized under a program called Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas. In their light-blue dresses, the women in the program provided much needed organized recreation time for service members, spontaneous quiz games, and always remained a source of positivity. Donut Dollies considered always wearing a smile an important duty.
Vietnam Women's Memorial
The Vietnam Women’s Memorial was added to the Memorial Site and dedicated on November 11, 1993.
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 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.
Sculpted by Glenna Goodacre, 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.
Diane Carlson Evans recounts the effort to build the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in her book Healing Wounds, A Vietnam War combat nurse’s 10-year fight to win women a place of honor in Washington, D.C.
The Women on The Wall
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.
EP12 – “We Were Essential” – Nurses in Vietnam
Nearly 11,000 women served in the Vietnam War, most of them as nurses and all of them as volunteers. Guest host Callie Wright brings you personal stories from two women who experienced the war —and its aftermath —from this unique perspective.
EPISODE SHOW NOTES
- VVMF Topic Page on Women in Vietnam – https://www.vvmf.org/topics/Women-in-Vietnam/
- VVMF Topic Page on PSTD – https://www.vvmf.org/topics/PTSD/
- VVMF PTSD Awareness – https://www.vvmf.org/PTSD-Awareness/
- Full Interview with Edie Meeks – https://youtu.be/aZ9qXzzqESQ
- Full Interview with Nancy Wilson – https://youtu.be/XhU77itmnMU
- The Wall That Heals – https://www.vvmf.org/The-Wall-That-Heals/
- YouTube Echoes of the Vietnam War Interview playlist – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLK63b6Cn53unMMj-yZYEch0RuYy1YN1zl