Sisterhood of War




I don’t go off to war
So they say
I’m a woman.
Who then
Has worn my boots?
Diane Carlson Evans, “Our War,” 1983

But this too is true: stories can save us.
Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

VETERANS DAY 2008 was chilly but sunny in Washington, D.C. As they do every November, Vietnam veterans from across the country gathered at the Wall to pay their respects to those who had served and died in the United States’ longest and most controversial war. Flowers adorned the pathway along which visitors descend into the earth, swallowed by the seemingly endless list­ing of names of the war’s dead. A stage stood on the grassy lawn in front of the Wall. News trucks lined the nearby streets as cam­eras captured the swelling throngs, military color guard, musical performers, and featured speakers. Filling the hundreds of chairs in front of the stage were the day’s honorees - veterans who had encountered in Vietnam the heights of human bravery and depths of human depravity and had come home to a divided, sometimes indifferent and sometimes hostile, nation. The veterans wore jackets and ties, jeans and sweatshirts, black leather vests and boonie hats. They sported clean-shaven faces and crew cuts or beards and ponytails, mellowed and graying with the passing of time. But clustered among this crowd of men were women who had also served in Vietnam, for on this day, they were the special guests of honor at the annual celebration. ....more


“All Day and into the Night”
Nursing in the War Zone

LYNN (CALMES) KOHL arrived in Vietnam in June 1969, one year after graduating from nursing school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She spent the next year working at the 71st Evacuation (Evac) Hospital, located in the dusty red clay of the U.S. base at Pleiku, in Vietnam’s central highlands. When she reported for work on her first day of duty, the chief nurse assigned her to the surgical ward, where she was to spend the day observing procedures. The first patient she encountered was a young G.I. with head wounds, abdominal wounds, a missing leg, and one arm “dangling by a tendon.” Several surgeons surrounded the patient, pumping blood into him as they tried to repair his broken body. One busy doctor noticed Kohl standing nearby, inexplicably doing nothing; he didn’t realize it was her first day on duty and that she was there only as an observer. In the heat of the moment, it didn’t matter. “He screamed at me,” Kohl recalled. “‘Don’t just stand there - do something! He’s going to lose his arm anyway - cut it off!’ And he threw his scissors at me. That was my first five minutes there: I had to cut an arm off.”  ...more