Monday, October 21, 2013

Honoring American Women Who Served In Vietnam


Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines were all trained prior to deployment to the war zone of Vietnam. Trained to protect themselves with an array of weapons and tactics, gear and support from air and sea- the men in combat were prepared, albeit many were green and had never served in battle. They still had the advantage of training and equipment. A support system of "buddies".

On the other hand, women (especially those who volunteered and/or were civilian employees of the Department of Defensefor example, the many women who staffed libraries and crafts centers and the 600+ volunteers of the American Red Cross (SRAO-Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas) who 
"flew in helicopters to landing zones and fire support bases to serve coffee and Kool-Aid, play games, and chat with the soldiers. The "fly in-fly out" visits were the Vietnam equivalent of the World War Two club mobile runs, programs that helped Red Cross achieve its twin goals of serving as many troops as possible in remote areas, and giving preference to combat troops."a
Had no such advantages.

The level of danger to these women was further exacerbated by the fact that, there was no distinguishable "front" in Vietnam.
"Vietnam, however, was not like World War II where there was a defined front. In Vietnam there were no front lines. Non-combatant status* did not automatically bestow a magic shield around each woman protecting her from rockets, mortars, shrapnel, airplane crashes, and all the other dangers inherent in a war zone. However, the military behaved as if that magic shield was firmly in place. Civilian women were not routinely issued protective gear of any kind, or given instructions as to what do to in the event of an attack." b

*Non-Combatant - non`com`bat`ant:
a person who is not engaged in fighting
a war, esp. a civilian, a chaplain, or medical practitioner.
-Google Dictionary

There has been much said and many words written about the sad fact that Vietnam Veteran's received no organized "welcome home" upon their return to "the World". This was something that most veterans of that era still carry with tremendous weight on their hearts. While Americans at home grappled and argued over the reasons, the need, the waste, the killing, the destruction of a land and a people- soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines- returned to a country in denial. A nation that, sadly, lashed out at them when they felt their government had gone completely deaf on the subject. These men served as a reminder of that war. Since the government that sent them refused to honor their return, their service and their sacrifices they were often tormented by their insensitive and unsympathetic peers.

The men who served and returned home-many injured and more sick from Agent Orange-quietly returned to their families. Some were never able to adjust. Many were unable to put into words what they had experienced, what they had seen and heard. How many buddies they had lost or seen maimed. And still, there was a collective denial by their countrymen.

The women who served alongside their brothers, entertaining them, healing them, lifting their spirits and, often, standing at the receiving end of their mind-numbing anger and sadness-returned to a nation completely unaware that they had even been in Vietnam.  There are many stories of women who asked their families not to tell their neighbors and friends where they had been. For the women- there was no hearty camaraderie at the local VFW and, in fact, some men related the same stories. But the women veterans, those who had actually been in the military and not in a civilian capacity were not taken in but, rather, pushed to the Ladies Auxiliary where- more often than not- those were groups composed of the wives of veterans.

In their towns, it was probably more likely that male veterans would eventually come into contact with another soldier, sailor, airman, or marine that had been in "the 'Nam" but far more unlikely that women who served would encounter "one of their own". The problem of isolation became a scar of the war for these unselfish women- most in their 20s- who had volunteered to serve.

"Civilian women, even those who had worked for military organizations, were legally ineligible for government compensation and benefits and technically ineligible for counseling at Vietnam Veteran's centers." from 'Women, the Unknown Soldiers' by M. Carlson.

(more to come...but first up- US NAVY NURSE CORPS beginning 10/25)

*Please share your remembrances or comments in our comments section below. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, you may make your comment and not use your name. Vietnam: My War Too is monitoring the comments and will not post any we find too offensive.  The subject is war and we understand that emotions ride high. Think twice and post once!

Used by permission: From "War Zone Diversions: An Overview of Women Volunteers in Civilian Staffed Recreation Programs in Vietnam"- Ann L. Kelsey, @2004
a Carol A. Hunter, " 'A Touch of Home': Red Cross Recreation Workers in the Vietnam War" (master's thesis, University of New Mexico, 1994), 60-61
b Ibid. 

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