Friday, October 25, 2013

October: Our Month to Honor American Women in Vietnam Part IV

US Navy Nurse Corps
Honor, Courage, Commitment

It was President Theodore Roosevelt who, on May 13, 1908, signed the Navy Appropriations Bill authorizing the establishment of the US Navy Nurse Corps. Navy nurses served from then on in every major military operation involving the US and in numerous other engagements such as hurricanes, epidemics and other events throughout the globe- serving more often than not from ocean-going hospital ships.

Two of those ships, the USS Repose (AH-16) and the USS Sanctuary (AH-17) were stationed in the South China Sea. Both vessels had been recommissioned after service in WWII and Korea. The Repose was nicknamed "the Angel of the Orient". She sailed in December 1965 with 14 nurses on board and arrived on station in January 1966. By late March, 29 nurses were on board. As many as 200 admissions in a 24 hour period were brought to the ship via helicopter during heavy fighting. 

"The decks were lined with stretchers headed for the operating room. Teamwork and concern for the fellow man kept the adrenaline running. We helped a lot of them- but many saw their last sunset no matter what we did. As I walked back in ICU that evening, I wondered how many more would die before I left. After all, in our 18-bed unit we lost one a day in August. How many more "codes" would we call?"- Barbara Coffin Rogers, USS Repose, September 1967-September 1968 as quoted in RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR "Memories of Navy Nursing: The Vietnam Era." pg2
US Navy Nurse checks casualty
on deck of USS Repose (AH-16)
Vietnam 1967
The USS Sanctuary was the second hospital ship recommissioned for Vietnam service. She arrived on station in April 1967 with 29 nurses assigned and served in this capacity until November 1972.

The Navy took over medical support for the in-country military and civilian personnel from the American Embassy in 1963. The first two Navy Nurse Corps officers reported in February. The hospital compound, called  Duong Duong consisted of a 5-story inpatient building, an emergency and operating facility. Four Navy nurses were awarded the Purple Heart for injuries received during the Viet Cong terrorist bombing of the Brink BOQ on Christmas Eve 1964.

Navy nurse comforting combat
casualty on USS Repose

 The Blood of Heroes 
I cared for each as though my brother. 
No time to cry, must tend to another, and another....   
Time has passed; I still recall
Your courage, your struggle and your fall.
Rest in peace, your war now done;
How brief your life -- as the setting sun.... 
-Helen DeCrane Roth, USS Sanctuary, 1968 as quoted in RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR, "Memories of Navy Nursing: The Vietnam Era." pg 4

US Navy Support Activity, DaNang, South Vietnam
(As reported by RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR) 

The first Navy nurses reported to the station hospital at DaNang in August 1967 which was to become the largest combat casualty treatment facility in the world with 600 beds and admissions of 63,000 patients. The DaNang hospital was turned over to the Army in May 1970.

Outside the Combat Zone, the care-givers continued their work. Once stabilized the most seriously wounded were flown to hospitals in the Far East and at home in the US.

PTSD Is Forever
"I was overseas at Naval Hospital Guam in 1966-1968. My most vivid memories are threefold...caring for the massive numbers of many facing bleak challenge in their future......the hospital corpsmen, getting them ready for Fleet Medical School and then on to Vietnam, with their high morbidity and mortality rates. And the most traumatic of all the long suppressed dread accompanying the duty of my husband, a Marine stationed at DaNang during the Tet offensive and how I would tell our sons if something happened to their father. While you think you have dealt with all those dreadful feelings - mine were triggered again and all came roaring back when we deployed a thousand Navy nurses to the Persian Gulf, the largest number since the second World War. And finally after what seemed forever getting all one thousand safely back home. Each subsequent experience of war can become more devastating and there is a cumulative price that one can pay for the rest of their lives."- Mary Fields Hall, Director, Navy Nurse Corps, 1987-1991, as quoted in RADM Maryanne Gallagher Ibach, USNR, "Memories of Navy Nursing: The Vietnam Era." pg 4.

US Navy Nurse Corps Vietnam Veterans
March in 1993 Dedication of
Vietnam Womens Memorial

Thank You Women of the US Navy Nurse Corps Vietnam
Welcome Home

1 comment:

  1. It's bothered me for years that the gals never got the recognition they so so deserved. I am a combat vet from VN and they saw much more blood and guts than us grunts did !! Thank you so much !! Their smiles and help were much needed and appreciated !!

    Tom |