All women in the Army served then in either the Army Nurse Corps or the Womens Army Corps (WAC). All Army nurses were officers, and were Direct Commissions. That is, they became nurses first and then attended a ten day or so Orientation Course at (Ft. Sam Houston, Texas) to teach them how to be officers, the rudiments of military life, who to salute and when, etc. (There were a small number of male nurses who went through the same program. ) Nurses were assigned to Army hospitals, both Stateside and overseas, and were billeted separately from male officers.
In Vietnam, Army nurses served exclusively in rear-area hospitals at major bases. The Womens Army Corps (WAC) provided all Army female enlisted personnel and also had its own officers. Most WAC officers exclusively administered WAC units, but a handful received assignments to staff positions and other rear-echelon duties. In Vietnam, enlisted WACs performed mostly clerical duties, although some worked as medical technicians. Whatever their duty assignments, all enlisted women, on any base, even in the States, were billeted together as a single WAC Company in a guarded compound.
(WAC officers had separate quarters, of course. ) Within this compound, in their barracks, WACs pulled their own guard, armed with baseball bats and whistles. (Neither WACs or nurses were issued weapons, and even those sent to Vietnam had only rudimentary firearms training. ) One tiny WAC unit (peak strength, 20 officers and 139 enlisted women) was assigned to Saigon, and nowhere else in-country. No WACs, even medical personnel, got any closer to combat than this. Eight US servicewomen died in Vietnam.
Of these, four Army nurses and an Air Force flight nurse were killed in three separate, non-combat, plane crashes, and another died from disease. An older nurse died of a stroke. Only one woman, Army 1LT Sharon Ann Lane, was actually killed in a combat action, in a VC rocket attack on Chu Lai, in 1969. Besides nurses and WACs other American women would also go to Vietnam. TOD and China Beach covered most of the categories. American Red Cross girls, entertainers, civilian employees of the US government or contracting firms, newspaper correspondents, Christian missionaries, that about covers it.
ARC girls made brief daylight visits (a few hours) to advance bases. The rest had rear-area jobs. (Christian missionaries were usually older, married women. ) American civilian women lived in major Vietnamese cities, which were off-limits to US troops, the exception being Saigon. Any women billeted on US bases also lived in guarded compounds. Susan ONeill served as an Army nurse in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. Dont Mean Nothing is her first book, written nearly thirty years after the experiences it depicts.
ONeill tells us that, (ONeill, p. 15) Before I went, I just assumed that war would involve injury and death; thats why I was being sent there, after all. But its one thing to look at it from a distance, and form neat mental pictures. Once you step through the looking glass, as it were, into the reality of itonce your sneakers are full of somebody elses bloodyou look at the whole thing quite differently. The bloods no longer a metaphor; it goes through to your socks and into the skin of your feet.
Into your soul. ONeill gives us a clearer definition of what Vietnam was truly like. She offers that it wasnt a place where you played around because peoples lives were at stake. The author goes on to tell us that, Back in the states, when I so glibly thought I knew what Vietnam and war, in general, was about, I had opposed it on some cool-headed philosophical basis, from some distant notion of empathy. Gradually, in Vietnam, I became horrified at how callow my ideas had been.
Although there are more than 11,000 nurses serving in the Army Nurse Corps today, it has not always been this way (Larsen, 2015). For most of our country’s history, those numbered among military nurses were few. In fact, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States Army had less than 1,000 nurses, of which a very limited number were women (Army Nurse Corps, n.d.). But it was not to stay this way. The traditional system quickly changed after that infamous December morning when Americans’ lives were overturned and the Second World War began. The enormous manpower needs faced by the United States during this time generated many new opportunities for American women, who eagerly stepped up to the task (Bellafaire, 2003).
Not only did they become involved in the social and economic Those in Northern Africa were trained to aid in patient evacuations, while nurses in Southern Italy dealt with the dangerous climate that catered to malaria. Western European nurses cared for their own English and American soldiers, but they also learned to provide patient care to German prisoners of war, as well as concentration camp victims. Army nurses of the Pacific Theater worked near the front lines, following just one step behind U.S. troops as they jumped from island to island in the Mediterranean.
Trained to avoid Japanese guerilla patrols and incidents of sexual harassment, these women were rarely allowed to leave their quarters without armed guards. Nurses stationed in China, Burma, and India experienced an extreme clash of cultures as they tried to maintain discipline among the wards. Many Chinese patients refused to remain isolated and thereby spread contagious diseases like malaria and typhus throughout the hospital. The women in this theater of war performed under very primitive conditions in a climate that was continuously undo.
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