Army Nurse Corps Essay
All women in the Army served then in either the Army Nurse Corps or the Women’s 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 Women’s 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 O’Neill served as an Army nurse in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. “Don’t Mean Nothing” is her first book, written nearly thirty years after the experiences it depicts.
O’Neill tells us that, (O’Neill, p. 15) “Before I went, I just assumed that war would involve injury and death; that’s why I was being sent there, after all. But it’s 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 it–once your sneakers are full of somebody else’s blood–you look at the whole thing quite differently. The blood’s no longer a metaphor; it goes through to your socks and into the skin of your feet.
Into your soul. ” O’Neill gives us a clearer definition of what Vietnam was truly like. She offers that it wasn’t a place where you played around because people’s 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.
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