Interview with Pam Morris
Date of Interview: February 28, 2005
Interviewer: Katie Parrett
Transcriber: Katie Parrett
P: So how did you start out, what was your background in nursing?
M: I worked for the Indian Public Health Service. When I was twenty-two I decided I didn't
like working for the government and a girlfriend was going to join the Army because she
had some kind of arrangement where she could get a divorce if she would leave the
country for a year and let this woman work at keeping her marriage intact. So Darla, that
was the other nurse, joined the military and then somebody married the recruiter and he
was down a nurse, so I said, Oh heck, I'll go. Just like that, Oh heck, I'll go in July of
1970. Kind of spur of the moment.
P: So you volunteered?
M: Yes, nurses were volunteers. They wanted experienced nurses and I had a couple years
P: What was your experience in?
M: In Children's Pediatrics.
P: Before you went to Vietnam, what was your perspective about the war?
M: I was against it, but I wasn't particularly involved because I was the typical kind of air-
headish, you know, I was a good nurse but I didn't give any deep thought to the war.
Except for the music, I listened to the music.
P: So when you decided to go it was just...
M: It was a pretty big step because my mother had already lost a son, my brother, had died a
couple years, about 4 years earlier and she was very worried. I don't think I knew
exactly what war really was, in fact I know I didn't.
P: How did your friends and family react, besides your mom when you decided to go?
M: They tried to talk me out of it, but then they realized, well you know, you're young, you
should have an adventure.
P: So they decided to support you?
P: What was your initial reaction when you got to Vietnam?
M: Well, first I had to do basic training. Even nurses had to do six weeks of basic training
and I was at Fort Sam Houston in Texas and the Australian Equestrian Team was
practicing there. The Olympic team was practicing at Fort Sam. They rode horses at
Fort Sam. It was where the medical training was given, so we met a lot of guys that were
training to be medics. There was so much traffic on the base they had to put me, my
girlfriend... a bunch of us at a hotel with a swimming pool. So we were treated really
well because nurses were volunteers. They didn't pay for my schooling. We were
experienced nurses and we were volunteers, so they treated us pretty well. But we did
have to go to basic training and we did have to shoot guns and we had to learn about
nuclear warfare. We did have to do all sorts of surgical procedures on goats. We had to
camp out one night, it was awful.
P: This was all to prepare you for what it was like in Vietnam?
M: Right, we had to be soldiers even though they gave us a quick six-week basic training.
P: Do you think six weeks was adequate?
M: Yes, except it was actually some fun. So once again I was not prepared.
P: So when you got to Vietnam, was it culture shock?
M: It was culture shock because when we went to Vietnam I only packed my Army clothes
because I thought that was the right thing to do. So here I was twenty-two almost twenty-
three and I only packed my green Army fatigues and Army stuff and I got to Vietnam and
immediately it was all oriental people in the street. I mean like Vietnamese everywhere
and I hadn't even thought of the Vietnamese to be honest with you. So we were in a bus
with about fifty GIs, men, and we were taken in to headquarters in Saigon and [Bien Hoa]
Airbase and we got our papers and where we were going to go, and I was going to go
north. So they put me on an airplane and then we landed at the airfield in Quang Tri,
which was nine miles from the DMZ. Then a helicopter from the hospital came, a dustoff
helicopter, they're the ones that picked up the guys in the fields who were wounded, they
came to get me and it was Geoff s helicopter, my husband's helicopter, my future
husband's helicopter but he thought it was stupid going across the street just to pick up a
nurse so he refused to go. So just some people from the hospital came [unclear] a
helicopter flight. But otherwise it was a tremendous amount of Vietnamese people
supporting the Army, helping the Army probably trying to infiltrate the base too. They
were all over, it was their country.
P: Did you feel welcomed in when you first got there?
M: I felt welcomed into my unit because they had a couple helicopter crashes in the previous
couple weeks when they lost men and so the medical unit was really depressed, the base
was very depressed. So it was nice to be a new nurse because they really valued us. Just
as people too, not just sex objects just as people. Everybody wanted to be my friend
because there were so few American women. It was very welcoming, it was very warm.
P: How about your living and working conditions, like the facilities. Were they adequate?
M: Well, that's a little conflict I had with the Army. The Army had an old hospital that was
originally a MASH unit and it was made out of corrugated metal and then wood strips
around it, it was very hot. The Marines ten years earlier had started, 6 years earlier had
started a children's hospital. I guess they started it about '64-65. That was kind of the
stepchild of the Army MASH unit. I was assigned, because of my experience I was a
pediatric nurse, I was assigned to that unit. There was one another American nurse, two
other American nurses, one had her Master's and she was like head nurse and then there
was a girl from Cuba, she was actually from Miami she was a Cuban-American, she
really was from Cuba. She and I were the nurses and we were like looked down upon by
the Army brass at that base because we took care of Vietnamese children.
P: That was looked down upon?
M: Yeah, unfortunately, it wasn't looked down upon by the men but by the authorities, the
colonels and the majors.
P: Was it seen as not really necessary?
M: Yeah, that's right, that's exactly right. Our babies just slept on little mattresses; they
didn't have any sheets or anything.
P: So did you work often on just children and not soldiers?
M: For the first six months I only worked with the babies. A few times I complained, I said
I'd really like to work in the emergency room because they called it R&E receiving and
emergencies and so sometimes they would let me spend [some of the] afternoon over in
the emergency room which was actually right next door to the children's hospital.
P: Did you feel less pressure being in the children's hospital?
M: Yes, I worked with only Vietnamese. There were only the three of us RNs. So we all
had Vietnamese student nurses and we were their teachers. And there was a language
problem but they were wonderful. They loved me and they cooked for me every morning
after morning [share].
P: Were you ever nervous about enemy infiltration into the bases?
M: Yes. One night there was a firefight right outside the children's hospital and we had to
take all the kids and put them in these sandbagged bunkers and nobody came to help us.
So the Vietnamese nurses who were quite little and the three of us we took our little
children and their IV's and went into the bunker. It was just a tiny little room with
sandbags all around it. But it was pretty safe and then of course the kids were crying. It
was not very much fun and it was hot. Then one of the Vietnamese nurses, she was so
brave. She said to me Daiwe, that was [the] lieutenant, she said isn't it time for their
medications. And I just looked at her and went, Oh my gosh. But she was right and she
was willing to go help me get them. So she and I went out there and we got our
medicines and brought them back. I just thought she was so brave. But those
Vietnamese girls were born into war. It was 1970, they were born in the fifties, they were
born into war. They'd known nothing but war, and they were still nice people.
P: Did you learn to deal with the language barrier? Did you learn Vietnamese?
M: I learned the appropriate phrases, like I learned some swear words. Then, of course the
little cajoling phrases like how to get children to eat. Because you know the food we
gave them, unless the girls gave some food too, the kids got Army food. It was harder for
them, it was cooked food but it wasn't what they were used to, you know it wasn't
P: How did you feel about your living conditions?
M: We were individually housed in little 8x10 huts, raised up off the ground because it was a
country that suffered typhoons like we have hurricanes here. It had corrugated metal
roofs and we had iron beds. The iron beds were so hot that if we slept all day with the
fan on us and we got up in the afternoon to get ready to go to work the beds were too hot
to touch. It was really hot. Very, very hot...no air-conditioning. The hospital had air-
conditioning but it wasn't very good.
P: So I know about the monsoon seasons with torrential rain...
M: We did have a typhoon. We did have a hurricane, but they call it a typhoons because it
P: How was it like working it that?
M: Well, it was wet and moldy and hot and buggy. I got in trouble because I wore flip-flops
across somebody's field that was like six inches of water and I got screamed at by
someone who hated me because I worked with the Vietnamese. He made me go back
and get my boots.
P: So you said for six months you worked with the children. Where did you go after the six
M: Then I went south to Phu Bai, which is right near Hue. I went to Hue many times. I
worked with the intensive care, I worked in the Intensive Care Unit.
P: How was that?
M: That was totally different. Totally different, the soldiers were quite messed up.
Occasionally we'd have a Vietnamese civilian that was hit by an Army vehicle and we
would take care of him then. It was mostly GIs that had suffered tragic accidents and I
wonder where they are today. Whenever I see a homeless person that is crippled I
wonder if he was a vet.
P: So you never got to see the end result?
M: No. We kept them in intensive care for a few days and then they were taken to Japan or
Guam, preparation to go back to the United States.
P: Was it hard not knowing, having that closure?
M: Very hard. I still remember this one sergeant, Sergeant Cherry that [his] head was
burned. He talked about his kids and we taped a picture of his kids above the bed. I
know that he must have died, but he was such a wonderful warm person. He just wanted
to live but he was burned tremendous burns... awful bums.
P: Did it give you hope to see these people that were trying or was it discouraging...?
M: No, it was very discouraging because they were our age. It was hard for me to nurse
there dealing with GIs your own age that were so horribly injured. Injuries that we
couldn't make better. See as a nurse, probably you'll find as a teacher, you want to make
it all better and you can't.
P: During your typical day how long were your shifts?
M: Twelve hours, we had to work twelve-hour shifts six days a week and of course if we
were busy we worked more. There wasn't anything else to do anyway. War is pretty
boring if you're not working.
P: Did you ever have rush times where it was just crazy on hours for long periods of time?
M: Because I didn't work very often in the emergency room, when the helicopters came in
with people I usually didn't pitch in there too often. Our Intensive Care Unit would get
very busy when there was a push and the GIs were having a big front, and there'd be a
battle nearby. Then we'd get a lot of people in and the surgeons would be working all
night, all day and all night we'd get people in intensive care.
P: Was shrapnel typically what most of the soldiers suffered from or was it multiple
M: It was worse things like bombings, like they are having in Iraq now. Bombings with
limbs missing. I had one patient who had no legs below his pelvis. He was our age and
one girl made a terrible mistake. She read a letter from home and the mother, this is so
strange to this day it hurts me because I was there when she read it to him, the mother
sent a picture of the boy in his bathing suit with her. They were from the South and she
wrote how beautiful his legs were and of course, the girl started crying right away. The
boy didn't know he was missing his legs because we had a metal cradle over him with a
sheet over him. He may have known but we don't know. The girl, the nurse, started
crying and then of course he didn't know what was wrong. This was very tragic, all sorts
of tragic, interpersonal thing like that. With a lot of loss of life too...bleeding and
hemorrhaging. Medicine wasn't as advanced back then as it is now.
P: Did you feel that you had adequate supplies there?
M: Oh no, and I opened my mouth to complain. Our medicines were all out of date. Three
to six months to a year out of date. The drug companies said, Ugh, that's fine, we just
put stamps on them because we have to comply with government but they're fine.
P: Do you think it was because it was for the government and not customers paying for it?
M: Yes, the government made a deal and they got it for less. That happens all the time, if
people want to dump stuff they sell it to the military. It was a shame. I hope it's not
going on now.
P: Was it frustrating having no control over these things?
M: Well there was something else bad that would happen. In the children's hospital, I want
to say Margerita... I can't quite remember the girl's name... she and I let the Army
equipment get stolen because the Army chose to close that children's hospital, that's why
they moved me. They were going to send all of the little pediatric stuff to Guam. A lot
of it was rubber and it would just rot, so we told our Vietnamese friends they could come
and take it. We told them how to do it. Nobody could prove it was us, but that's how the
Army thought. They were just going to store the stuff for the next war and it was baby
stuff that would rot. So we let it be given away.
P: So it would be better taken care of...
M: Oh yea, people could use it. We went to the local hospital many times and they'd have
stuff from the French back from the forties and fifties.
P: Was there a lot of political agenda going on during this time?
M: Well, of course for us they didn't like, the Army brass didn't like us working with the
children they just couldn't help but close that hospital down. So they transferred me,
actually I was the only pediatric nurse so when they transferred me they said they had
nobody to take care of the hospital, which of course wasn't true, but they closed it.
P: Did you ever feel influenced by the South Vietnamese government or have any contact
with propaganda or anything like that?
M: We did because of course we had people do our laundry for us, they did it in a river. The
Vietnamese people would get little jobs with the Army and taking care of the Army
support people. So I'd give stuff to them sometimes too like laundry soap just little
things I could give to the Vietnamese like food and [cokes] and stuff. Well, I didn't deal
too much with the Army brass of the military in South Vietnam but one time I went to a
club in Saigon. Is this okay to talk about? Strange club. I had just gone to Saigon to see
it because it is a very beautiful, old French city and it was beautiful. Even in war it was
beautiful. Even the buildings were beautiful, huge boulevards like you would think of in
France. I met this guy that worked for the CIA at the Army CID and we went to a club.
All the Army and military presidential people were in this club that we went. It was
behind a little food place. You went through a velvet curtain and there were a lot of
military people and they were all dressed in tuxedos, just like you would think of back in
America. It was the general and the president of South Vietnam. It was like, they
weren't suffering. They were dressed up. The women...oh my gosh the women were
full of jewels and gowns and everything, [in the middle of the war]. Their entertainment
was a Korean stripper. That was the entertainment.
P: It must have been frustrating seeing the constant hypocrisy.
M: Oh, it was. I was really upset but he just laughed it off because he was working in
Saigon, so he had seen it before.
P: So was it completely different being out on the front lines in Phu Bai...?
M: Yes and then you go and see the way their own country, their own leaders are living. It
was sickening and I'm sure that happens everywhere. Then in our country, we had
companies that made a tremendous amount of money. There used to be a company called
Fort Philco. They got the concessions for feeding the Army or doing the water or the
sewer systems or something. Anyway, millions of dollars was made by American
companies in that war, just like what is happening now.
P: I've read about the amenities they sometimes had like ice cream available or
Thanksgiving dinners. Did you experience that?
M: Yep. They did treat us... sometimes we had to eat B rations, which were like K rations
only it was for a group. Usually the food wasn't really good. The Army had little meals
called SOS..., which is shit on shingles. It was creamed something over pieces of bread
and they gave us that a lot. But they did try to have a Thanksgiving and a Christmas
meal. It wasn't anything special, but it was special to us back then.
P: Did it make you think that the people back home were thinking of you?
M: Yeah. They didn't make as big of a thing over it as they are doing now and they should
P: For helping morale?
M: Yes, that's right...it was a strange war.
P: Did you feel safe while you were there?
M: I think when you are in a bad situation you get used to it. You can get used to almost
anything. And we heard gunshots all the time. We heard artillery all the time. We just
felt that our GIs would take care of us the best that they could.
P: It was kind of out of your control so you didn't have the need to worry about it because
there was nothing you could have done anyway?
M: We had so many GIs to protect us. That was about all we could hope for. I did some odd
things like hitchhiking to Hue, and I didn't feel scared. Like I said, I was a gutsy kid. I'd
be petrified now.
P: Was that how people got around was hitchhiking?
M: Yeah, hitchhiking on Army vehicles and stuff.
P: Were helicopters prevalent a lot?
M: Oh yes, helicopter rides went everywhere. One time I heard a pop pop [from gunfire].
And they told me to listen to the music. There were four guys in the helicopter and they
said, Oh just listen to the music. I thought, Well what is that? They wouldn't tell me. As
soon as they landed they told the hospital staff and somebody said to me, Oh my gosh
thank god you didn't get hit. I said, What do you mean. They had protected me by turning
the music up in my helmet so that I wouldn't know what was happening. That's how the
GIs were. They were great, they were wonderful.
P: So there was security knowing that they were there and trying to cover you from as much
of the things as they could.
M: That's right.
P: Were you nervous, were you worried afterwards after finding out?
M: Oh yes, very worried. He said, well weren't you happy not knowing, and I said you
know, I think I was.
P: Were you sad to change locations from the children's hospital?
M: Yeah, I liked the people up in Quang Tri. I liked the Vietnamese. We had a doctor with
us from Haiti, he was the best pediatrician I ever worked with. He was actually a
pediatrician and that's another thing the Army hated. They hated having the children's
hospital actually having a doctor and the people were not nice to him. So hardly anybody
in the GI hospital was nice to him but he made friends easily with the Vietnamese. And
he invited us with him.., we went to restaurants in town; we went out in town with the
Vietnamese. So our experience was very different, we liked the Vietnamese. We were
welcomed by them whereas regular GIs in the Army wasn't. It was hard to have an
occupying army, people don't like it.
P: But they appreciated you because you were helping their own?
P: But American GIs didn't mind you helping the Vietnamese children or did they have a
problem with it?
M: Not usually. Not generally. Some of them did, but not generally. The Americans have
big hearts. The engineers would put new roofs on for us and build little buildings
because the hospital was just these crumby little buildings.
P: Do you think you guys made a big impact on the Vietnamese and made life better for
M: Well, we think we gave them better medical care. But the horrors of a country being at
war for like thirty years is very defeating because I don't think they had a lot of hope.
P: It must be hard to have hope when you are at war for thirty years.
M: That's right. Families were broken up and kids would die alone without any families
there but us. It was very sad, very sad.
P: Did you have much contact with your family and friends back home?
M: No, but I could call on radio if I waited hours. They had a very primitive
communications, not what they have today. We would have to wait and call at night and
it would be patched from land mass to land mass and then eventually the phone would
reach my mother and I could talk to her.
P: To Japan and Hawaii...?
M: Yes, it wasn't a regular phone system.
P: Did you find that when people actually got mail that it was extremely delayed?
M: Mail was special. I met my husband there and Geoff liked to go get the mail. He would
take an ambulance and drive and get the mail. Sometimes I would deliver the mail in my
civilian clothes and the GI patients just loved that. American women were so appreciated
over there. Friends and being an American woman, mail was very special. We all had
our little cubbies, our little mail slots in our place of work. Mail was special and Geoff
liked to deliver it to people.
P: To give them that [hospitable] moment?
M: Yes, people loved mail. And you could get food. When Geoff went home he would send
me cans of chicken noodle soup, that's what I loved.
P: Did he go home before you went home?
M: Yes, he went home about six months earlier.
P: Did you meet anyone there that strongly changed your experience?
M: Well, all of the Vietnamese people I worked with, I only have very warm feelings for
them, so I'm glad their country is doing well now. I met my husband, which is the most
special thing. I think the main thing between meeting my husband and just seeing the
goodness of the American GIs because they didn't have to do anything for us in the
children's hospital but they did.
P: So what you experienced was a positive experience?
M: Well, yes, but I didn't tell you about all the drug using in the intensive care unit. When I
went down there to Phu Bai, which is outside Hue. I didn't like what I saw, there was a
lot of drugs. They had a huge drug problem with patients. One nurse told me it was so
disgusting, you would give someone a shot and immediately turn around and five guys
crawling on the floor trying to get that syringe. I didn't experience that working in
intensive care. We did have [druggies], but they were pretty well gone. We had one guy
code [die] on us, where his heart stopped, thirty-some times. One of the doctors said I
just don't know if I should keep trying to bring him back, so eventually the kid did die.
He sniffed cocaine and part of his nose was actually eaten away.
P: I know in Vietnam with opium and with the drugs like marijuana they had a lot of readily
M: Plus worse, like heroin and cocaine.
P: Plus the medical supplies like morphine and Darvon...
M: In intensive care I didn't have that problem because they couldn't get out of bed. We did
get the consequences of people that had taken too much heroin.
P: Was it frustrating seeing kids come in there like that when their compatriots were out
M: That's right. They were only there a year and they would succumb to these evils. But I
was from a middle class area and I had no experience with drugs before I went to
Vietnam. Girls would line up against the fences, talking to GIs, selling their sisters and
selling drugs. They all sold drugs.
P: Is that what the Vietnamese people had come to, for women to get money?
M: I guess so.
P: I know R&R was available every six months...
M: Well, maybe that's how it was worded, but you got two weeks together out of the year.
P: Did you travel?
M: Yes, I went to Hong Kong and it was so much fun. I went with a girlfriend and of course
we made friends right away because the Army had a deal with the hotel so all the people
on R&R were at that hotel. It was a wonderful experience.
P: Was it good to recuperate there and revive you allowing you to...?
M: Yes, it was nice to see the decadence, we had sheets. We had sandals made for us, shirts
made for us. Hong Kong tailors are brilliant. They'll measure you, bunches of different
measurements memorize them, write it down and make you your clothes in a couple
P: It must have been so nice to feel like you're back home again.
M: Oh and to go on dates, actually date. The GIs would take us on a date and we'd go out to
eat and walk around and look... It was wonderful to go to Hong Kong, I wouldn't mind
P: So it was a good thing the Army did provide for you guys, R&R?
M: Oh, I think it was very... spouses they would meet in Hawaii or Australia; I think it was a
P: To give people a chance to see people from back home, to get a chance to get away from
the front lines?
M: Yes, because the tour of duty in Vietnam was only twelve months, which was fair.
P: Do you know many people that re-enlisted?
M: Yes, they were usually the odd ones. Usually something was wrong with them. Why
would a young man want to sign up for three tours in Vietnam? He'd say, oh because I
could kill gooks.. .when you heard people had been there two and three times, you just
knew something was off with them.
P: So it was normal for kids wanting to go home and you knew someone was a little bit off
when they were excited to come back?
M: Right, that's just not normal. It was not a good situation. There was danger and then
there was downtime where drugs were so prevalent. There was nothing to do. There was
nothing to do.
P: Do you think the Army could have better, what could have been done to make it better?
M: You know I don't know because now [they're] in a war with a Muslim country. I don't
know because we did have beers. We could go to our little Officer's Club or I would go
to the Enlisted Men's Club. There was opportunities to socialize. In a war there's just a
lot of down time. It's like working in an emergency room, there are some very exciting
moments but a lot of it is just waiting around. And that is not a real healthy thing for
people without the resources, I read books.
P: You were probably one of the tamer ones.
M: Well, yes. There is a lot of ways you can get in trouble. I went out with one guy one
night and we decided to steal a jeep. Of course I thought it was kind of funny, I knew
nothing would happen to me. But if he was caught he would have been in big trouble.
P: But you weren't caught?
M: No, we weren't. I guess we should be proud of our resourceful GIs (laughing). Another
time I went out and somebody and we stole a helicopter. Well, it was his helicopter but
we just took it off in the middle of the night, which of course wasted fuel. It was a really
stupid thing to do. That's the kind of stuff that people do because they're so bored.
P: Now did the military brass mind, were there strict controls over the nurses and soldiers?
M: Pretty much and I was not supposed to be with enlisted people. Of course I was in love
with my husband, my future husband and so most of my friends were enlisted. I'm in
touch with some of them today, a few of them today.
P: How would you describe the morale of the soldiers? I know that this was during the end
of the war.
M: Well, yes it was. We knew we hadn't accomplished anything. The morale wasn't that
P: Because by this point we had been in for six years...
M: Yes, it was just pointless. It was really stupid.
P: You guys didn't know it was the end of the war...
M: Right, but the resources weren't...we didn't go to work with everything that we could
have. You shouldn't mess with people's lives like that.
P: Did you have a particularly significant moment that changed your experience?
M: Well, I always think of this young NVA soldier I had. He was from China, he walked
down from China through all the tunnels and stuff and he was very badly hurt. I looked
at his wallet and he had one of those little family pictures and I had determined that I was
going to treat him with decency because he was only fifteen. I got in a lot of trouble over
that. No one would help me until a day or two later one GI medic came to help me. This
kid was big, the Chinese are bigger than the Vietnamese, so it was very hard for me to
take care of this boy who was severely wounded and without anybody helping me move
him around [the] bed but nobody would. This one kid who was only about twenty, I still
remember him. Brian, he was really good looking kid. He was just a kid from Georgia.
He said, You know, Lieutenant I'll help you. And so from then on it was a lot easier.
When the interrogators came I wouldn't let them interrogate him until I had taken care of
him for the morning, like change his dressings and give him his medications. I got in a
lot of trouble over that. I'll never forget that. The kindness of the one Georgia medic
versus the educated Army officers who came to interrogate him. They just were brutal to
him. And then I found out that he was probably killed before he even left the base. That
the Vietnamese military probably killed him before he was even out of the base. All that
care I had given him for two weeks and I stood up to him and I got yelled at and rank
pulled on me and everything.
P: The compassion that you felt from the soldier from Georgia and then to have that turned
M: My husband said, Oh he didn't even make it to [leave the base], probably. I just hoped
that somebody in North Vietnam who had a prisoner and dealing with a prisoner, would
maybe would show them a tiny bit of kindness. I now have a good friend that was a
prisoner of war in Vietnam. He doesn't bear any hate. He was with John McCain
[Vietnam POW, U.S. Senator, R-Arizona], he doesn't bear any hate and he's gone back
to Vietnam. So I hope that somebody...I just couldn't mistreat a fifteen year-old kid, he
was just a kid.
P: You were hoping they were treating Americans the same way?
M: I just kept hoping that if I could give compassion that maybe somebody else could too.
P: Were you a rarity to see no difference between Vietnamese and Americans, you treated
them the same or tried to?
M: Well, my friends of the nurses were like me. Wherever you go there are cliques, which
you'll find that when you start teaching. There are cliques and if you are willing to care
about somebody that's not cool, then you'll only have friends like you. It won't be easy
to find friends not like you. One time we had an emergency in the Intensive Care Unit.
It was a Saturday night and the doctors of course managed to always have whiskey and
had parties with girls. We called over to the doctor's huts and we said, You know, this
man has to have surgery, he's bleeding...please come over. They said, No, no,
no...there's incoming. There was incoming into the base, but he could have come over
and he refused to come. So the patient died. I vaguely remember that it was a
Vietnamese patient that had been in a car accident with an American tank. That was
common. That was the first time I had worked with a doctor like that.
P: So it wasn't prevalent thing to have...?
M: No, doctors might have made some remarks but they still did their medical obligation.
Then this guy had more good luck. He was drunk and fell off his sandbagged hooch, and
he broke his arm and he got to go home. He's probably a multi-billionaire now; just
slinging through life you know, no dirt sticks to him.
P: So it seems like you had a positive experience it seems like you have done a lot of good.
M: I don't know that I would say that it was positive. I feel like it was good because nurses
had the opportunity to do good all the time. I met some wonderful people but I'm still
worried about the people whose lives were so changed. Without a good support group, I
mean if you don't have an arm or a leg, without a good support group how do you
recover? That's why I don't like to see all the homeless because I wonder with a lot of
them if they're Vietnam vets.
P: Were there a lot of problems with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
M: Yes and they used self-medication with drugs and alcohol [as soon as they learned their
country had turned their back on them].
P: Vietnam was...not the forgotten war but the war [where U.S. Citizens] that had its back
turned on them [veterans]. Did you guys know while you were in Vietnam about the
reaction back home?
M: I think we did. It's a defense mechanism to not be haunted by it. We didn't have the
internet or TV like the guys have today so it was easy for us to just believe whatever we
were told. We had a newspaper but the newspaper was the Army's Stars and Stripes so
what was written there had to have been approved by the Army.
P: So it was censored?
M: So maybe that was better.
P: Would you have rather not known. Was it more uplifting to think that people were
supporting you rather than knowing that they weren't?
M: Well, yeah, we would get angry. There was anger that we were in a situation like that.
Of course I was volunteer so I didn't suffer the anger but the young men that were drafted
they were taken out of their lives and put into a war that they realized didn't have any
purpose. You could see by 1970 that we weren't taking ground. There were still some
big pushes where they would push into trying to take more territory and clean it up. It
was obvious it wasn't very successful.
P: Now did you guys have good communications within Vietnam? Did you know about the
air strikes that were happening and the kinds of moves that were happening in other...?
M: Only in our part of the country, the northern part of the country. But that was right near
North Vietnam so it was a very significant area. We'd meet people all the time, we'd
meet helicopter and Air Force people. There was an airbase near us and they would tell
us about other parts of the country.
P: What type of person do you think was most affected by the war. Was it the infantrymen,
M: Well, the infantry men said they liked being on the ground, they wouldn't fly in those
machines and the medics said God you guys have it rough, I wouldn't stay one night on
the ground. I think the infantry did. They would actually have to walk over land mines
and fields where people were shooting at them. I can't imagine how they would feel. I
mean, I heard them talking and they would take some terrible injuries.
P: I know about the land mines with the Bouncing Betty's and the punji sticks. Did you see
a lot of casualties from those?
M: That's right. Yes, of course I hated giving outdated antibiotics. For us, we only saw the
guys for a few days and then they were airvaced out so we don't really know the result of
what we did.
P: You did the best you could with what you had...
M: We would pump the regular Army nurses that worked at Walter Reed because eventually
for rehab they would probably end up at Walter Reed in Washington. This one guy wrote
our head nurse he said, Oh they do wonderful things there. Don't worry, these guys are
going to be skiing. I know that it's not really true but back then I tried to think it was. I
told the guys, they're going to take care of you, you're going to get a prosthetic, you're
going to be fine.
P: It must have been nice for them to have someone that...
M: ... To give them hope because they were suffering. To lose a limb, it's just really... These
boys were in their late teens to early twenties.
P: Was it frustrating to see such young men in there that hadn't really lived yet?
M: Yes. The general came through one day and he asked me to help him give out the Purple
Hearts. You know, I wasn't regular Army so I kissed them. I kissed the guys and they're
supposed to salute you and they're standing there in their little hospital gowns and their
pillows and I gave them a kiss. The general liked that, he thought it was very good.
P: It must have been nice for them to see someone actually caring about them.
M: It was. They loved the nurses. We were just treated like princesses because there wasn't
very many of us.
P: That's reassuring to hear that.
M: There was a lot of good in probably all people but I couldn't really communicate with the
Vietnamese so I saw a lot of good in our American GIs too.
P: That's awesome because you do hear negative things more than positive things about this
M: Well, there are negative things. Like if they wanted, the tankers, they would stick their
hands up out of the hatchet. I guess you just didn't know what the point of the war was,
there didn't seem to be any reason to be there.
P: You made the best of what you had...
M: Yes, but some kids can't. Everybody is not created equal. Some people didn't have the
fortitude to stay [focused].
P: Were there people who purposely injured themselves to go home?
M: There were and there was prejudice against them. There would almost have to be or the
discipline would break down. They shouldn't have done it.
P: Did you see incidences of fragging and people taking over?
M: There was a couple deaths on our base from fragging.
P: Was that treated severely when that was found out?
M: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Discipline is very important in the Army. People complain about it.
Actually, when you want people do to the unthinkable there has to be discipline. There
has to be real strong discipline. The Army has since relaxed some of its ways of dealing
with young people. Its relaxed some of their...basic training is a little bit easier now. It's
a little more humane.
P: Do you think that they trained you adequately for this war psychologically, mentally,
M: Perhaps not psychologically. There wasn't a lot of psychological help. I was surprised at
that. It wasn't easy to get a counselor or a psychologist.
P: Was it looked down upon?
M: Yeah, it would be looked down upon. The Army is very macho, you know when you
think about it has to be kind of macho because how could you do those things if you
didn't think you were pretty superior? The Marines, of course, were the worst. They
were the most superior.
P: Did you have lots of conflicts between...
M: No, as a woman I hardly had any conflicts. I was always treated with respect.
P: Were there complications between Marines and the Army GIs?
M: Not that I saw. They usually worked in different areas. I met some Marine guys who
worked with the Australians and the Australians were a real fun-loving group. The ones I
met were just like you pictured them, cocky and funny. Bigger than life. There were
some Australians working in our town, our base.
P: So did you have people from all over the place?
M: I met quite a few people. There were people from South Korea. I met some Europeans
that were there. I met some Quakers, Quaker volunteers from Sweden. I believe they
were from Sweden. They were working in a leprosy unit as volunteers, they working in a
leprosy hospital in Vietnam.
P: Do you regret your decision to volunteer and go?
M: No, it didn't destroy my life. I didn't suffer Post-Traumatic Stress like it a lot of guys.
But I think women are stronger anyway. I really think women can handle more. Being a
nurse, I was not used to it but I was more comfortable with damaged bodies.
P: Because you guys got the after-product of it and you didn't actually see the shooting and
the killing, but it must have been hard to do that everyday?
M: Very hard. The injuries were just horrendous. It was just unbelievable what those guns
and bombs will do...and what the land mines will do. It was just unbelievable how [it
would tear up] a human body. I saw a doctor cut open the heart and pull the heart out and
try to massage it and try to give the boy life, but it didn't work.
P: What was the hardest obstacle you had to overcome while in Vietnam?
M: Probably working with the Vietnamese for the first six months, that was kind of a little
hard. There was kind of a little black mark over me because I worked with the
Vietnamese. It wasn't so traumatic that it would ruin the experience for me. I didn't like
the Army rules, I thought they were really stupid. I'd get in trouble for all sorts of things
like not wearing my hat, not remembering to salute. Then I would try to complain about
stuff like the medicines being out of date and nobody seemed to care, but they sure cared
about their rules.
P: So when you enlisted, you were a volunteer. You were a civilian not a...
M: Yes I was a civilian. They didn't pay for my education, I just volunteered as a lark. Just
said, Oh I'll go.
P: But you still had to adhere to their dress code and things like that?
M: Yes, we still had to do that for discipline. I guess it would be hard if you had a bunch of
people and a certain select few didn't have to follow the rules. I look at that now as an
adult but when I was in my twenties I just hated it. I thought it was so stupid.
P: But you also volunteered for it...
P: No, you volunteered you should have been given that freedom.
M: That's exactly what we thought. We thought we should be treated a little bit different by
the Army. The guys treated us great but the Army brass and the Army system did not
treat us any differently.
P: They considered you just another GI?
P: Did you want to go home?
M: Yes. I even told them. I said I'm mentally unfit to serve. That's when Geoff went home.
They said, Well you can go down to Saigon and work. In Saigon the nurses wore white
uniforms and stockings and looked very professional. I said, Oh, heck no. I'll just stay.
P: So you stayed?
P: Were you glad?
M: Yes, I'm glad I did my commitment.
P: So when you were finally able to go back home were people sad to see you go?
M: Yes, there was a little party...I had a little party. They took my picture and they gave me
this little plaque. They had a regular wooden plaque, they would give each other wooden
plaques somebody made. It was just very nice. We had a little going away party like you
would here but it was very primitive. We didn't have anything to eat. Might have a beer.
There were no goodies, no snacks or anything like that.
P: If you wanted something like that would you have to go to a PX and buy it?
M: They never had the stuff so your family would have to send it to you. Of course, a lot of
it would get stolen or it would be rotten.
P: So the PX didn't have anything available?
M: No, the PX actually did have tampax, which is actually was very important thing if you
think about it. The GIs would clean their M-16s with tampax so it was very hard to get.
Geoff, my husband, because he had four sisters he used to go buy tampax for everybody
when it came in because we didn't always have it. It was in short supply and the Army
didn't really prepare adequately for that. They weren't used to deploying women very
much to places like that. Even in Europe I guess the supply lines were a little easier. It
was a little harder to supply Vietnam.
P: Do you think that the military has learned from the Vietnam War and the mistakes they
made and tried to correct those?
M: I think they've learned a lot about trying to make the soldiers feel respected. The
President went to Thanksgiving dinner last year and I think he should have gone. I think
they have. I think they did learn a lot. Bob Hope was the one that treated us with respect
by coming. He gave us a performance there that I went to. It was nice to see the
President go visit the troops. I think they're fed better, McDonalds is feeding them. I
don't know if that's better (laughing). They are realizing because some things you have
to adapt, even though you can make these people go and serve you still have to treat them
with some respect. Where they didn't realize that in Vietnam.
P: When Bob Hope came and people like that came did it make you sad remembering home,
that you weren't in America or did it give you renewed sense?
M: We felt very patriotic and it was fun. It was a fun day. It was an exciting time. Miss
America came and her makeup was dripping. You know how beautiful they are and they
wear so much makeup. I remember making some snide remarks about her makeup but
she actually was a kind girl. She cried in between visits, she wasn't prepared. She was a
college girl from the middle of America. She was not prepared for just being landed in
Vietnam and having to put on a pretty face and visit all these people. I realize how hard
it was for those people.
P: Do you think that when you came back, when you got back to America, how were you
treated when you first came home?
M: Well, the joke was that you had to take your uniforms off, you didn't fly across country.
Even though the Army sent you home and paid for your way home, you didn't get sick
day pay for our way home. We took our uniforms off. They took us back when we left
the Army in the Seattle area, Tacoma Air Force area and then we had to change our
clothes because the feeling about the war was so strong that we couldn't wear our
uniforms home on the plane. Coming home from Seattle to Chicago I had to wear
civilian clothes, and all the guys did too. It was a culture shock.
P: When you came back home was it hard to adapt back?
M: It was very hard. It was very hard, of course I thought most people were clueless and
they hadn't done any suffering. I kind of have a bad feeling about this war that we
haven't done any suffering except for the families who sent soldiers to war. It seems like
when you go to war there should be some suffering at home, there should be some
deprivation and there isn't any and there wasn't then. They were calling the GIs names.
Of course the drug problem became pretty bad but I think the Army probably could have
done more with counselors and more psychologists. Perhaps had some better
entertainment for the troops. There was lots of down time in Vietnam.
P: Did you feel that you were appreciated for the sacrifices you made?
P: You felt under appreciated?
P: Did people just not realize what you had given up going there?
M: Yes. They looked at you like you were a criminal. It was very sad. People don't do that
now but they did back then. They did, they looked at you like you did something wrong.
P: Do you feel that they grouped the bad instances that had happened and they parlayed that
M: Yeah, it might be a normal human thing, I don't know. But yes they did. They thought
that all the GIs did bad stuff. Well, in war there are a lot of bad things that happen and a
lot of mistakes made. I think some of those things like the My Lai massacre; that
meanness that was shown was probably not very common. People just make mistakes
but mistakes aren't deliberate. A lot of them are out of fear, [you have to] protect
P: Because [in] this war the people that you were fighting for [and against] looked the same.
M: Yes, that's right.
P: It was hard to tell the enemy...
M: That's true. There were strict rules about what you could give the Vietnamese on the
base because they could make bombs out of it, just like the terrorists today. They could
do something with Tide laundry soap, I don't know what it was but they could do
something with Tide laundry soap. So we weren't supposed to give them laundry soap.
You know, I think back and there were some aberrations of meanness but they were
aberrations. I know one soldier emptied his Cobra helicopter 102-millimeter guns or
something into hillsides and I got some children patients out of it when he did that. On
the way back they had to empty their guns, they didn't land with them. He just did it into
a hillside without even thinking. But I'm not sure that was mean, it's probably just
stupid. I mean these kids were all in their early twenties [using weapons].
P: Do you think they were ready for things of such a serious magnitude?
P: Do you think it would have been a different war if it was fought with older soldiers?
M: Yeah, and that's what's happening now in fighting now and perhaps they are making
better relations with the populace as much as they can in Iraq now. There was not any
effort to be friends with the Vietnamese, we there in their country to do what was our
agenda. It was our agenda not the Vietnamese. So the Vietnamese hated the North
Vietnamese too but ultimately they would be reunited. They were the same culture, the
P: Do you think the South Vietnamese wanted the reunification?
M: I'll bet they did, but when I was there, no, they hated their northern cousins. But when
you talked to them privately they all had family up there. It was a bizarre situation and
we shouldn't have been there.
P: Do you think we were there because of the government of South Vietnam wanted
distance so they might have coerced their followers into hating the North Vietnamese?
M: Perhaps. Perhaps. We had some domino theory that we had to save the world from
Communism, which is such a strange system and it eats away at itself anyway. Terrible
P: Do you think any good came out of that war?
M: Well, the medical care improved and in war it seems that the medical care becomes more
efficient and it translates over into the civilians. There are better prosthetics now.
There's better helicopters taking car accident victims to hospitals. There are better
systems with massive trauma. A lot of that stuff comes out of a war. Much more
efficient. A lot of advances come from war; medical and science advances come from
war. But it ruined a lot of lives too. A lot of GIs suffered Post-Traumatic Stress and it's
P: I know during Vietnam it was just coming out that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was
prevalent with soldiers. I know at the end of World War II...
M: In World War I.
P: They didn't even realize it back then.
M: Some people did but no, it didn't catch on that idea that such an intense experience could
damage your psyche permanently. My own husband takes anti-depressants. He didn't
take them until he'd been out home almost twenty-five years.
P: It's hard to shut off being in that situation after coming home.
M: It's such a momentous event in your life that there's no way to prepare for it unless
maybe you grew up in war.
P: Do you think the shock of coming back home is what triggered it sometimes in soldiers?
M: I don't know, I don't know. I think it was the shock of the war and seeing other people
with such horrible wounds. You can't even imagine seeing inside people's bodies like
P: Did you ever get used to it, seeing the mutilation?
M: Yes, you get used to it. You can get used to almost anything. After a particularly bad
case we would actually take a hose and wash the floor in the emergency room down, a lot
of blood down the drain. The helicopters would have to be washed out.
P: Stuff that had to be done...
M: I don't think used to it is the word [it doesn't shock you so much].
P: Kind of desensitized towards it?
M: You do become desensitized towards violence, blood, anything. You get used to it.
P: Do you think that's what might have caused some of the meanness to come out because
they had become desensitized?
M: Perhaps, perhaps. It's a good point Katie, I hadn't thought of that. Yes, perhaps. But
then there's always rotten people everywhere. Yes, that's very true.
P: When you came home, how did your friends and family react?
M: Well, they were happy to have me home but they weren't particularly proud of me.
There wasn't anybody to really talk to except people that had been there. To this day,
people who have been to Vietnam are a different group of people for me. We look at
people like, were you in Vietnam and we can always tell. We have a lot of friends who
were in Vietnam, my husband and I do.
P: Was it frustrating to not have your family and friends proud of you?
M: Well, my family was proud of me just because you know how families are but the
population and my other young acquaintances were not impressed. They thought it was
P: Did you ever feel that you had to lie about being in Vietnam?
M: No, but I don't...Well, yes I guess you're right. I guess I do because I don't tell
everybody. For years I didn't tell people I went to Vietnam.
P: Were you afraid of their reaction?
M: Yes. I didn't want to answer questions about the drugs and My Lai and all that stuff.
P: People automatically go to the bad.
M: That's right. Now with our wars in the Middle East there's more respect for the military
so I'm more open now about it. That's right that was a good question. I hadn't thought
about that. But you're right; I didn't tell people for years.
P: I can understand why because of the reaction back home, people weren't impressed by it
and they should have been.
M: It should have been because people's lives were disrupted. We thought we were helping
our country stop the spread of Communism. But then when you go over there you see all
the war profiteers. That's happening here too right now in Iraq. Certain companies are
making a fortune.
P: Do you feel like Vietnam was the wrong war, wrong time, wrong reasons?
M: Yes, I don't see any purpose to it and the 55,000 people that died I just feel that it was not
a good thing. Except that perhaps it had brought dignity to the armed forces again. I
hope it has. Because we have people now in a very hostile situation, but we are
supporting the war. I hope it helps.
P: Do you feel like that Vietnam was a good lesson to learn towards future wars about how
not to act?
M: Well, I'm more worried that we didn't learn it because we've already been in Iraq almost
two years now. I don't know if we learned it, if our have leaders learned it. There's a
saying that you get the leaders that you deserve.
P: It's kind of scary to think about that. If you could have made any changes to your duty to
make it more fulfilling for you, what would you have liked to see done whether it be the
Army, the government, the civilians?
M: I think more support from the people. They should have sold the war in a better way and
made it a proud thing to serve, not an embarrassment.
P: Do you think the draft caused that because people were gone that were unwilling...
M: It was unwilling, yes. Probably that had a lot to do with it. It was not the war that our
parents fought. Our parents fought in a war that [was] by an attack upon our country.
This war was just manipulating the truth. Some companies made a lot of money over
there. I don't know what the purpose of that war was.
P: Were most of the soldiers that [went] drafted?
M: I think they were. I imagine they were. A lot of kids, I met a lot of kids that were from
parts of the country that I never experienced like, Nebraska. Rural country counties out
where there is nothing for the kids to look forward to except staying in a small town all
their lives. A lot of them will join the Army.
P: Do you think it was because they weren't going on to college and just didn't have the
finances to get out of going and being drafted?
M: No, their parents weren't influential to get them out.
P: Was it frustrating knowing that the boys that were going to war were typically rural,
M: Yes, because we all knew things about what people said about people like our current
president. That if you were influential enough you could get out of going. [unclear]. I
think in war it's better if people from all classes, I hate the word class, but all segments of
society, like World War II, can participate in war. Very few of our leaders' sons were in
the war, none of them are now I don't think. In World War II it was cool to be in the
P: I know that during Vietnam if you were married and had children or if you were in
college all of those were exempt.
M: That's right. People would go to great lengths and doctors too that were paid had to
come had to do public health work. It's almost like the doctors that went, what did they
do wrong that they couldn't get out of going?
P: The doctors that did go, do you feel that they were qualified?
M: Yes. Some of them went to improve their, like I met some vascular surgeons went to
because they thought it would be good to improve their skills. That was the right reason
to do it. I mean because they paid to learn these things.
P: It's amazing that people volunteered. Do you consider yourself brave now?
M: I consider myself a little bit of a risk taker back then but now I'm real cautious.
P: Do you feel that it affected you a lot, being there?
M: I feel it affected me and made me a probably a stronger and better person, because I could
see people from all segments of society in Vietnamese and Americans, and other
countries too. I think I learned a lot and respect of kinds of people in situations.
P: Would you like to go back to Vietnam?
M: I would love to go back to Vietnam. I remember being at China Beach and saying how
beautiful it was, it will be a resort someday and I hear that it's not taken off yet but it's
really nice now. I'd love to go back to Vietnam but my husband won't go. Yes, I would
like to go back.
P: When you were there, when you got to travel around was it like night and day seeing the
front lines and then seeing more rural country, was it hard to believe that the war was
M: Yes, there are front lines. I've got some pictures for you to flip through real quick.
There's a lot of jungle. The front lines were kind of mixed. It wasn't like in World War
II where people would try to take a town. It was just all mixed up. There are some very
beautiful and historic things in Vietnam. I'm sure we bombed the heck out of them. We
did a lot of napalming.
P: Were you guys worried about, did you know about the side effects of napalm and Agent
M: No, and I didn't know about chlordane, which was the Army's bug spray and we used to
spray it on our beds. It's banned now so any medical problem I ever develop I think it's
got to be the chlordane that we sprayed. It was in the water. It was in little brown cans
and as a nurse I could get all I wanted and I'd give it out to my friends. Here's a hooch.
P: I've heard about the hooches. So were they individual hooches?
M: Well, that looks like a group one but the Army nurses had individuals. It's a very
beautiful country actually. It's a great place to go as a tourist, I have friends that have
P: When you were there was it a lonesome time, with the down time and everything?
M: No, I think young people can make friends anywhere. Young people just get together
and make fun and plus I read. If you didn't read you probably were pretty miserable.
The guys had the USO girls that brought pornography. They would sneak it in and
sometimes they would show a little bit of pornography. The guys would love that. I
never went to any.
P: It boosts the morale...
M: Yes. The USO girls, the Donut Dollies, they would fly in and sing and have little
hootenannies. They were little fun evenings for the guys. It's still pretty lonely being
away from home. A lot of people didn't have the resources to amuse themselves on their
P: When you were traveling around did you wear your Army uniform, did you have to?
P: Did you ever experience and backlash because of that?
M: No, I think we were pretty respected by the Vietnamese. Well, I don't know if respected
is the right word but no, I never had any troubles. They liked our white skin. My friends
who were blonde had a real interesting time because people want to touch it because they
had never seen that before.
P: Was it difficult knowing that you were not invading someone's country but fighting a war
on someone else's soil?
M: Well, we thought we were there to help them. My perceptions as a twenty-three year-old
were probably a lot different than they would be now. We thought we were there to help
them. We hoped that in theory we were there to help them but we just prolonged their
misery their war and now look what happened. But they're doing better now.
P: Well I really appreciate you talking to me.