Running head: War Nursing
Montgomery County Community College
April 19, 2001
The Vietnam War was the longest war ever fought by U.S. military forces. U.S. personnel were engaged from 1961 until 1973. Approximately 10,000 U.S. military women served in Vietnam during the war. Most were members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Nurse Corps. All of the Army nurses were volunteers who attended a six-week basic training class, and then were assigned to one-year stunts in Vietnam hospitals and mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) units. Most of these nurses were fresh out of nursing school, some with less than six months of clinical experience. These nurses were not prepared for the physical and emotional wounds that they would have to heal.
Clearly the role of women stationed in Vietnam was quite different from that of the fighting soldier. In primarily medical positions, their major duties were to heal and provide nurturing to severely wounded and/or dying combat soldiers. This function was made more complicated by the fact that the nurses, many of whom were straight out of nursing school, were only a few years older than the wounded they cared for. These nurses were looked up to and took on the role as a “big sister” with their patients, providing psychological as well as medical comfort. The nurses were expected to be emotionally strong as well as physically strong. “Somehow, it was considered a lack of competence if they felt psychologically devastated by particular events of the accumulation of experiences related to the terrible wounds and deaths with which they had to deal” (Scannell-Desch, 2). This created the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that was a common disorder shared between the Vietnam nurses.
Besides clinical inexperience being a major problem causing insecurities, the nurses were being overwhelmed with casualties. “Some nurses were so inexperienced. Some had barely seen an operating room, let alone worked in one” (Scannell-Desch, 4). Along with the lack of experience, to make things worse, the nurses would receive 20 to more than 100 patients within a few hours. An army nurse recalled, “The day I arrived in the O.R., we had a ‘mass-cal’, 185 casualties. They came in Chinooks (large helicopters). They were on the floor, all over. Every Chinook was overloaded…I just remember that every ward in Nam was full. We had body bags lying around the hospital and the morgue was full” (Scanell-Desch, 4).
The nurses experienced so much trauma in such a little time, that most suffered from PTSD. The experiences that brought on this PTSD was the shock of conflict in Vietnam, the problematic return to a country that did not understand their participation or experiences, the denial of their work in Vietnam, and a sense of isolation from their male counterparts in Nam and their female counterparts back home as well as absence of veterans service groups upon returning to home. The nurses were not recognized for the job that they had done, which allowed many soldiers to return home to their families.
Eventually, in Minneapolis, Minn., the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project was formed to acknowledge the females who had served during the war. This memorial helped nurses and women who took part in the Vietnam War to come together and help each other with the damaging memories of their experience in Vietnam.
The profession of nursing would not be near what it is today if it weren’t for the times of war. In a time of such animosity it is surprising that something good can come out of it. The men and women who suffered physical and life-long emotional wounds, gave a part of their lives for their country and their patients, and hopefully have gained the deepest respect and admiration from this country.
Black nurses were also remembered when it was time for the nurses to go to war with the American soldiers. There was no segregation when there was a need for nurses during war- time. Black women served as admirable nurses as well as white nurses, in the war.
Every aspect of nursing history was covered in this book. It was very detailed when it came to the wars that the nurses had to volunteer in, because if it wasn’t for the nurses, most of the soldiers would have died. Not only did this book cover nurses, it covered the beginning of nursing (Florenece Henderson) until the present day (1996). It explained new techniques and great methods of nursing compared to the past.
This was an encyclopedia about the Vietnam War. It had a specific section about the women and nurses and the physical and emotional effects the war and soldiers had on them. It had specific sections on many other things such as soldiers, weapons, etc. It was very informative, and gave great detail about women and nursing.