Ceremony Honors Women Who Served in Vietnam
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 11, 2008 Each of the 58,000 names of fallen troops etched into the granite Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall here tells a story. Many of these tales end in the arms of a female nurse.
Visitors gather around the Vietnam Women's Memorial as part of the Veteran's Day Observance at the Vietnam Wall today in Washington, D.C. Today also marks the 15th Anniversary Vietnam Women's Memorial opening. DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
These Vietnam Veteran military women, roughly 90 percent of whom served as nurses, received special recognition today at a ceremony honoring the 15th anniversary of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
The memorial sculpture features three women, one of whom is tending to a wounded warrior sprawled across a pile of sandbags in agony. Though only eight of the 58,260 names inscribed on the glossy black granite slabs belong to women, this sculpture located in a wooded area near the much-visited wall, is an apt metaphor for the females whose scarifies often occurred behind the scenes.
Army Command Sgt. Maj. Cynthia A. Pritchett, the Army’s most senior-ranking female non-commissioned officer, said the women who served during Vietnam were courageous patriots and role models for women in uniform today.
“The women who served during Vietnam have given the women who serve today a great legacy to uphold and continue,” Pritchett told the audience of thousands gathered on the lawn facing the Memorial Wall.
“I personally owe so much to the women who have gone before me, for their outstanding service and sacrifice. For they have opened so many opportunities for me and my fellow service women,” said Pritchett, who is currently the Army’s command sergeant major at U.S. Central Command on McDill Air Force Base, Florida.
About 238,500 women in Vietnam were Army, Navy or Air Force nurses -- those who “provided comfort, care and a human touch for those who are suffering and dying,” Pritchett said. She added that others served as physicians, physical therapists, air traffic controllers, clerks, intelligence officers and other fields, and that female civilians also worked in Vietnam as members of non-governmental or humanitarian organizations.
“I wish to express to them what I believe are the sentiments of the women who serve today that you have our deepest respect and admiration for your service for your example and professionalism, and for your continued strength and dignity,” she said. “Know that we are determined to carry on that inheritance and to make you and America proud. “
Noting the enlarged role women have played in the military since Vietnam, Retired Army Brig. Gen. Evelyn “Pat” Foote pointed out that, for the first time in the history of the U.S. military, a woman is slated to receive her fourth star. Army Lt. Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody is expected to become a full general Nov. 14, when she takes the lead at Army Materiel Command at Fort Belvoir, Va.
“These are amazing times for everybody in the armed forces and for women the 21st century is evolving into a time of electrifying change,” Foote said.
Diane Carlson Evans, a former Army nurse in Vietnam who served in the surgical and burn wards at Vung Tau, and later as head nurse in a surgical unit at Pleiku, developed the vision for the memorial that was dedicated in 1993.
Evans, the founder and president of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation, described to the crowd the creative intention of Glenna Goodacre, the memorial’s sculptor. The artist sought to create a lasting tribute to the American women of Vietnam, a striving that was founded upon her deep respect for each of them, Evans said.
“That my hands could shape the clay which might touch the hearts and heal the wounds of those who served, fills with me humility and deep satisfaction,” said Evans, quoting Goodacre.
Evans said the depiction of the wounded male soldier receiving medical attention from the nurse represents the service that servicemembers of both genders rendered together. Further, she said the statue is symbolic of the way that women helped shape the way the nation sees the contributions of service women.
“We transformed the images of the Vietnam War to include women. And we transformed the conversation that’s taking place across America, certainly right here in the nation’s capital,” she said, speaking from a podium with the Capitol Rotunda in the background.
After the ceremony concluded with a wreath-laying at the wall, spectators gathered at the adjacent Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which is shaded by the eight trees that stand as a natural homage to the service women killed in Vietnam.
At a small podium near the statue was Marsha Guenzler-Stevens, who has hosted story-telling sessions here for the past 13 years. She shared an anecdote with the small crowd before opening the microphone.
The concept of the speaker’s platform, she said, is to make the figures of the sculpture come to life. But the story-sharing opportunity has grown to encompass more than that, Guenzler-Stevens said.
Three years ago on Memorial Day, a man arrived to a story-telling session wearing a button that featured the face of his son who died while serving in Iraq.
“There was a woman coming to tell her story who had been a trauma nurse in Iraq, and she looked at that button recognized the face,” Guenzler-Stevens said. “She had been the nurse that was with him when he died.”