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Women at War

The Story of Fifty Military Nurses Who Served in Vietnam

By Elizabeth Norman

Publication Year: 1990

Norman tells the dramatic story of fifty women—members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Nurse Corps—who went to war, working in military hospitals, aboard ships, and with air evacuation squadrons during the Vietnam War. Here, in a moving narrative, the women talk about why they went to war, the experiences they had while they were there, and how war affected them physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Studies in Health, Illness, and Caregiving


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-6

This book grew out of the rigors of the academic process—in short, it picks up where my doctoral dissertation ends. Seven years ago, I became interested in the military nurses who served in Vietnam. I was doing some summer reading—a popular book about Vietnam. ...

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1. Volunteering for the Vietnam War

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pp. 7-15

Why would a woman choose to go to war—especially the war in Vietnam? Men did not line up at the recruiting stations and women did not gather under the sign of the Red Cross. We remember men as draft resisters and women as draft counselors. ...

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2. Arriving in Vietnam

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pp. 17-26

The twenty-four-hour flight to Vietnam was more than an endurance test of cramped legs, unappetizing food, and a sleepless night. It was, for many, the first time they thought of danger and death. ...

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3. The Professional Strains and Moral Dilemmas of Nursing in Vietnam

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pp. 27-43

There is a timelessness to a nurse's recollections of war. Whether she served near the trenches of France in World War I, in North Africa during World War II, or in Cu Chi, South Vietnam, each remembers long hours working with grievously injured men. ...

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4. The Rewards of Wartime Nursing in Vietnam

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pp. 45-52

In Vietnam, nurses could easily become overwhelmed by work demands, fears, loneliness, and losses. But the same stress-filled world that produced so much strain also provided a balance. There was a rewarding side to the work and life in a war zone. ...

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5. Personal Experiences in Vietnam

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pp. 53-63

Even though they did not fight battles, the nurses saw the need to develop survival skills. Survival was more than living through enemy attacks. It was a need to preserve emotional and personal integrity in a world where people were torn loose from community and home moorings. ...

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6. The Status of Female Military Nurses in Vietnam

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pp. 65-74

There is a maldistribution of the sexes in war. Combat and war are masculine experiences. No one is sure of the total number of nurses who served in Vietnam, but estimates indicate they were a small minority in the overall American effort.1 ...

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7. Different Experiences in the Army, Navy, and Air Force Nurse Corps

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pp. 75-89

All military nurses experienced certain strains and rewards in Vietnam. Every nurse knew the stress of caring for young patients freshly injured in combat. Every woman learned to adjust to the confinement of ships or military bases. ...

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8. Factors Associated with the Year the Nurse Served in Vietnam

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pp. 91-103

Year by year, the war ebbed and flowed. The nurses stationed in Vietnam during 1965 at the start of the major U.S. build-up had different experiences from the nurses who served in 1971, when the United States was in a period of de-escalation. ...

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9. Leaving Vietnam

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pp. 105-112

During the last three months of their tours in Vietnam, the nurses sensed a change. The war for them was ending. It was time to go home, back to the "world." The change was subtle and unconscious. Feelings and thoughts the nurses had suppressed to get through the year began to surface. ...

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10. Homecoming

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pp. 113-123

In Washington State or California, the nurses wearily walked down the exits and headed for the customs offices located at the military air terminals. Once they completed customs inspections, they found taxis to civilian airports. It was all routine. There were no signs, no one to say "Welcome home." ...

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11. The Years Since the War

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pp. 125-140

More than half of the women interviewed for this study chose to remain in the military. This world was a familiar one. Military life offered professional advancement and a solid career. Twelve women stayed on active duty. ...

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12. Coming to Terms with the War: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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pp. 141-154

The nurses who served in Vietnam thought their work would be just another professional job—more intense and more exciting perhaps but, they reasoned, nursing was nursing. Wartime literature and movies had reinforced this belief. ...

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13. Lessons Learned from the War

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pp. 155-160

If the nurses in this study were asked to draw a diagram of their lives, they most likely would sketch a straight line: the beginning of the line would represent their births and the end would be the present. The line is a continuum and represents a life filled with the usual landmarks—homes, children, husbands, friends. ..

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14. Conclusions

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pp. 161-167

The results of my study of fifty veteran nurses support the findings of previous research conducted on nurses who served in Vietnam.1 and echo personal accounts of nurses who served in World Wars I and II and Korea.2 ...

Appendix: Information on the Fifty Military Nurses

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pp. 169-183


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pp. 185-195


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pp. 197-206


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pp. 207-211

E-ISBN-13: 9780812202977
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812213171

Page Count: 238
Publication Year: 1990

Series Title: Studies in Health, Illness, and Caregiving

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Nurses -- Vietnam.
  • Nurses -- United States.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Medical care.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Women -- United States.
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