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Sisterhood of War

Minnesota Women in Vietnam

by Kim Heikkila

Publication Year: 2011

In January 1966, navy nurse Lieutenant Kay Bauer stepped off a pan am airliner into the stifling heat of Saigon and was issued a camouflage uniform, boots, and a rifle. “What am I supposed to do with this?” she said of the weapon. “I’m a nurse.” Bauer was one of approximately six thousand military nurses who served in Vietnam. Historian Kim Heikkila here delves into the experiences of fifteen nurse veterans from Minnesota, exploring what drove them to enlist, what happened to them in-country, and how the war changed their lives. Like Bauer, these women saw themselves as nurses first and foremost: their job was to heal rather than to kill. after the war, however, the very professional selflessness that had made them such committed military nurses also made it more difficult for them to address their own needs as veterans. Reaching out to each other, they began healing from the wounds of war, and they turned their energies to a new purpose: this group of Minnesotans launched the campaign to build the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. In the process, a collection of individuals became a tight-knit group of veterans who share the bonds of a sisterhood forged in war.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Dedication

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Table of Contents

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pp. viii-

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Introduction

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pp. 3-14

VETERANS DAY 2008 was chilly but sunny in Washington, D.C. As they do every November, Vietnam veterans from across the country gathered at the Wall to pay their respects to those who had served and died in the United States’ longest and most controversial war. Flowers adorned...

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1. "I Knew I Had Something I Could Contribute"

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pp. 15-34

VETERANS DAY 2008 was chilly but sunny in Washington, D.C. As they do every November, Vietnam veterans from across the country gathered at the Wall to pay their respects to those who had served and died in the United States’ longest and most controversial war. Flowers adorned...

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2. "All Day and into the Night"

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pp. 35-66

LYNN (CALMES) KOHL arrived in Vietnam in June 1969, one year after graduating from nursing school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She spent the next year working at the 71st Evacuation (Evac) Hospital, located in the dusty red clay of the U.S. base at Pleiku, in Vietnam’s central highlands. When...

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3. "You Just Did What You Had to Do"

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pp. 67-92

WHAT WAS IT LIKE to be a woman at war? For Mary Breed, it meant living in a world of extremes. On one end of the spectrum, she faced the insinuations (and sometimes outright accusations) that she had joined the military for the same reason every nurse supposedly had: sexual adventure. On the...

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4. "Home to a Foreign Country"

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pp. 93-116

CAPTAIN BARBARA “BOBBY” SMITH returned to the United States in August 1967 after having spent one year at an Air Force hospital in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. For the two years prior to her tour incountry, Smith had worked with the ill and injured on air evacuation flights from Southeast Asia; she...

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5. "From 'Nam Back to Sanity"

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pp. 117-136

WHEN ARMY NURSE PENNY KETTLEWELL returned to the United States after completing her first tour in Vietnam in 1968, she had trouble adapting to her new life. She was distressed by the constant firing of guns—“the big ones, the little ones”—at her next duty station at Fort Sill, Oklahoma...

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6. "Before You Can Forget, You Need to Remember"

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pp. 137-156

TWO DAYS AFTER VETERANS’ DAY in 1982, Diane Carlson Evans stood with approximately 150,000 others to participate in the dedication ceremony for the newly unveiled Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly known as “the Wall.” She stood in the sea of faces as senators, veterans’ organization representatives...

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Conclusion

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pp. 157-162

MORE THAN FIFTEEN YEARS after the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, visitors still leave personal mementos at its base. Objects don’t appear as frequently as they do at the Wall, but they do appear, many of them attesting to the compassion, strength, and exhaustion with which...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 163-165

MANY PEOPLE HAVE CONTRIBUTED to the success of this project, and I am happy to have the chance to thank some of them by name. This book had its origins as my PhD dissertation for the American Studies program at the University of Minnesota. My dissertation committee—co-advisers Sara Evans and...

Interviewees

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pp. 166-168

Notes

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pp. 169-200

Index

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pp. 201-209


E-ISBN-13: 9780873518390
E-ISBN-10: 087351839X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873516372
Print-ISBN-10: 0873516370

Page Count: 232
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, notes, index
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Women veterans -- United States -- Biography.
  • Women -- Minnesota -- Biography.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Veterans -- United States -- Biography.
  • Nurses -- United States -- Minnesota -- Biography.
  • Nurses -- Guam -- Biography.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Medical care.
  • Nurses -- Vietnam -- Biography.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Women -- United States.
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