Women who served in the Vietnam War offer a moving set of reflections.
Steinman (Television’s First War, not reviewed), a television journalist who reported from Vietnam for more than two years, produced a documentary on the women in Vietnam. He has edited for print 16 taped interviews from that show, representative of the thousands of women who were stationed in Vietnam during the decade when the US was militarily involved. Most of them (and most of the interviewees) were nurses, others were civilian employees of the US government, and still others were volunteers who routinely visited frontline detachments to bolster the morale of US troops with coffee, doughnuts, and a willing ear. Most vivid are the experiences of the nurses, who saw American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians decimated by mortars, mines, bullets, and shrapnel. Nurses at the frontline medical units lived under frequent bombardment themselves, scurrying to rat-infested bunkers when the mortar fire started, and seeing some of their own number die. Even the women based in or near Saigon suffered their share of mortar fire, sleepless nights, and vermin. Most of them young and inexperienced (but adventurous and idealistic), the women, testifying from hindsight, recall how they walled off the sorrow, anger, and confusion that would have interfered with their duties, displaying instead empathy and concern, good cheer and professionalism. Returning home, they encountered the same resistance to their Vietnam service as the combat veterans, so they shut up and took up their expected roles as good wives, daughters, mothers, and citizens. Post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychological consequences surfaced eventually. Testified one nurse, “It affected me on such a profound level. . . . It took me years to find that out.”
Without sanctifying the women in Vietnam, these interviews open an important window to the difference between how men and women view war. (b&w photos, not seen)