Women in Vietnam: Sharon Ann Lane

Among the eight women inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the story of First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane. Lane was the only American nurse killed as a direct result of hostile fire. For her service in Vietnam, she was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with “V” device, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Order of Vietnam Medal, and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross (with Palm).

Sharon Ann Lane’s graduation photo from the Aultman Hospital School of Nursing. Photo courtesy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

Journey of Service

A native of Ohio, Lane dreamed of becoming a nurse. She attended the Aultman Hospital School of Nursing in Canton before deciding to join the U.S. Army Nurse Corps Reserve on April 18, 1968. One year later, Lane arrived in Vietnam. In the Vietnamese Ward, she worked five days a week, twelve hours a day and then spent her off-duty time taking care of the most critically injured American soldiers in the Surgical ICU.

On June 8, 1969, Viet Cong rockets struck the hospital. Lane was among the causalities and died one month shy of her 26th birthday. Four days earlier, Lane wrote an upbeat letter to her parents about how quiet it was, the intense heat and the GIs in her care. She signed off with this:

“See you sooner.”

1LT Sharon Ann Lane in a letter to her parents 

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial honors Lane’s sacrifice on Panel 23W, Line 112. Read her remembrance on The Wall of Faces.

Women in Vietnam: Military Nurses

According to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, “more than 265,000 women served in the military during Vietnam — and approximately 10,000 military women served in-country during the conflict.” 90 percent served as military nurses. Hear their stories:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the last U.S. combat troops departing Vietnam and repatriation of our remaining Prisoners of War. We invite you to honor the more than seven million Americans who served during the Vietnam era including these brave servicewomen.

Native American Voices: First Sergeant Pascal Poolaw

His devotion to his soldiers was exceeded only by the love for his family. First Sergeant Pascal C. Poolaw, Sr. was a member of the Kiowa nation and served with the U.S. Army in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He is the United States’ most decorated Native American service member, with 42 medals and citations, including four Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts – one for each war.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Journey of Service

In 1942, Poolaw joined his father and brothers in World War II. He earned his first Silver Star for his actions in Belgium, while serving in Company M, 8th Infantry Regiment. Under heavy enemy fire, he pushed his unit forward and hurled grenades until the enemy dispersed.

During the Korean War, Poolaw earned two Silver Stars. On September 19, 1950, he courageously led his men to penetrate the enemy perimeter and fight hand-to-hand combat. His courage inspired his men to hold their position and allowed the remainder of the company to finish the objective. On April 4, 1951, Poolaw’s platoon was immobilized by the enemies’ automatic weapons and a mortar barrage. In an effort to rescue his men, Poolaw exposed himself to enemy fire, deliberately diverting the enemy’s attention so his men would find more advantageous positions.

After retiring in 1962, he rejoined the Army to follow his son to Vietnam, just like he once did with his father in World War II. He deployed on May 31, 1967, as the first sergeant of the 26th Infantry Regiment’s C Company. On November 7, while on a search and destroy mission during the first battle of Loc Ninh, Poolaw and his unit were ambushed by the Viet Cong. He was killed while attempting to pull a casualty to safety, and posthumously awarded a fourth Silver Star.

“He has followed the trail of the great chiefs. His people hold him in honor and highest esteem. He has given his life for the people and the country he loved so much.”

Eulogy of Irene Poolaw, wife of Pascal C. Poolaw, Sr.

Poolaw’s fighting spirit is honored at Fort Sill, as well as at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Panel 29E, Line 43. Read his remembrance on The Wall of Faces.

Honor and Love: Warrior Tradition

Did you know that Native Americans serve at five times the national average? Despite challenge after challenge, they remain steadfast in their patriotism. As a member of the Kiowa nation, Poolaw was drawn to the warrior tradition found amongst plains Indians. PBS shares more:

Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for all of us to celebrate the rich and diverse culture, traditions, histories and important contributions of Native Americans who have served in our military since the American Revolution. We invite you to join us as we honor their service and sacrifice.

Honor and Fidelity: “The Borinqueneers”

Since the Revolutionary War, Hispanic service members have played a pivotal role in the U.S. Armed Forces. With the outbreak of World War I, Congress urged more Americans to enlist in the military to help support the country’s war effort. Heeding the call, members of the Hispanic community, including newly naturalized U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico, joined the armed forces. The result was the formation of “The Borinqueneers.”

Who were “The Borinqueneers?”

The 65th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed “The Borinqueneers,” originated from the name Borinquen – a native Taino Indian name for the island of Puerto Rico. Many of the men were direct descendants of this tribe. They were the largest, longest standing and only active-duty, segregated Latino military unit in U.S. history.

“In World War I, they defended the homeland and patrolled the Panama Canal Zone. In World War II, they fought in Europe. In Korea, they fought in mud and snow. They are the 65th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army.”

President Barack Obama

One of the first opportunities the regiment had to prove its combat worthiness arose on the eve of the Korean War during Operation PORTREX, one of the largest military exercises up until that point. They proved themselves by repelling an offensive consisting of more than 32,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division and the U.S. Marine Corps, supported by the Navy and Air Force.

During the Korean War, the Borinqueneers were among the first infantrymen to meet the enemy on the battlefields. In total, they received 10 Distinguished Service Crosses, 256 Silver Stars, 606 Bronze Stars and 2,771 Purple Hearts. Brigadier General William W. Harris shared that the 65th Infantry Regiment was, “The best damn Soldiers that I had ever seen.”

Explore the stories of two of those soldiers:

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Sergeant First Class Modesto Cartagena

Cartagena was the most decorated Puerto Rican soldier in history and earned the nickname, “One Man Army.” On April 19, 1951, Cartagena left his position and charged directly into enemy fire, single-handedly destroying two enemy emplacements on Hill 206 near “Yonch’on,” North Korea. After taking out the emplacements, he was knocked to the ground twice by exploding enemy grenades. Nevertheless, he got up and attacked three more times, each time destroying an enemy emplacement until he was wounded. His actions prevented heavier casualties within the platoon and his courage and superior leadership were decisive factors in the mission. Cartagena was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

General Richard Cavazos

Cavazos was the United States Army’s first Hispanic four-star general. During the Korean War, then-First Lieutenant Cavazos distinguished himself during an attack on Hill 142, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. During the Vietnam War, as a lieutenant colonel, Cavazos was awarded a second Distinguished Service Cross. In 1976, Cavazos became the first Mexican-American to reach the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army. Cavazos served for 33 years; his final post was head of the U.S. Army Forces Command.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

Since 1776, when George Washington became the first Congressional Gold Medal recipient, only 169 other individuals or groups have shared this honor. On June 10, 2014, “The Borinqueneers” became part of that elite group. See the ceremony:

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ruben Hinojosa shared, “Hispanic Veterans have always been, and continue to be, part of the American story.” Join us in celebrating their contributions to our nation’s military, history and culture.

Veteran Voices: Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley, U.S. Army (Retired)

12th Sergeant Major of the Army Jack Tilley, U.S. Army (Retired) military service spans over 36 years – with service in Vietnam through the start of the Global War on Terror. In March of 2022, he joined us to share some of his reflections on service in Vietnam, his experiences as a Sergeant Major of the Army and how service continues to drive him to make an impact on our transitioning military community and their families.

Tilley is currently featured in the nationally acclaimed book, The Twenty-Year War, which is the basis for our latest exhibition, The Twenty-Year War: Our Next Greatest Generation.

A native of Vancouver, Washington, Jack was sworn in as the 12th Sergeant Major of the Army on June 23, 2000 and served until January 15, 2004. A career soldier, he had held many leadership positions within the Department of the Army and Unified Command environments. As Sergeant Major of the Army, Tilley served as the Army Chief of Staff’s personal advisor on all enlisted-related matters, particularly in areas affecting soldier training and quality of life. He devoted the majority of his time to traveling throughout the Army observing training, and talking to soldiers and their families.

He sits on a wide variety of councils and boards that make decisions affecting enlisted soldiers and their families. A Vietnam War veteran, Jack Tilley has held a variety of important leadership positions throughout his 34 year career including tank commander, section leader, drill sergeant, platoon sergeant, senior instructor, operations sergeant, first sergeant and command sergeant major. His military education includes the First Sergeants Course and the Sergeants Major Academy.

Among his numerous awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Bronze Star with V Device, Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Vietnam Service and Campaign Medals.After retirement, Jack continued his advocacy for all service members. He is co-chairman of the American Freedom Foundation, a 501(c)3 public benefit corporation. The American Freedom Foundation was organized to honor veterans of America’s armed forces, to raise money and awareness for various veterans’ organizations with special emphasis directed to welfare and educational issues facing those wounded in action, and soldiers killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has worked tirelessly with the organization managing the annual fund-raising benefit concerts with top named entertainment.

In addition, he is a board member of the Army Retirement Council (ARC) and special advisor for the Wounded Warriors advisory council board. His goal is to raise public awareness and support for military service members and veterans.

Jack has also become a successful management consultant, working with top Fortune 500 companies on a variety of projects and programs that are unique to the military community. He is President/CEO of JTilley Inc., and is part-owner of Oakgrove Technologies.

Marine Corps Veteran Member Spotlight: William Daugherty

Veterans make up 64% our membership family, with representatives from almost every branch. Our Marine Corps Veterans make up 10% of our entire Veteran member base, following the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

The Marine Corps has a special place in our nation’s military. Help us celebrate them, and read about one of our own Marine Corps Veteran Members, Captain William Daugherty.

William’s Story:

“I was raised in Columbus on the West Side, and I didn’t really know much about the military. I was attending Ohio State when I first became aware of the ROTC programs. At that time, the ROTC programs were mandatory for male students, it was not an elective. You did two years in ROTC whether you wanted to or not.   

At the time, there was an Army ROTC unit with about 5,000 people, an Air Force unit with about 3,000 and then there was a Navy ROTC which had about 300 in it. Within that Navy unit, there was about 20 Marin options. That is, those that chose to go into the Marine Corps. I thought, ‘well that’s interesting. Why does this demographic exist? Why do you go from 5,000 in the Army to only 20 in the Marine Corps?’ 

I found out pretty early on the reason why. For one thing, the Navy was much more demanding with what they wanted you to do while you were in college. They told you what kind of courses to take, for example. They pretty much demanded all of your time. But I was taken by the Marine Corps. For one, they had the coolest uniforms! There was also a movie out around that time called The D.I. and I was somewhat taken by the Marine Corps ever since I had seen that movie. So, I joined the Navy ROTC as a Marine option. 

But unfortunately, I was not a very good student and I flunked out. I got the failure notice while at Corpus Christie, Texas for Naval flight orientation. They had told me to pack my bags and that I had orders waiting for me for basic training in the US Navy when I got home. In those days, if you didn’t fulfill your contract with the ROTC, they pretty much put you in active duty right away.  

Since my larger goal was never the Navy, I talked with my chief instructor and decided to enlist in the Marine Corps reserves before I could execute the orders to go to basic training. Over the next couple of years, I found myself – for various reasons – actually bouncing around the different branches. I spent time in the Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, and you can’t forget my earlier years in the Navy ROTC program in college. But regardless of what branch I was in at the time, my main objective was always the Marines and my time spent in the Marines was some of the most impactful years of service for me. 

While in the Marine Corps, my primary MOS was Air Support Control Officer and I ended up getting assigned first to a MASS Squadron (Marine Air Support Squadron). Their primary mission was the control of close air support. While with the MASS units, I was sent to Puerto Rico and then Vietnam. In Vietnam, I spent 6 months, day in and day out, standing watch and manning the radios coordinating air strikes.  The next 6 months of the tour I spent coordinating the withdrawal of the squadron from Vietnam.  After the squadron pulled out of Vietnam, and a brief stay in Japan, I went on to serve in various Marine Air Wing units. These 10 years were made up of a 3-year tour at Kaneohe Bay Hawaii, two tours at Cherry Point N.C., and a tour in Futenma Okinawa. I was deployed to Norway, Denmark, Turkey, The Philippines and Korea during this time period. 

After getting out of the Marine Corps, I came back to Columbus to finish my education.  I had a Master’s in Education, recently earned in Hawaii. Unfortunately, that career path didn’t pan out, but it ended up leading me to one of the greatest decisions of my life. I got a degree in Computer Science in 1980 – a lucky choice.  

I bounced around a lot after leaving the Marine Corps and entering the workforce. In 1983 I enlisted in the US Air Force Reserve and served 11 years with the 40th Mobile Aerial Port Squadron at Rickenbacker ANGB.  This squadron proved to be one of the most versatile and professional I had ever served with.  But there will always be something about the Marine Corps and my time there. The military people are a dedicated bunch, particularly the Marines. They are dedicated to a fault. Even though I spent time in almost all of the other branches of the military, all of my roots lead back to the Marines. 

Thank you, William, for sharing your Marine Corps story. We are forever grateful to our Veteran Inaugural Members who continue to share their stories, and to all Veterans for their service. 

We’re always looking for other dedicated Veterans to join our membership family. Join as an Inaugural Member of the Museum for as little as $35 and share your military pride with others.

Air Force Veteran Member Spotlight: Ben Dawson

Veterans make up 64% our membership family, with representatives from almost every branch, including the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Our Air Force Veterans are taking up 16% of our entire Veteran member base, following the Army and Navy.

The Air Force has a special place in our nation’s military. Help us celebrate them, and read about one of our own Air Force Veteran Members, Ben Dawson, U.S. Air Force (Retired).

Ben’s Story:

“I joined the military during the Vietnam War. What drew me to enlisting in the Air Force was the opportunity to travel and the opportunity to get into something that I could use on the outside to make a career out of. I went in to take the test and didn’t think much about it after that. About a month later, I got a call and they said ‘Where have you been’ and I said ‘Oh, well, I’ve been waiting for you to call me!’ 

It turned out that what I thought I was going to learn was entirely different from what I would end up doing. It turned out that I was sent to school to learn morse code and became what they called a morse intercept operator in the USAF Security Service. Learning morse code was a bit difficult in the beginning but after a while it became like a second language. What was interesting was you learn the straight morse code in tech school but when you get out in the real world, the code you’re reading is weird. I was stationed in Italy where we were monitoring the Russians and the East Germans. In Vietnam, the morse code sounded like birds chirping so I even had to go to extra school to learn how they sent their code. Sometimes, if I’m watching an older movie, I’ll hear it and try and pick it up! 

After I spent some time in Italy, I went back to the states to train for Airborne operations. I was finally going to fly in the Air Force! Not actually as a pilot, but I was an intercept operator and I ended up flying aboard the EC-47 Gooney bird in Vietnam. Believe it or not, I enjoyed Vietnam because of the closeness of the people on base. You couldn’t go outside the base, and I never got to really know Vietnam – their people or anything like that. But we were all very close in our squadron, the 6994-security squadron. We flew together, we partied together, and we all shared stories together.  

My story is probably similar to a lot of Veterans coming home at that time. There were a lot of pockets of resistance to us coming back where we were frowned upon. What was really shattering was when I was sent to Kelley Air Force Base in Texas and some people that hadn’t been in Vietnam frowned upon me and that hurt. But I was proud of the airborne. There weren’t really too many people on the planes or even who flew the planes themselves, so I’ve always been proud of my wings.  

I’ve gone to some of my grandchildren’s school events during Veteran’s Days where they’ve had Q&As and a lot of kids’ first question is ‘Oh, did you shoot anybody?’ That’s not what the military is all about. That’s a thing people need to know. The military is there, of course, to protect our country. But you can learn so much through a military career. A lot of people such as scientists, technicians, and even politicians are ex-military. There are so many things you can earn from the military too, such as free schooling opportunities for people that can’t afford to go. It’s not just to go in there and be violent. 

After the Air Force, I went back to where I used to work up in Cleveland. I’ve jumped through a lot of jobs. I’ve been a fast-food manager, hard lines manager in a department store, and, most recently, I was in whole sale tire sales. I eventually went to Columbus Technical Institute after 17 years and graduated cum laude which I probably never would’ve done if I had gone straight out of high school. I got a two-year degree there in retail.  

Ben Dawson (left)

The Air Force was a great learning experience. You learn a lot about yourself because you’re in a group that’s way out of your norm. So, you learn a lot about people. That is one of the best things about service, I think. It was learning compassion and empathy.”

Thank you, Ben, for sharing your Air Force story. We are forever grateful to our Veteran Inaugural Members who continue to share their stories, and to all Veterans for their service.

We’re always looking for other dedicated U.S. Air Force Veterans to join our membership family. Join as an Inaugural Member of the Museum for as little as $35 and share your military pride with others.

Navy Veteran Member Spotlight: Margaret (Peg) Albert

Veterans make up 64% our membership family, with representatives from almost every branch, including the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The Navy is currently trailing steadily behind the Army with 31% of our Veteran Members having served in the largest Navy in the world.

Help us celebrate the special place the Navy has in our nation’s military. Please take a moment to introduce yourself to Margaret (Peg) Albert, (U.S. Navy Retired)

Peg’s Story:

“When I was in nursing school, someone in the dorm had said something about there being a way the military could pay for part of your education. Many members of my family have served, including my aunt and my father who served in the Navy. I felt as if the Navy was a bit smaller than the other branches and I have to admit I loved the Navy uniforms! So, my twin sister and I thought, ‘Yup, we’ll try the Navy.’

We enlisted as OCHNs (Officer Candidate Hospitalman), had two years of college paid for, and were obligated to three years of active duty after that. By September of 1971, I was reporting as a brand-new Ensign to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. My sister and I were both assigned to Bethesda, but they assigned us to different parts of the hospital.

In many ways, being a nurse in the Navy was very much like being in a regular civilian hospital. You were a nurse and you had patients. We did a lot of the regular tasks you would typically think of nurses doing – passing meds, hanging IVs, giving chemotherapy, administering blood transfusions, changing dressings. I remember the best shift to work was during the Army-Navy game. I probably worked that shift two of my three years at Bethesda. Nobody bothered you! They were all so intent on watching the game, nobody asked you for anything! We always had a fun time.

Looking back, I got the chance to meet so many people while I was at Bethesda. Most of the patients we treated were active-duty personnel who had gotten sick or were retired military. I often found the retired gentlemen were so humble about their service. I once met a retired Navy Captain who was at Pearl Harbor. He was on duty the day it was attacked and was the officer who said, “This is not a drill!” His wife told me that.

After I left active-duty, I decided to go into the Navy Reserves. During some of those years my Reserve unit was assigned to support the Marines. Since the Marine Corps does not have its own medical people, the Navy supports them for their medical care. So, I got to do training duty with different Marine operations. These were interesting. I learned things such as land navigation and rappelling. My unit went into the field with the Marines. Meals consisted of C-rations (usually left over from Korea). When we were able to heat them, they really weren’t too bad. You quickly learned which kinds were more appetizing. The Marines were very creative with “doctoring” their meals. Hot sauce was always an ingredient. I would tease them that they needed to write a cookbook!

I also learned how to fire different weapons. However, I think the Marines at the time were thinking “Don’t have the nurses do that!” (I can’t say I blame them!) Us nurses always said our weapon was a needle and syringe!

I belong to The American Legion and my post is almost all women veterans. Recently we participated in a craft fair as a fundraiser. I found some people didn’t know what to say to us when they saw we were Veterans. And I even find that sometimes men who have been in the military don’t come up and ask us about our experiences. As a female Veteran, I find people sometimes don’t realize that women did serve – and still do. I am proud of my service. My service was honorable.

I was so fortunate to be stationed at Bethesda. It was a wonderful place to work and I got to do some amazing things. I had the unique honor of working on the first kidney transplant and bone marrow transplant unit in the Navy. The Navy was very good to me.”

Thank you, Peg, for sharing your Navy story. We are forever grateful to our Veteran Inaugural Members who continue to share their stories, and to all Veterans for their service.

We’re always looking for other dedicated U.S. Navy Veterans to join our membership family. Join as an Inaugural Member of the Museum for as little as $35 and share your military pride with others.

Army Veteran Member Spotlight: Sergeant Henry Guzman

Veterans currently make up 64% our membership family, with representatives from almost every branch, including the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. With 42% of our Veteran members from the Army; they are currently leading the charge.

To help us celebrate the special place the Army serves in our military, we would like to introduce you to one of our Veteran Inaugural Members, Sergeant Henry Guzman.  

Henry’s Story:

“I am a proud American of Puerto Rican descent. I came to the United States when I was 5. My parents wanted the same thing for us that all parents want for their children. They wanted a better life, to provide an education, shelter, make sure that they have food on the table, and they wanted their children to be successful. That’s what a lot of immigrants coming to this country want for their families. 

The first time that my father took me to enroll me in school, I was five years old and was placed in first grade. The teachers took my birth certificate, scratched out my name o nit, which is ‘Enrique,’ and wrote ‘Henry.’ That’s how I was enrolled. That happened to a lot to kids back then. The Juans turned to John, the Miguels turned to Michael. It was a different time back then. But my dad used to always say ‘You need to stay in school. You need to get an education. You won’t succeed in this country without it.’ The reason I wanted to serve was that my father served in the Army. I had an uncle who served in Korea and he is MIA. 

After I graduated high school, I received my draft notice and I decided to enlist. I originally wanted to join the Air Force as a pilot. I always wanted to fly but the Air Force quota was full at that time so the recruiter said, ‘if you want to fly, you could go Army Airborne.’ I did fly, not the way I wanted to, but I did get to fly – jumping out of perfectly good aircrafts! Vietnam taught me a lot. It taught me about survival, cooperation, and being a part of a team. There were scary moments, no question about it. We thought we were invincible. We saw things that I would not wish on anyone, and they took tolls later on because of the lasting memories. But it also gave you a better appreciation of life.  

You learn that everybody’s the same. We are all there together and you’re all trying to accomplish a mission. We protected each other. There were no color or race barriers there. We all bled red when we got wounded. It was important for us to make sure that we looked out for each other. As a paratrooper, the person behind you was responsible for checking your chute and making sure it’s okay. When you’re a part of a team, the team is important in order to complete your mission.  

When we came back from Vietnam, we were told ‘Don’t wear your uniform when you get out of the plane, when you go home.’ It’s because of what was going on at the time. The America today is different from when we came home. Overall, today, there’s a better appreciation for those of us that served. I can’t say that was always the feeling in this country. The community needs to know that we’re called to service because of the love for our country. 

After I got out, I came home, got married, and had kids. I finished my degree and I am currently on the board of the American Red Cross Columbus Region. I have had a lot of opportunities presented to me and I knew through my own struggles in life that I had to help others. Being Hispanic, I found out that, at the national level, 57% of Hispanics have the O blood type, the universal blood type. It’s profound that this month, we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. I feel strongly that blood drives are an opportunity for us to, not only celebrate our culture and our heritage, but also give back to the community by donating blood.  

You will always have a connection to the folks you served with – those in the army. We’re a band of brothers if you will. But overall, you have an appreciation for anyone that has served, whichever branch of service. We are all one.”

Thank you, Henry, for sharing your Army story. We are forever grateful to our Veteran members who share their stories, and to all Veterans for their service.

We’re always looking for other dedicated U.S. Army Veterans to join our membership family. Join as an Inaugural Member of the Museum for as little as $35 and share your military pride with others.

Women in Vietnam: The Story of Lynda Van Devanter

For those who serve in war, the emotional, physical, and mental struggles faced do not simply end once they return home. Many struggle to transition from soldier on the battlefield to life back home in the states. Our Museum Educator, Samantha Brooks, shares the story of Lynda Van Devanter, a nurse who served during the Vietnam War. Lynda suffered from depression after she returned home and fought to overcome her feelings of hopelessness and build a community for other women Veterans.

Lynda Van Devanter was born on May 27, 1947 to a close-knit Catholic family in Washington D.C. In 1965, Lynda enrolled at the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore where she trained to become a nurse. In 1968, she went to a U.S. Army recruiter lecture which asked nursing students to consider joining the army to serve in Vietnam. It was at this moment that Lynda decided she needed to head to Vietnam to serve as a nurse. Following six weeks of basic training at an Army base in Texas, Lynda was assigned to serve as a nurse with the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku province, Vietnam. She worked long, grueling, twelve-hour shifts in a poorly equipped and tightly packed hospital. Each day, she treated soldiers with horrifying wounds while listening to the sounds of explosions and sniper fire. The experience took such a toll on Lynda that she began to lose faith in the U.S. forces’ reason for being in Vietnam.

71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku province. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army

After a year of service, Lynda returned to an America embroiled in antiwar demonstrations and she experienced hostility from her fellow Americans. However, the worst part of her homecoming was the fact that many people were unaware that women even served in the Vietnam War. At that time, the U.S. government did not provide support programs for women Veterans. As a result, Lynda felt isolated and angry. Without a support system, she became depressed and suffered from nightmares and flashbacks. However, help eventually came from Boddy Muller, the founder of the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). The VVA was created to help Vietnam War Veterans, such as Lynda, deal with both emotional and physical trauma sustained while serving in the war. Thanks to the support she received from her fellow Veterans in the VVA, Lynda realized she was not alone and that she should be proud of her service. Their support encouraged her to return to college where she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology so that she could help other servicewomen who felt alone and hopeless.

In 1980, Lynda founded the Vietnam Veterans of America Women’s Project to bring recognition to female nurses and other women Veterans and provide them the necessary support. She used her degree in psychology to help counsel women Veterans who were struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Lynda also wrote a book entitled Home before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam in which she shared her experiences during and after serving in the Vietnam War. The book both raised awareness and support for women Veterans and helped her come to terms with her own experiences. Lynda continued to be a voice for those struggling with PTSD until her death on November 15, 2002 at the age of 55.

To learn more about what we are doing to honor women Veterans, visit Women’s History Month!


Kaufman, M. T. (2002, November 23). Lynda Van Devanter, Nurse Who Became Chronicler of Her Wartime Pain, Dies at 55. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/23/us/lynda-van-devanter-nurse-who-became-chronicler-of-her-wartime-pain-dies-at-55.html

Lynda Van Devanter. (2021, February 20). Encyclopedia.Com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lynda-van-devanter

Operation Homecoming: Colonel Tom Moe’s Story

by Colonel Tom Moe, U.S. Air Force (Retired)

I returned to the United States from Vietnam during Operation Homecoming with a large group of prisoners of war (POWs) on March 14, 1973. We had figured out that the release was taking place when a few weeks earlier, a C-141 flew low over our camp — and no one was firing at it!

The day before our release, we were told by the camp commander that we would be freed the next day. Because of the C-141 sighting, we tended to believe him even though over the years, we had often optimistically (but incorrectly) forecast our release. So, on that day, we were all mustered in a group (which had never happened before), and the camp commander, with a translator beside him, read the document describing the agreement of our release. Then the commander said that we could all go back to our cells and clean them up. That wasn’t going to happen (and didn’t). Instead, one of our mates, Bud Day (later a Medal of Honor recipient), strolled forward and said to the camp commander, “In some minutes,” and then walked off. Over the years, if we had ever asked for anything from the guards like a new bar of soap or whatever, their answer had always been, “In some minutes.” That meant anything from a few minutes to never.  In this case, Bud meant “Never.”  Love it!

We went back to our cells to await the next day. Sleep time was signaled by a guard banging on a large gun shell or gong, and that night was no different. I remember so clearly my absolute absence of excitement for the coming day that I fell instantly asleep on my wooden “bed.”  After five-plus years in prison (for me, and up to nine years for Ev Alvarez), our emotional level was pretty much zero.

The next morning, we were awakened as always by the “gong,” and went about getting up and waiting for our morning “soup” (watery vegetables of questionable origin) and a chunk of tasteless bread. Later in the morning, we could see that tables were set up with clothing for us, and the media began to arrive including Walter Cronkite. When any of the newsmen approached us, we would turn our backs on them, including Cronkite. Virtually all of us felt that the media had betrayed us, not by reporting the war, but by only telling one side of the story. Bad things happen in warfare, but the media never told of atrocities by the Communists or they downplayed it by excusing them. The media never sensed the irony that there was no such thing as a free press in the Communist world (Viet Cong or otherwise), so the media never had access to what was going on in our enemy’s world. I won’t digress.

Finally, the media gave up, especially when a cameraman tried to follow one of the POWs into his cell to take photos. The POW attacked him, took his camera and smashed it on the ground so that it broke into pieces, the flash bulb going off in the process. The camp commander raced to the cell and would have had the POW beaten even to death had this happened during the war, but he stopped in his tracks as he saw the media stepping forward to take note of what might happen. Nothing came of it.

Then we lined up and picked up our go-home clothes from the tables. We were told that we could bring some things home like our cup and pajamas and some of us did. Everything I brought home, I did so to give to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force as soon as I got to the Wright Patterson hospital in Dayton, Ohio.

Then we loaded up in buses — no blindfolds, no handcuffs, no leg irons — and drove off to near Gia Lam Airport. We stopped among some warehouses where the Communists had laid out beer and bananas for us. We stood there and didn’t touch a thing. We were loaded up in the buses again and driven to our release point at Gia Lam Airport.

We exited the buses, lined up and kept our serious demeanor. No smiles. No one had given any instructions for us, but no one needed to. We had often lived in isolation in the POW camps (for me nine months and more, for others a matter of years), but our training and discipline was so effective, we functioned with dignity and honor without any contact with others. This is a tremendous source of pride for us and our love of country.

As our names were called off by one of the officers who had directed torture on us in the past. In one instance, the torture was so severe that the doctors, upon examination when I returned, said I should not have survived the internal damage done by the beating and kicking–not to mention surviving drowning due to what we now call “water boarding.” We stepped forward to an American officer who escorted us one-by-one to the awaiting C-141s. I believe there were three of them that day.

When the last POW was on board, we taxied out and took off. Some of my mates say that we cheered when we left the ground, but my memory is that we were silent until the pilot announced that we were “feet wet” (a pilot’s term meaning “over the water”). Then we cheered with great gusto and maybe shed a tear or two.

We settled in for the flight to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. During the flight, we were treated to cigarettes and cigars and the latest Playboy Magazines. We were quite surprised at how the centerfold photos left nothing to the imagination. That was one of our first clues that LOTS had changed back home over the years. Often, after I had returned home, I might say or ask something that would prompt someone to ask, “Where have YOU been?” Obviously, not knowing about my sabbatical in Vietnam, my answer was always, “I guess I was tied up.”

When we landed at Clark, Navy Admiral Noel Gayler was waiting for us to disembark, which we did one by one as our names were read, to the huge crowd that gathered to welcome us to freedom. The release was, of course, broadcast around the U.S. and perhaps to an even wider audience, so I learned that my wife, parents and family could witness our arrival.

We were driven to the hospital at Clark to begin our recovery, take a warm shower, EAT good food, get uniforms and prepare to return to America.

Food. The earlier groups to be released were treated to bland food for their first meal. The doctors thought that their systems couldn’t take rich food. After a not-so-minor revolt (they were ex-cons after all), the meals were changed to real food. So, by the time I was released, we were presented with a wide array of great food:  steak, lobster, you name it. As I stood in line at the hospital restaurant, a staffer asked me if I wanted anything to eat before I got to the trays. I asked for an apple. I had craved an apple for over five years. Then as we approached the trays, we were confronted with an ice-cream bar. I made a huge dish of ice cream and bananas and had it finished by the time I got to the trays. Then I piled my tray full of food and ate very bit. No problem, and I knew of none of my mates who had any problem eating like, well… pigs. And loving it.

Before we turned in, we gathered in a meeting room and formed a choir. One of the guys directed us in a couple of hymns and patriotic songs. I believe there are films of this somewhere.

Then we “turned in.”  But I couldn’t sleep. I remained awake for three days. At night, I would sit in an easy chair by the hospital window and look out over the base. I was almost overwhelmed by being able to see for some distance, since for so many years, my visual world often didn’t extend for more than a few feet, except for the occasions when we walked to an interrogation or to wash.

No Victim of Circumstances: PTSD Awareness with Joseph Whitaker

by Joseph Whitaker

I led what many would consider an idyllic childhood, the second child of a growing family playing in the apple orchards of Pennsylvania with my siblings and friends. I was struggling inside, however, to win the approval of my disciplinarian father, which did not come easily. I preferred theater to sports, loved being gregarious and making others laugh, and while I had meaningful relationships with women, I knew I was gay from an early age.

I was not always comfortable in my own shoes, but I always knew them to be my shoes and owned my circumstances. Although it took decades for me to fully understand this, accepting my circumstances allowed me to persevere through my many challenges. I felt bullied, unwanted and a failure to my father, yet I continued to fight those feelings, as hard as that would be, and for as long as it would take.  

In part, to demonstrate my resolve to myself and others, I enlisted in the Navy and trained in Pensacola, Florida. I graduated first in my class in 1967 with my father standing beside me. While my older brother avoided the draft and railed against the war, I felt a call to serve in a leadership capacity.

I was deployed to Vietnam in January 1969, on a three-year assignment. As the senior electronic warfare evaluator on long-range reconnaissance aircraft, I led numerous perilous missions over the Sea of Japan and Gulf of Tonkin. We were responsible for monitoring enemy electronic transmissions and served as a vital warning system for attacks on U.S. resources.

During one such mission, I first identified and reported that Russia had provided MiG 21 fighter aircraft to communist North Korea. This new weapon in their arsenal significantly enhanced the threat North Korea posed to our missions and allies.

Despite the strong reconnaissance evidence and prompt warnings to leadership, a separate mission with a separate team was sent closer to enemy forces the following day to further validate my discovery. Needlessly, this crew, identical to mine, was shot down and all 31 crew members perished creating significant personal anguish.    

I lost a close friend and my sole confidant in another crash. I did all I could to honor him by helping his wife and two young boys carry on.

My circumstances did not improve when I returned home in 1971. I suffered from PTSD, agent orange and self-imposed isolation. I became an alcoholic, reaching new lows that would take me to the brink of suicide. Again, I was forced to dig very deep to not allow my circumstances to overcome me.

After helping myself, I was inspired to help others in similar circumstances.

I have been an active participant in my twelve-step program for over 40 years. I have personally sponsored and supported dozens of individuals like myself through the program such that they now lead normal, healthy lives.

I founded Corporate Health Programs where I provided employee assistance services for businesses large and small. This work enabled me to assist hundreds of men and women in the workplace who struggle with addiction and suicide so that they, too, can get to the other side.

I am a proud Veteran and have the capacity and intention to help others rise above their circumstances. My mission is to share my experience, strength and hope so that others may find a way out of their darkness. 

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It is important for all of us to raise awareness of this national public health concern that affects all Americans. We all have a role to play in listening, connecting, and reaching out to those who may be struggling with challenges.

Following are some resources for recognition and assistance:

U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Veteran’s Crisis Line

Lt. Joseph Whitaker, U.S. Navy, was based at Naval Air Station Atsugi, Japan from January 1969 to January 1971. He was deployed to Da Nang Air Force Base in Vietnam from Atsugi. In 1971, Whitaker was based at Naval Air Station Agana (Hagatna), Guam. A motivational speaker and the author of The Day Before I Died, his memoir, Whitaker lives in San Diego, California.

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