Vietnam Army Nurse Corps veteran honors women who served
Washington (Army News Service) — Veterans Day is a time to honor those who served and remember the sacrifice and courage of those who gave so much for the nation.
Diane Carlson Evans, who served in the Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam, will be honoring her fellow veterans in the nation's capital this Veterans Day.
She will also mark 20 years since the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, a seven-foot bronze statue on the National Mall that depicts three women and an injured service member.
The statue, which is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, stands near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, where the names of more than 58,000 who died in the conflict are etched.
Carlson Evans said she led the effort for the establishment of the women's memorial to honor the 265,000 women who served in the military during the Vietnam War. Thousands of those women were in Vietnam or elsewhere in Southeast Asia, she said.
"For me, it's 20 years of helping to heal the wounds of my sister veterans," she said.
A YOUNG NURSE IN VIETNAM
In August 1968, just 21 years old, Carlson Evans was in Vietnam beginning a year-long tour.
She volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps, she said, because her brothers and other young men from her rural hometown in Minnesota were volunteering or being drafted for the war.
"I just felt a real compulsion that I needed to go there with so many people in my community, this farming community, having to go to Vietnam," she said.
In Vietnam, she worked in the burn unit of the 36th Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau, and at Pleiku in the 71st Evacuation Hospital.
The nurses were young and didn't know what to expect in the combat zones, said Carlson Evans. Servicemen suffered massive battlefield injuries, were sick with malaria or other tropical diseases, and were dying all around her, she said.
"It was a very intense year of working hard and learning quickly because we weren't prepared for these kinds of wounds or medical diseases that we were seeing for the first time," she said.
She was intensely proud of the women she worked with, who displayed such strength and endurance as members of the Army Nurse Corps, she said.
"It was just a time when we really hung in there together," she said. "We cared about each other. We cared for each other. We had to get each other home alive."
Adrenaline, she said, was how she did it.
"Saving someone's life depended on how quick we were and how brave we were and how much we paid attention to what was going on around us," she said.
The 71st Evacuation Hospital was near the Cambodian border in the Central Highlands. It was in the jungle, and the fighting was fierce, she said.
"Our causalities there were coming right to us from the field," she said. "Sometimes our patients, they hadn't even gone into shock yet. They had lost limbs -- battlefield amputations -- and so the wounds were horrific."
The shifts were long and the pace was continuous, a seemingly never-ending cycle of the wounded, ill and dying.
A HOSTILE HOME NATION
With her military obligation completed, Carlson Evans was discharged in August 1969. Back in the civilian world, she worked in the nursing field and tried to put the memories behind her and move on with her life.
But the war still haunted her.
"I used to question why," she said. "What did we gain from it?"
"There was this overwhelming sense of sadness. The sadness about the whole experience -- that so many of these young men suffered and died," she said.
The country she returned to was anti-war and hostile to veterans. She felt anger at how the veterans were viewed, especially since she saw firsthand the sacrifices of the Soldiers and how they suffered and died.
"They were just as brave and just as courageous and wonderful I was certain as any Soldier in any war, and yet they weren't being treated like Soldiers of World War II," she said.
Not feeling like she fit in with civilian nursing, she returned to the Army Nurse Corps.
Treating and caring for wounded Soldiers, she said she again found purpose and fulfillment. She was back in a familiar world. She would go on to meet her husband there, who was a medical student in his internship. She was the head nurse.
Now focused on being a wife, a mother and a military nurse, Carlson Evans suppressed her memories of Vietnam. But the thoughts and recollections wouldn't stay bottled away forever.
Together with her time in Vietnam, she ended up serving six years in uniform, and left the Army as a captain.
VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL
In 1982, Carlson Evans attended the dedication of the Vietnam Wall.
She found the names of two people she knew who were killed in Vietnam: Eddie Lee Evenson, who died from combat wounds; and Army nurse 1st Lt. Sharon Lane, who was killed in an enemy rocket attack on the 312th Evacuation Hospital.
Touching the names etched forever in the black granite, Carlson Evans said scenes from Vietnam began to replay in her head.
"Now I can no longer put these memories to rest. They're starting to haunt me. I'm having dreams and nightmares," she said. "All of the memories that I tried so hard to put away started coming back one by one and then I had to start dealing with them."
Two years later, in 1984, a statue depicting Vietnam-era men was dedicated at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
"In that instant when I saw that statue, I thought 'but they've forgotten the women,'" she said. "When people go to the memorial, they'll think only men were there."
That year, she founded the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project (now the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation) and began the push for a memorial for the women who served.
After years of work that included lobbying, congressional hearings and fundraising, the statue by Glenna Goodacre was dedicated Nov. 11, 1993.
The Vietnam Women's Memorial honors all the women who served during the Vietnam era in that country and throughout the world, she said.
"It validates who we are and what we did. It validates that those achievements and contributions that these women made were worthwhile," she said.
An unexpected result of the women's memorial, Carlson Evans said, is that it is a place of peace and healing for the men who were treated by the nurses.
"We don't heal alone. We have to share our stories. We have to talk to each other. We have to listen to each other," she said.
The statue depicts an injured Soldier being cradled by a female nurse, a standing woman looking to the sky as if for a medical evacuation helicopter or even perhaps divine help from God, and an anguished kneeling woman who is holding an empty helmet, Carlson Evans said.
WOMEN'S SERVICE TODAY
"I love the Army Nurse Corps. I am very proud to have served. I would do it all over again," Carlson Evans said.
Women in today's military serve side-by-side with men, and have expanded their roles because of the women of the Vietnam era, she said.
The women of her generation, she said, expanded their roles because of the work of the women in the Korean War and World War II.
"We stand on the shoulders of each generation and benefit from that," she said.
"For my sister veterans serving today, I hope for their healing, and someday there will be a memorial for them. I hope they don't have to wait as long as we did," she said.
"We need to heal when we return from war. We need to help each other do it. We don't do it alone," she said.