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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Nancy M. Christ, 2008

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Object ID: WV0408.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Nancy M. Christ's childhood in New Jersey, nursing career, and experiences in the Army Nurse Corps from 1961 to 1981.

Summary:

Nancy Christ describes her upbringing in New Jersey and her decision to go into nursing. She tells of antics during nursing school, her experiences in Miami Beach, and her education and training while at Columbia University. Christ primarily focuses on her life as a career military officer and her service during the Vietnam War and the Cuban missile crisis. She details her deployment to Miami in September and October 1962, her decision to request transfer to Vietnam when her sister was already there, and her activities there.

Other subjects include sexual harassment in the military, alcoholism in the military and Christ’s personal struggle, having a twin sister also serve as an army nurse, her experiences in a parachuting club, and her misadventure attempting to be on the Bob Hope Show in Vietnam. Christ also discusses her definition of patriotism, her views on the first amendment, and her belief in God.

Creator: Nancy Christ

Biographical Info:

Nancy Margaret Christ of North Brunswick, New Jersey, served in the United States Army Nurse Corps from 1961 to 1981. Christ earned a Bronze Star for her service during the Vietnam War and retired as a lieutenant colonel.

Collection: Nancy M. Christ Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

Therese Strohmer:

So we're just testing here. And this is Therese Stromer, and today is March 23. I am in Wilmington, North Carolina. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Nancy, go ahead and say your name the way you would like it to be on—you can just sit how you are—how you'd like it to be on your collection. Like, you just want to have a form—your formal—

Nancy Christ:

Nancy. M as in Margaret.

TS:

Okay.

NC:

Christ.

TS:

Okay.

NC:

C-h-r-i-s-t.

TS:

That sounds terrific then. All right, Nancy, we're going to go ahead and start out and we'll talk a little bit about your background, where you were born and where you grew up. Just start with that.

NC:

Okay. I was born in North Brunswick Township, New Jersey, and stayed there until I went into nurse's training in 1949 in South Jersey, to Ann May School of Nursing.

TS:

Well, before we get to your nursing school, what—When you were growing up, what kind of work did your parents do?

NC:

My father was a butcher. My mother was a wonderful, wonderful homemaker, which we don't see much anymore, right—

TS:

That's true.

NC:

—Therese?

TS:

True.

NC:

However, in her later years, she did run—she did work in the North Brunswick Township tax office and ran for office, and so we were campaigning for her and she won. So she did have a career after the kids were out of the nest and was tax collector for the North Brunswick Township. Isn't that wonderful?

TS:

That's terrific.

NC:

And dad retired from butcher. [laughs]

TS:

I was always fascinated by the butcher in my hometown. I thought that was always—It was always fun to go in and get something picked out. You know, that was fun. Yeah, now—

NC:

You want to know some of the cuts of meats?

TS:

You go right ahead and tell me. [laughter] I'm sure you know pretty well.

NC:

No, I'd probably miss some of them. We always went down to his butcher shop. And we always said to the kids, “Come on. Let's get a free sandwich.” And dad would make us a bologna sandwich. You know, well, sure, it was free.

TS:

No kidding. Okay. Well now, do you have any brothers and sisters?

NC:

I have an older sister, Irene, about four years my senior. She's in New Jersey. I have a twin sister who's in the hill country of Texas now. Like I am trying to be a very wonderful tar heel, she's trying to be a wonderful Texan.

TS:

How's that working out?

NC:

Well, she's been there so long you may—you never tell—there's a saying that you can take the gal out of New Jersey but you cannot take the New Jersey out of the gal, and I think that's true for both of us. And I have a younger brother, Russell, who passed away in 1963 at the age of sixty. Family of four.

TS:

Family of four kids and—

NC:

Four kids.

TS:

Very good. Did you—Can you tell us a little bit about growing up? What kind of games you played or what you did, maybe what your neighborhood looked like?

NC:

It was rural. Loads of woods, so it was not uncommon to have us come home with frogs and things like this for Mother. We loved to play in the woods and climb trees. We also had industry, which was—and you know New Jersey's a big industrial state now—it was called Personal Products. This was a branch of J&J, Johnson & Johnson. An Ethicon suture building was right down the road from us. The big highway, [US] Route 1, that traversed from New England all the way to Florida was only two blocks away. It was—so we were on a major highway yet out in rural area. And there was this great big open grass field to play in, and Lynn and I were sports women. We loved to play with the boys. So we were playing football and baseball out there. Outdoors more than indoors, this type of growing up. Well, no computers, no television, basically. Yeah, that's right. It's hard to think that way, isn't it?

TS:

Do you remember games that you played or were they mostly just sports-type things that you played? What kind of sports would you be playing?

NC:

Football and baseball. Then, of course, we played with the neighborhood kids all the old-type games of dodge ball, the hopscotch. We had a concrete pathway outside our house and we'd use chalk and make your hopscotch, you know, your little crosses. So we played hopscotch and kick the can, and anything you'd hear from the olden years, of all outdoors, from morning until night. Wonderful, wonderful.

TS:

Yeah. So would you say that that sums up your childhood? That you had a—

NC:

Yes, it was wonderful.

TS:

Yes.

NC:

Yes. It was all kid stuff and no stress. No stress that I can tell you. When you think of us growing up in the Depression years of the thirties with dad being a butcher, basically, as an individual, I felt no stress from this. He certainly—Dad and I'm sure Mom did, but there was always food on the table and we didn't get caught up in so many of the hardships that people did, which is kind of, you know, it's interesting to be so close, closely united with it all. Which only goes to show you it can be in the immediate area and not experiencing the same rough times that other people earn. It has to do with the circumstances and what is what.

TS:

Being a butcher probably helped a lot.

NC:

Sure. Well, he could negotiate [with] A&P. Are you familiar with the old A&P markets? It was right next door, so he could exchange there. Now, I know for a fact that back in those days they had black market, et cetera, and my dad never got into any of the black market things, but some individuals did. Of course, that's an old story-type thing. From black market in Vietnam, you've got the black market today, and you had the black market in Vietnam, et cetera. [TS coughs] So we didn't—I guess it was kind of interesting—difficult to keep your nose clean back in those days. You know, you read about suicides and everything like that. And look where we are today. We're sort of talking recession, aren't we, at this point in time.

TS:

True.

NC:

And that's only eighty years later.

TS:

So what about high school? Where did you attend high school?

NC:

I attended high school in New Brunswick, New Brunswick High. That was a very integrated school. What's interesting, Therese, when you grow up—our town, our little borough of Milltown, which was right across the street from North Brunswick Township, I can see today—it wasn't until around the eighties or nineties that I came to realize that my own little next door neighborhood town ,where I played and I grew up with, my church, et cetera, never had blacks. Our church had an oriental couple, and I understand that they really had a difficult time in our church. But I never experienced the discriminatory stuff that goes on like some of those kids when they went to school, there were no blacks in the neighborhood. I was used to blacks in my own North Brunswick Township school. Plus, particularly in New Brunswick, as one of your bigger cities in the state of New Jersey—when you came out of New York City you went through Newark, New Jersey, Elizabeth to New Brunswick, to our capital Trenton, that skinny part of the state—and so several of my very best friends were black in high school. So I never felt the discriminatory stuff that was—that was going on and that is still going on today.

And look at what is going on in our political scene today. And I think it's wonderful the way [Barack] Obama speaks to it, get it out there, and don't put it under the carpet. Bring it right out in the open. And we're in a free nation—liberty and justice for all. And don't put it under the carpet again like it has been in the past, et cetera. Face the issue, that's growth. Boy, I sure went off on a tangent on that, Therese. [TS laughs] Are we ever going to get done? But it gives you a little idea of—That's where I went to high school. And I was in sports there, too.

TS:

What years were you there?

NC:

Nineteen forty—1946 to '49.

TS:

Okay.

NC:

We had juniors—juniors—no, sophomore, junior, senior. We had a junior high school where you went—you went from grammar school, first to eighth grade, and then ninth grade was a junior high school, and then you had your three years of senior high school, which was the junior, sophomore, and senior. And there we just continued—I always have to talk in terms of we. It's just difficult for me to leave my twin out of it. She was my womb mate for—[laughs].

TS:

No kidding.

NC:

Yeah, right.

TS:

So you played some sports in high school. What kind of sports did you like to play?

NC:

Very much into the gym, gymnastics. Was on the tumbling squad for the football team. Also involved with the YM—YWCA [Young Women's Christian Association] at that time. So we had basketball, where we played competitively within the state, you know, with teams that were up [state?]. So certainly, once again, outdoors all the time.

TS:

Did you have a favorite subject?

NC:

Favorite subject. No, I really have to say not really. I enjoyed all of it. I don't remember really begrudging going to school. Of course, I got into all of the little devilish stuff. Back then you had truant officers, so of course one day [I] played hooky from school, but I was scared the whole time I was out [laughs] from fear I'd be caught. And sure enough it came around, because then, in those days, they could monitor the children a lot closer. And when I didn't show up for one of the classes in the afternoon and they discovered I was gone the whole day, well, then mother got a call, and of course it was addressed. And that was the end of my hooky days.

TS:

Do you remember why you were playing hooky?

NC:

Just the kids, my local—you know, the school friends were going to go to one of our competitive schools that we played football against in South River. One of the students was old enough to have a truck and drive. So we just decided that we would take the day off and go visit the kids at the other school. I mean it was real smart to go to another school to see the kids. [laughs] I mean, boy that was real criminal activity wasn't it? [chuckles]

TS:

That's true.

NC:

Just the—certainly were—My twin and I were far from being just laid back and not doing very much. We were always involved in things. So with this type of background, you can see why my life took its path the way it did with adventure, et cetera, because I just kind of enjoyed all of that stuff. And we tried, had the good background from my parents, knew you were doing—you know you're doing wrong, but god darn it, there's just something about that element of risk, to see if you could get away with something. So I don't know how normal children are if they have never done something that they weren't supposed to do. Do you? [laughs]

TS:

When you talk about your twin, could you describe your personalities, if you know any of the similarities and differences you had in your personalities between you and your twin.

NC:

Basically, we're identical. And in the younger years—in fact, this picture here is more of what more of what my twin looks like today, because now I push my hair back, but you'll notice she has—this is me and I have the bangs, see, and that's what she looks like today. She still has the bangs. So basically, now I look more like my older sister who pulls her hair back. And we have the little gray coming in. But if you didn't have a long conversation and get to know me as much as you are today, and it was a hit and miss type thing, our mannerisms are the same. Our speaking voice is the same. If you talked to her on the phone you would think it was me.

We never chose the same friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, never had any of that vying. And I don't remember ever having to fight with my twin sister. We wrestled and she almost did me in. She was a little stronger. She was the bigger one, even though she was younger—twenty-five minutes, how do you like that! Listen, that twenty-five minutes goes a long way. We were wrestling on the floor and she got me in the scissors grip, you know, and she was actually squeezing the living air out of me that I couldn't breathe. And we had, back in those days, you say, “Okay, say uncle! Say uncle!” Well, I [mimics choking] couldn't say it. I couldn't say it. And all of a sudden I must have gone limp, and she could realize it and so she released, and so I gasped for air.

And she says, “Oh, geez, Nance, wow. Why didn't you say uncle?”

I said, “I couldn't!” [laughed]

But other than that, no, even to today. You often hear of twins vying, in relation to grades in schools or things like this. No, no competitiveness between each other. But if anything, I think my twin followed in my footsteps more than she. It took me four years to recruit her into the Army Nurse Corps. That's how difficult it is to get a nurse into the Army Nurse Corps. My own twin sister resisted it. [laughs]

TS:

Well, before we get there, let me ask you—

NC:

For many reasons other than—

TS:

Right. And we'll talk about those. I think those are really important to talk about. But I want to go kind of a little chronologically here and talk about how after high school, or even when you were in high school, were you thinking about the future and what you wanted to do?

NC:

Nursing. I remember having a little play kit with the stethoscope and things like this, and Lynn and I used to use our brother as the patient. Poor Rus. Although we were very protective of him when we went out to play, Lynn and I, not realizing it at the time, were better at sports than our brother, and so when it came to being picked on teams, et cetera, we made sure that they picked him to be on a team. So we protected him over the years. So he was the patient most of the time.

Well, back then, you know, Therese—you're not old enough to know—Back then, there were basically only three jobs that women looked at and that was teaching, secretary, or nursing. And look at today. Boggles your mind doesn't it? So that's—

TS:

What appealed to you about nursing?

NC:

The whole thing, taking care of people, doing something for other people. I think that's just a—The basic thing that I reminder so vividly was Girl Scouts [of America], and the motto is, “Do a good turn daily.” It has served me my whole life. You know, when you think about what kind of impact or influence things have in your life, that. And of course, mother with church and Sunday school. That was always there. So this, “Do a good turn daily,” it just rubs off on you, and it just becomes a part of you. I don't know how else to explain it. [coughs]

TS:

I think that's a wonderful explanation. Now did you go into nursing school then right after high school?

NC:

Yes.

TS:

Okay. And did you do any—Did you work at all when you were in high school?

NC:

Yes. Good question. Oh, I love that. I'm so glad that you asked that question, Therese. During the summertime, we wanted to make a little spending money, of course. Well, have you heard of Carter's Little Liver Pills? That industry was just within less than a mile from our place, and they hired high school students during the summer to make some cash, and so you had an opportunity to work on the lines, you know. There were six of us from high school that applied and got jobs there. I guess that's when we got our social security numbers; I don't remember. But we worked there—I remember working at least two summers or more. And that's where I got my nickname Musky, M-u-s-k-y. And I think I spoke to you about it. It's part of my email address. Because they put we kids on a line so at least we had some camaraderie with each other, and as we were giggling and everything, but certainly doing our work with the supervisors there, I looked up and smiled at this one gal who we must have told a joke or something.

All of a sudden she says, “I think I'm going to call you Musky.”

I said, “What?”

She says, “Yeah, when you smile, you look like a muskmelon.”

Well, now how that ever came about. [laughs] That stayed with me through high school then and into nurse's training. But then when that gang was no longer in the fold, so to speak, then that nickname was put in mothballs except for me. So yes, we worked in Carter's Little Liver Pills. And I loved that factory work. It was exciting.

TS:

What exactly—What did you do in the line? What exactly did you do?

NC:

Well, to give an example, Carter's Little Liver Pills also put out the product, the deodorant Arrid. I don't know whether that's even on the market anymore. Is it still on the market? I don't use it. I use Secret or something else; there's so much out there. But what you would do is work on the lines and they had a machine with a big hopper, and one lady was putting—most of them were women at that time because I think the men were just getting back into the fold from World War II, so there were a lot of women in industry at that time—who would load the jars, and someone was tending the hopper machine and it would fill the jars on the rotating thing and shoot the jars out. And then we had to make little cartons, fold them, stick them down, and the next person would put them in. It was typical on the line—did you ever see that Lucy, I Love Lucy show where she was doing something with candies, and tucking them all down. The machine got so far ahead of her or something she started to stick them in the front of her chest. Same difference. And so we were doing the line work.

TS:

So you had to keep up with the line.

NC:

Keep up with the line.

TS:

You didn't want to be like Lucy.

NC:

No. No. And then someone at the end of the belt was stuffing them into a carton, folding that, and sticking it into a box and off it went. The interesting thing is, and, you know, you can learn so much. What sticks in your mind, these little things, of how industry fools you, or advertisements, et cetera, fools the public. Arrid wanted to make competition for itself, so it put out another deodorant called Hush, at that time, and all they changed was the flavor. The flavor, the smell, the aroma, but the product was exactly the same. It was Arrid deodorant, but it came out with a different aroma and went out on the market, so it made the competition within themselves. Learning—you think of those learning experiences. Unfortunately, we don't carry them too much with us to know how the public gets fooled, you know, over—It's all with sales. It's still a good product. They were still getting the best, at that time, so to speak. Isn't that interesting?

TS:

Very. It is very interesting. It's interesting how you described the line, too.

NC:

Which reminds me, my dad was a pretty sharp guy, too, as the butcher. He made his own sausage back then, soft pack sausage, and he put it on his own showcase at ten cents a pound. The whole morning nobody was buying it, and he couldn't understand. So he put another up a sign up and he said, “Ten pounds for a dollar.” Within a half hour the whole bunch of sausage was gone. Same principle isn't it?

TS:

Yes. Very creative.

NC:

Isn't it, though?

TS:

Very good. Well, let's get you back to when you went in the army nurses' training and what—

NC:

Well, it wasn't an army nurse's training.

TS:

I'm sorry. Nurses' training first. We got to do that first.

NC:

Got to do that first.

TS:

Let's see how we got into that.

NC:

Got to become a nurse.

TS:

That's right.

NC:

Yes.

TS:

How did that come about, Nancy?

NC:

Well, being that we wanted to have a job, have an income, be responsible, always wanted to—thought of the nursing and that was the way to go. Thought of that as opposed to collegiate. I think expenses have a lot to do with that, too. Back then, to go to college, you didn't have really that many women that went into your academia. If they were going into secretarial work, they would go to secretarial school. So nursing was all mostly diploma schools at that time and connected with hospitals and three year programs. So it was very much just part of where we would go. Excellent programs. A three-year program, and you went year round. So basically, you had as much schooling and—Of course, you didn't have to make a bed [TS coughs] three hundred times to know how to make a bed, so I'm sure they got some work force out of the students within the hospital setting. But practice makes perfect, doesn't it? So that when you did go to work, you knew you could do it because you did it so much. Just think in the collegiate programs, this is the difference, you know. You can say plus and minuses, because the nurses, as they went into the collegiate programs, the old standby diploma school nurse was trying to figure out [why] these young kids just don't know how to make a bed right, or something like—Well, if you haven't practiced it, and you're doing your practice work out when you're working, big difference. So, like I said, everything had its plus and minus. So it was a three-year program.

TS:

Where did you go?

NC:

At that time, it was a hospital nursing program at Fitkin Memorial Hospital in Neptune, New Jersey. It's now the Jersey Shore [University] Medical Center. [pause]

TS:

[unclear]

NC:

I don't think they have the program any longer. We went to—

TS:

When you say “we” you're talking about you and your twin both went?

NC:

Yes. See, she sort of followed. Yeah, she didn't want to go away from home, necessarily. She had friend ties and everything and didn't want to really go out of the nest. But Nancy's going, so Lynn's going. So Lynn went and totally enjoyed it.

TS:

Both of you?

NC:

Yes. Double trouble. [chuckling]

TS:

Now, it was a three-year program?

NC:

Three-year program. The first six months, the academia was in a junior college program. So you did sort of have some college credit. I don't know how much was—Well, that's all within, you know, the transference of credits when it came [time] for me to go back later, five years, six years, for undergraduate at Teachers College, Columbia University, how much was transferrable. But that was your basic academia, was in the junior college system. [TS coughs] And then, certainly, we had a lot of classes in the program itself for the clinical work.

TS:

Was there anything that you especially liked about your nurse's training, or the opposite, that you didn't especially care for?

NC:

Therese, I have nothing but wonderful memories, and, in fact, Lynn and I will probably be going to a personal class reunion at classmates' this summer when we go to New Jersey. She'll come from Texas and I'll come from Wilmington, and we'll go to my sister's in New Jersey, and we'll go visit about half a dozen of our classmates and just chew the fat for a day. And part of this gang—back then we had what was called—here's the devilishness coming out again—was the Gestapo Ten. There were ten of us that just seemed to just pal around together. We went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean in December in dungarees. You didn't put a bathing suit on in December. So we were in the ocean up there in New Jersey in that cold swimming in dungaree linen. In fact, I could sing a song for you that we made up. And it goes, [sings] “We're the mighty Gestapo Ten, we live in the Fitkin den. We like to go swimming in dungaree linen. We're the mighty Gestapo Ten. Hey!” I remember that after all these years.

Well, yes, we did get into a little trouble. Now, the interesting thing is, we were not—we were drinking some beer after we went to college in the evening. One of the girls was twenty-one, so she could buy beer. That was the age in New Jersey. And another girl had a vehicle. We would go out, she'd buy a six pack, and we would—There'd be six of us in the car, and we'd have a can of beer before we had to be in by ten o'clock. You know, you had a curfew. And so there we were. But we never brought booze into the nurse's home, nursing home—nursing home, that isn't—nurse's quarters. But a couple of the other kids did. Not the Gestapo Ten group, but a couple of the other gals did bring booze into the—unbeknownst to us. I mean, I didn't know at that time. But all of a sudden, the Gestapo Ten, we were notorious for, “Oh, if something's going a little wrong, one of those gals must be deviling.” And so we got called into the director's office and we were interrogated one at a time. Well, you can imagine the stories that came out as we were being interrogated. But they never found out who was bringing the booze in, because none of us knew. You know, we weren't brining it in. But they sure found out a lot of other stuff! [laughs] So that's—

TS:

So you had a good time.

NC:

Oh, wonderful time. And that's all my life, Therese, regardless of where.

TS:

Now, I know you didn't go into Army Nurse's Corp right away. What did you do after nursing school?

NC:

Well, interestingly enough, everybody—At that time, most of my classmates were getting engaged and married. So you know how mothers are. They sort of are the fixer-uppers. And there was this gentleman who was about eight years my senior who was in Monroe Calculating [Machines Company] sales business for office machinery business. And Mom, being in the tax office, she had this contact with this sales rep. His name was Bud Sisk, S-i-s-k, and I often thought, “Oh, gosh. Do I want kids named Sisk? Frisky Sisk? Kisk?” trying to figure this type of thing. Well, I became engaged. Mom set up a blind date for us and we went out, and he was really a neat guy, and we became engaged. But I never wore my engagement ring. I got a chain and put it around my neck, because I was into softball. I was also working the operating room as a new graduate at Fitkin Hospital, and when you had to scrub, you couldn't have rings on or anything like this, so instead of taking it off and losing it in a pocket, I wore it around my neck all the time. And all of a sudden, three of—two other classmates and my twin and I, we rented a place that was adjacent to this bar, The Gaddis. And they were wonderful. They owned this bar. The four of us work hard and play hard all the time. They were, my twin and these two friends were thinking, “It's time to take up the roots and let's go to Florida.” Oh. Well, I wasn't going to stay behind. So that ended my engagement because the four of us toodled off to Florida. And that's a whole story in itself of getting stuck on Myrtle Beach [South Carolina]. Now this is back in 1953. Isn't that wonderful?

TS:

What happened?

NC:

So we went, drove down in two cars. My twin and I had a car that Dad had given to we girls our last year of training, and Apple—Applegate was her name, big gal—she had a new Buick that her father—Her father, by the way, was a butcher in Trenton, New Jersey, and he had gotten her a car. So Avie—her name was Avalone, Eleanor Avalone—those two were in one car, and Lynn and I were in the other car. Every once in a while we would switch, because we all drove and you wouldn't know who was driving what car, et cetera. We stopped off at Myrtle Beach and we were going to have a hot dog roast on Myrtle Beach, and we got a motel. And so we all piled in Apple's car and went driving down to Myrtle Beach. And at that time they had roads that went into the beach and just kept going right onto the beach. There was no stop sign or anything up. And so [laughing] you know what I'm going to say, right? Off we go down this road, and Apple certainly wasn't any slowpoke, and the first thing you know she was four wheels in sand and there was no way of getting out.

Well, some couple stopped and saw four ladies in distress, so he and his wife, they helped us get the car out. But before they did that, we went on the beach and had us a hot dog roast. And he happened to be a news commentator on the South Carolina radio. And of course, radio was the big thing then. And it was for, you know, playing—disc jockey, I want to say. And he says, “Now you listen tomorrow morning” he says, “because I'm going to play a song for you gals and tell about this experience on Myrtle Beach last night.” And so we listened the next day and what he played was, and I can't remember the song today, how it went, but the name of it was, I'll Be Waiting for You, Baby. [chuckles]

But anyway, back in those days—he actually, I don't know how he could jack the car up, because that was difficult to do because when you put the jack under, as you jacked the car up, the weight of the car would push the jack down, so you really weren't getting the wheels up. However he did it, he did get us high enough that he could put boards and stuff underneath the tires, and we were able to back up and go on our merry way. I mean, now who ever heard—you think about today, and what goes on.

So you know our whole year in Florida was one experience after another. We lived right on Miami Beach on Collins Avenue. At that time, big hotels, the San Souci, the Algiers with these beautiful foyers, you know, that go—that are so elegant. Well, we lived in an apartment right on Collins Avenue, and then we attended the Seabreeze hotel bar across—that was beachfront property, and knew the bartender, and so we were his girls. And so we just worked and played hard the whole year on Miami Beach. And when we wanted to get elegant, we would just go down town Miami Beach in some swayze[?] clothes and go in and pretend we were touring, you know, that we were the tourists in the Algiers, Sans Souci. I don't think those hotels are even there anymore.

We worked at Mount Sinai [Medical Center] on the beach in the operating room. Avie and Apple were medical-surgical nurses. And we had the whole year, wonderful year. Our mom, Lynn and my mom and dad, came down to visit because they just wanted to make sure that we were eating properly. Because at that time, nurses didn't make that much money. And it took four of us to pay that rent, and, of course, the prices go up. They want to get their money, so the big money's up front during the winter, in case you decide to take off and go back for the summer, then—so our rent was basically almost doubled during December, January, February, March. So, boy, let me tell you, by the time the month was over, our refrigerator, we might have a soda in there or maybe a bag of peanuts or something like that. But I don't think it's any different than the kids today living on a shoestring, do you?

TS:

I'm thinking you're probably right, Nancy. [laughs]

NC:

But didn't it sound like fun?

TS:

It sounded like a grand time.

NC:

And there we were, living—dated fellas from Hamstead. I think it was called Hamstead.

TS:

Homestead [Joint Air Reserve Base]?

NC:

Homestead. That's it. Yes, see, there comes the air force. Air force—Homestead, because there's a history on that, too. There were navy dentists there at Homestead, and Avie and I dated these two dentists there. And that's another whole story. It was wonderful.

TS:

Yes.

NC:

Because during the Cuban crises in 1963, guess where I ended up in the army?

TS:

Homestead?

NC:

Homestead. Pitched in a tent during that missile crisis for three weeks. Small world isn't it?

TS:

Yes, it is.

NC:

And what a cute story that is. To say, well—

TS:

Go ahead. Let's hear it.

NC:

Do you remember—I bet you you weren't born, Therese—1963?

TS:

Actually, '62 was the—sixty-'62, I think, was the missile crisis.

NC:

Was the missile crisis. Yes, because '63 was the Kennedy assassination. It was 1962. You're correct.

TS:

That's the year I was born.

NC:

Okay. I was at Letterman [Army Medical Center in California] and I was on what they call a K-team.

TS:

K?

NC:

K. This was part of your Army medical deployment. It comprised of a nurse, two doctors, and three medical corpsmen. And they had a general surgery team and an orthopedic team and a chest team, so that these teams would converge at the field hospital from different units. I came from Letterman as the general surgery team. The orthopedic team came out of Fort Bragg here in North Carolina. And the chest team came out of Walter Reed [Army Medical Center], in Washington, D.C., and they never arrived during this three-week period. But we went to Homestead, you see.

Well, when that, when President Kennedy gave the announcement over television that we were in a crisis or whatever, we became mobilized and I was off the next day on a TWA flight out of Letterman with my team, the two surgeons. That's how fast we mobilized. I even was able to throw a quarter in the slot machine in Las Vegas when we stopped for a little stop on this commercial flight. Because it was a commercial flight, it wasn't all military, it was just our team got tickets for that.

Now, we were not supposed to—We were sworn to secrecy. That night we got our orders and weren't supposed to tell anyone where we were going. We were allowed one telephone call, so I called home and I talked with my twin. She was still not in the army. She was at Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield [New Jersey], the operating room supervisor.

And so Lynn says, “Well, Nance.”

I says, “I'm just off tomorrow morning. We're under secret orders, et cetera. So I just wanted to let you know I'll get in contact with you when we get settled,” et cetera.

And so she was sure. She says, “You're taking your bathing suit?”

I says, “Sure am.” Well, she knew I wasn't going to Alaska! [laughs]

“Are you going to our old stamping grounds?” Well, that put us right in Miami Beach, didn't it, in Homestead?

I said, “Yeah.”

Without saying anything, she knew exactly where I was going. Isn't it interesting how without breaking the code in any way that she knew?

TS:

So what did you do while you were there?

NC:

That was three weeks. That's another whole story. We pitched tents. We were in—Well, first of all, when I arrived, there weren't any quarters for women, so I stayed in the hotel at Miami Beach. I mean in Miami. And that was the same hotel that your airline stewardess and pilot stayed at, so I partied for three nights and three days with the airline people. [laughs] Because we didn't have any of our military vehicles, they rented out of Avis and Hertz rental. There weren't any rental cars for visitors, tourists coming to Florida, because the army got them all. You know, sucked them all up there to set up this hospital and whatever else. So until I got quarters, that's what I did. I partied in the hotel there. It was wonderful. And I got to go to my old stamping grounds. I don't remember whether I saw—I'm quite sure that I—I don't remember whether I saw Nat Wiener, the bartender there, or not. I can't recall. I think if I had, I would have remembered it, you know, very strongly. I might have tried to make contact but couldn't.

So then, when the tents were pitched, the nurses were in a tent, and we got a choice piece of real estate. The monsoon—Would you believe the monsoons came? That's monsoon time in Florida, September. It was late September, October, that we were there for that three week period. And it rained. And we were in our tents. We had cots set up. And you know the number ten cans? Those are the great big cans that the food comes in for the mess hall. Number ten cans. I don't—The recorder can't see this.

TS:

Yeah, I know. Nancy's making a picture of the [chuckles] how big they would be.

NC:

The number ten can. And we sat—our seating were regular like church chairs, you know, the folding chairs. And we sat there sitting in our chairs—that's all that was in the tent, and the our cot—with our feet—and we're in fatigues and boots—with our feet up on a number ten can, having a scotch and water, because one of the nurses from Fort Bragg, she brought her trunk and she made sure she had a bottle of scotch with her upon arrival. And there we were in the downpour, and we had about three or four inches of rain in our tent. So, I thought, “Boy, isn't this great? The army gets a choice piece of real estate in Florida.”

And little did they—I was able to talk with—she was a major, Major Sims. I was a lieutenant. We were only three nurses. The chief nurse was a lieutenant colonel. The major from Fort Bragg, orthopedic team, and me, were the only ones that arrived at that time for that three-week period, because it's history. We were only there for three weeks. The thing was over and we went back to where we were. The chest team never made it. They sat—I found out ten years later, when I was at Walter Reed, I met an operating room nurse, Marbeth Michael, and we happened to be chewing the fat in the officer's club and talking about our experiences, et cetera, and the crisis, Cuban crisis, came up. And I must have spit out, “Well, I went out from Letterman as the general surgery team.”

And Marbeth Michaels says, “Oh, yeah.” She says, “We were the chest team out of Walter Reed and we never made it. We sat on the docks at Savannah, Georgia, wondering where we were going, et cetera, and sat there the whole three weeks and never did get to Florida.”

And I says, “Boy, I was wondering where our chest team was.” Because in our package of instruments that I was responsible with my sergeants to make sure that I had equipment, et cetera, and become functional, I didn't have any long instruments, because the policy then was, you borrowed them from the chest team. If the doctors need some long instruments in the abdomen, we made sure that we would put those instruments separate so that they were available for either team. And I was very concerned. Gee, if I had to become functional, I really, you know, I really can't. So it was writing these kinds of reports. Now, you just think about this, Therese. Here I am, first lieutenant, about thirty—how old was I? Nineteen sixty-two.

TS:

Oh, yeah.

NC:

Thirty-one.

TS:

That's right.

NC:

Would that be it?

TS:

That would be right.

NC:

Thirty-one, an old first lieutenant, but new to the military because Letterman was my first assignment in 1962. So I didn't know anything about military or anything like this. [TS coughs] And really I didn't have any training for this in basic training. You know what was my main stead? Girl Scouts, because we went camping. And so live in a tent? No sweat. You know what I mean? It's kind of interesting how there was no threat or what you call discomfort-type thing. “Oh. Oh, my. Sleeping on a cot,” and stuff like this. No, I had it in the Girl Scouts. So the Girl Scouts prepared me for my mobilization for the Cuban crisis. Fascinating isn't it? How you can—you can just pull these weaves together. [TS coughs]

And now, Therese, I was the only surgical patient in my operating room, so I knew it was functional. I don't know how this is going to go across, but I'll stay with the medical terminology, okay? We were going to mess hall every day. Three square meals. Well, I never had that at Letterman. I was working in the operating room and I wouldn't eat breakfast in the morning when you had to go to the operating room and possibly after work. So I was having a full breakfast and a full lunch and a full supper and drinking milk and all this. Oh, my. I got so bound up that all of a sudden, I got a thrombosed hemorrhoid and my surgeon had to operate in my operating room and release this painful thrombosed hemorrhoid. And my surgical nurse was the major of the orthopedic team, and we used my operating room. And I was the only person. And that now, is that a story or is—So I knew we were functional. I knew my doctor was good. I knew our operating room tables were okay, and the nurse and corpsmen were ready.

TS:

You had to test it yourself. [chuckles]

NC:

Now, the real funny part, if you can imagine this—and Therese, you're air force, and, Cheryl—It's Cheryl, right? Were you military?

Cheryl Brown:

Army.

NC:

Army. That's right. I should have remembered from—Do you remember the hot rod that you—it was a coil, an aluminum coil or something that you could plug in and heat your water? Put it in your cup and heat the water? Well, we had those hot rods, and so my post-operative nursing care for myself was to take sitz baths. You needed some moist heat for recovery of your sore bottom. So the sergeants were wonderful. They put up a little screened area in my nursing tent—because there were only the three of us in there, we three nurses—so that I could have a private cubicle and a little bench. And I got one of the Mannel[?] basin from our surgical—from our ward tent that we had set up for holding patients if we have to become—we did take care of a few patients that were injuries at that time, just from people getting hurt being in the field there and working. And I was the floor nurse at that time. I wasn't functioning as an operating room nurse.

So anyway, I got one of my Mannel basins and I put it, put water in it, and put it on the stool that I had there, and put my little hot rod in it. And lo and behold, guess what? I forgot to pull the plug on the hot rod. Well, zip! I cauterized my problem! Man, did I get out of that water in a hurry! [laughs]

Now—So you say did you have fun? These are the things you remember. Here we are in crises and I'm in the tent taking care of my sore bottom. Still went to work. Can you see how the stories just mount and mount?

TS:

I'll have to take you back, though.

NC:

Yeah, I forgot. I get sidetracked don't I, Therese.

TS:

Oh, no, no, no. I love the stories. They're wonderful. But I want to—let's—you and I talked earlier about how you decided to get—go in the Army Nurse Corps. Why don't you talk about that a little bit? What motivated you to do this and what you were doing kind of before?

NC:

Okay. When I came—remember I was in Florida from 1953 to 1954. And there's another story. I was driving, my twin and I, back from Florida when the Hurricane Hazel that hit in 1954 hit the Carolinas. I was only a few hours ahead of that storm, in driving rain, et cetera, not realizing that it was a major hurricane coming through. And of course, your Carolinians remember that disastrous one because the next hurricanes really didn't come until the nineties, here—Fran, Bertha, Bonnie. Look how I know them. Dennis, Floyd, and Irene. Six of them, '96 to '99. Boy, I've got those up there, don't I. Never realized, going back to New Jersey.

But anyway, went back to New Jersey, became employed in Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield, New Jersey, my twin and I. And that's another wonderful story, too, but we don't really have time for that. Lynn and I worked on the wards because they didn't have any slots in the operating room, and she was in one ward on the first floor and I was up on the third floor in another ward. And there was this surgeon who didn't know us, that there were two of us, and he'd see my twin seeing patients at one end of the hospital, and he'd leisurely walk the hall, get on the elevator, and go up to the third floor, and who would meet him but me. “My god, how did you get here so fast?” He never—no. I'm getting my story mixed up here. He saw me and this just set up, “Wow, how'd she get there that fast?” So he did an experiment. He still didn't know that there were twins, but he decided that he was going to go see the patients where my twin was and literally run down the hall and take the steps, not wait for the elevator, and get up to the third floor and see what was going on. And lo and behold, would you believe that I just happened to come out of the nurse's station at that time.

And he just says, “How the [implied curse word] did you get here this fast?” Well, then the light bulb went on.

And I said, “Oh, Dr. Cannis.” I said, “That's my twin sister down there.”

So isn't it—It's kind of funny.

TS:

Yes, it's very funny.

NC:

So anyway, we worked at Muhlenberg in the fifties, you know, from '54 on. Lynn became our operating room [OR] supervisor because of the death of our supervisor, who had been an army nurse. You see, there's some connections. But hers was during World War II, so there were little light bulbs there. She had died of—well, that was later. No, I may be a little mixed up there. Lynn was the assistant OR supervisor and the boss, Ingrid Nelson, was supervisor, and she was an ex-army nurse just from World War II. She wasn't career.

And I was the instructor there for the—they had a nursing school, so I was teaching the operating room course in—but not actually on faculty. But this required me to start studying for my bachelor's [degree] to meet the criteria to teach in that program, even though I wasn't on the faculty, for their accreditation. Besides, it was just part and parcel. I knew I was pretty much career, and if you're going to, you know, whatever these positions, the writing's on the wall, you see, where you have to advance yourself accordingly.

So I went to Teachers College, Columbia University, in New York, nights, and so did Lynn, working toward our bachelor's degree. Then in nineteen—In the late fifties, Lynn and I, in order to get our credits paid, because we hadn't saved any money, Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City was paying up to six credits if you worked in the hospital. So that's what Lynn and I did. We went and then we had an experience in Columbia Presbyterian in New York. And we lived up in Fort Jay. You know where Pat Boone, the singer—Teaneck, New Jersey, or—Fort Lee, I think it's called, Fort Lee, New Jersey. That's his stamping grounds. But it's right by the George Washington Bridge. And we would cross over every day, George Washington Bridge, into New York City to work at Columbia Presbyterian.

Well, then it came time to complete the undergraduate study and we had to matriculate and go full time for a year. And in that full time, we had a six-month experience as public health nursing in the Bronx. Can you imagine that? What an experience. I mean that's a story in itself, too. And also at Memorial Sloan-Kettering [Cancer Center], the cancer institute in New York, six months there. Well, I didn't have any money. How was I going to go full time? And I didn't even—I think mom and dad could have helped us out but really didn't want to go that route. So I chose—There was this gal in one of my classes who was a major in the Army Nurse Corps. And she says, “Well, Nancy, did you ever think about service?”

And I said, “Well, you know, off and on,” because when I was in nurse's training, Korea—1951, '52—a couple of my instructors in nurse's training at Fiktin Memorial Hospital went into the Army Nurse Corps. [TS coughs]

So that was ingrained in me. Plus, I visited them in '52 when my aunt took me, took my twin and I on a graduation present out west with her daughter, to take her back to Riverton, Wyoming. And so we saw these, our nurses, our instructors in army uniforms, you know. And we tried on the hat. So there's a lot of this indoctrination stuff going on in my head.

And she says, “You ever think of going into the military?”

I says, “Well, yeah, but I never got serious about it.”

She says, “Well, the army has a wonderful program for registered nurses to finish their undergraduate study.”

I says, “Well, what about the navy?”

She says, “They don't have that program. You would have to go on active duty, be selected, and then go.” I know I didn't have that time. See, I had to matriculate then.

I says, “Well, what about the air force?”

They said, “Nope. They don't have that program either. You have to go on active duty and be selected.”

I says, “Well, I guess then the army's for me.”

So I went down into the recruiting office. It was over in Fort Jay, Governors Island. That was the headquarters for First Army back then. Met the nurse counselor, Sarah Bunn. Still remember it as big as life today. These things will all mesh because I was army recruiting later, at one time. You know, things all come together. And that's how I got into the army.

What they did was gave you a commission according to your experience in nursing. That's how I never was a shave-tail, a second lieutenant. With my eight years, nine years nursing behind me, I went in as a first lieutenant, got the first lieutenant salary, and that counted for active duty time and continued at school. Wonderful! And I had a two-year contract. And that's history. I never got off active duty. Does that answer your question, Therese?

TS:

I think so. So—

NC:

That's how I got into the army. I couldn't talk my twin into it. In the meantime, she's—

TS:

Why couldn't you talk her into it?

NC:

Because she was back at Muhlenberg and I do remember now. Ingrid Nelson became very ill, and Lynn felt committed to the hospital because she was in line to take over that supervisory role at Muhlenberg Hospital, and didn't want to—here comes your loyalty to your institutions, et cetera—and Lynn's philosophy, “Well, you go in and try it, Nance, and if you like it, we'll talk about it. But right now I'm going to stay put.”

So she stayed at Muhlenberg, and that's when, in fact, Ingrid Nelson passed away and Lynn stepped into the supervisory role. And then it's more history because I got at Letterman, right, the Cuban crisis, and then went back to Letterman, and then I got assigned to [United States Military Academy at] West Point, the academy, to take care of those young troopers. My only regret, Therese, is that I was thirty-three years old and those little cadets were in their early twenties. Taking care of the cadets.

And that's when—that's the other story—when I visited my twin at the hospital in Muhlenberg. And to make a long story short, when I visited her there, I was in uniform, and I had lunch with a couple of the doctors that I had worked with, the surgeons. And then I went back to the academy, and the next morning, the surgeons came up to the window and saw my twin and they said, “My god, Lynn. You look ten years older than your sister.”

Lynn says, “That does it.” Because she was twenty-five minutes younger, you see. But that wear and tear of the civilian life—I had already told her, see. By this we were already thirty-four years old, and the cut off was thirty-five for coming on active duty. And I had told her, “If you don't do it, Lynn, you're not going to.” You make it.

And so that combination, she went down to the recruiting office in Newark within that week, where they were giving guaranteed assignments. I was getting transferred to California to the University of California San Francisco Medical Center to do graduate study. So you have all of this neat stuff coming in. So I'm going to be back on the west coast. And Lynn knew she could get a guarantee.

She says, “You sure I can get a guaranteed assignment?”

I said, “Yeah, Lynn, that's what they're telling me.”

So when she went down the recruiting office, she says, “My twin's in the Army Nurse Corps.” She says, “I understand that you guarantee the assignment.”

And Connie Conditt[?], who was the recruiting officer there in Newark said, “That's so.”

And she said, “Well, I'd like to go to Letterman, on the Presidio out there in California.”

Connie says, “That can be arranged.” She says, “However, you have to remember that we don't guarantee how long you stay there,” which is a good punch line because she beat me overseas to Vietnam. [chuckles]

So Lynn says, “Where's the papers?”

Connie Conditt says, “That was the easiest army nurse that I ever recruited in my whole career.”

TS:

Well, it sounds like—

NC:

I guess Lynn was ready.

TS:

You had worked on her for, what, four years?

NC:

Four years. Four years.

TS:

Did they give you any kind of bonus for that?

NC:

She went—No. In fact, that's the other story. She outranks me. Can you believe that? In retirement. That's another long story.

TS:

What did you both retire at?

NC:

I retired as a lieutenant colonel. She retired as a full colonel. And it's because she couldn't get into the regular army like I did and there was an old system called ROPA. It's called Reserve Officer—whatever PA is [Personnel Act]—and she couldn't go into regular army because she couldn't meet the two regulations. She was too old to be a lieutenant, and she didn't have enough service time to be a captain in regular army, so she couldn't go. Because she was a captain, she was brought into the army as a captain because of having ten years—well, twelve years, I guess, of nursing, got credit for that. So that ROPA system, when she was on active duty, she was getting promoted as you went up the line there. And this others system, ROPA, the reserve system, was promoting her, too. And when her twenty years was up, she was a lieutenant colonel, as was I. Both operating room supervisors. I retired as a—That was the only operating room supervisor job I had in the army and it was the only operating room supervisor job that she had in the army was the last assignment. And when she retired, she was a lieutenant colonel, but that ROPA rank system surpassed her active duty promotions and she retired as a full colonel.

I tried to get half her—split the additional salary with her [chuckles] for that time, but it didn't work. But isn't that an interesting story, because our careers paralleled pretty good when you think of the nursing school. We both ended up with our master's. She subsequently had gone to—what's the school in Washington, D.C.?—Catholic University for her master's. So we both had master's degrees. We were both operating room. We both had recruiting. We both had Vietnam tour of duty. In fact, our tours overlapped. We each had teaching jobs. She was with the enlisted branch of the technician in the army for operating room, and I taught the nurse's operating room. And then our last assignment was not a medical center but what they call the station hospitals. Mine was Fort Benning, Georgia, and hers was in Kentucky. I'm trying to think.

CB:

Campbell?

NC:

Campbell. Fort Campbell. There you go. Thanks, Cheryl. Yeah, Fort Campbell. So when you look at the parallels, age, educational system the same, it's really a good clear-cut picture of the inequities within the system. That isn't in there anymore now. And I'm happy for her.

TS:

She doesn't remind you about it too much, does she?

NC:

No, no, no.

[End of CD 1—Begin CD 2]

TS:

Well, when you did decide to go to the nurse's corps, Army Nurse Corps, what did your parents think about that?

NC:

They were very supportive and very happy. They always subscribed to whatever we wanted to do to enhance our career, or, you know, for working, et cetera. So mom and dad were very proud, very proud.

TS:

Did your father serve in the military at all?

NC:

World War I, he was in the army. What's interesting, our whole family was navy. My brother was in the navy. All our cousins in World War II were navy. However, Dad's brother, Uncle Al, was in the army and Dad was in the army in World War I as a cook. I think that stood him in good stead, too, during your Depression times, et cetera. Dad cooked all the—Oh, he was a wonderful cook. When it came Sunday dinner, Mom would take us to church and Dad would stay home and be cooking the roast beef for dinner. Made wonderful soups. Where were we again? Where were we? I got lost.

TS:

No, you're not lost. You're not lost. Well, you were—I was asking you how your parents felt about how you went in—when you went into the service.

NC:

The interesting thing, Therese, was when Lynn came to Letterman on her guaranteed assignment, she came in February of 1965, and by August she was picked up to go to Vietnam. She beat me overseas. I was doing graduate study, as I said, at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, so she did in fact beat me overseas by six months. I was slated to go to Korea when I finished my graduate studies out in California. The motto of the Army Nurse Corps at that time was, “Conserve the fighting strength.” Now it's, “Proud to care,” to get rid of that aggressive aspect of military, et cetera. But at that time, “Conserve the fighting strength.” And I thought, “What am I going to Korea for? Part of my mission is to take care of the military, and I'm on active duty and that's where I should be, and I want to be, in and I want to be with my twin if I can.” Whatever. Now the reason I wasn't assigned at the same time—remember the old Sullivan, during World War II, the Sullivan boys? There were four of them in the navy, and they were on the same ship, and it went down. So there was, I'm sure, some kind of a regulation that precluded military immediate family members being stationed together in a hostile area.

So what I did is I wanted to go, and they were building—You know, we were going from advisory capacity to actually supplying troops to Vietnam for combat, and when you build up the fighting strength within a hostile area, the hospital support goes along. During that period of time, we went from one hospital to twenty hospitals. Well, you have to have nurses for this. So we were starting to exchange, in the middle of this thing, about eight-hundred nurses annually to supply those twenty hospitals as they built. So they were just starting to build, in '65, that corps. Lynn was with the 3rd Surg[ical] Hospital. So I took some time from school—I was able to get some time off—and went and spoke to Mom and Dad about it.

And they said, “If that's what you want to do, Nancy, we're all for you.”

And I said, “Well, we'll have to go to Washington, D.C.,” I said, “because I think I'm slated for Korea and they won't assign us. They want to see my parents.”

So my parents and I went to Washington, D.C. and spoke with the procurement Army Nurse Corps officers that were in Washington, D.C. And they asked Mom and Dad how they felt about it and they said, “Whatever Nancy wants to do, we're for it.” And so my orders got changed. And in six months—that's when my schooling was over—then I had orders for Vietnam. And that's how Lynn and my tour overlapped by six months.

TS:

Now, where were you sent when you went to Vietnam?

NC:

I was sent to 3rd Field Hospital right outside of Saigon, Tan Son Nhut Air Base. I just—It was within city limits, though, a renovated school building. And we were in white uniform. We were called the Walter Reed of Vietnam. White duty uniforms, white shoes and stockings and the cap. We still had caps then.

TS:

In what year is this?

NC:

It was 1966, February. My tour was February of '66. February 15, I remember it so vividly, until February 15 of 1967. And—

TS:

And your sister was over there?

NC:

She was over there.

TS:

Where was she stationed?

NC:

She was at 3rd Surg Hospital in Bien Hoa, which was out in the boonies, I don't know, I want to say maybe fifty miles outside of Saigon. She was on, I want to call it—I want to say Da Nang [Dong Nai] River but that doesn't sound right. There was a river there because I remember her talking about that they were under tentage. The [Army] Corps of Engineers had built concrete slabs for them to pitch their tents, and they were receiving wounded within ten minutes from across the river. The fighting was right across the river. That's why we saved so many with limbs. They weren't out there in the jungles and the dirt and grime to have their wounds become infected, et cetera. When you—that dust off helicopter, they had a helipad and we were receiving wounded within ten minutes of injury and go right to the operating room. And that's why you—So she was there.

Anyway, I went by Pan-American [World Airways]. I was the only female on the plane. All the rest was—now this was GIs because it was—The government contracted with civilian airlines to transport troops. So I flew in into Tan Son Nhut Air Base on a Saturday, and my twin was going to meet me with two air boys, jet pilots, who she was dating out in Bien Hoa, so I could meet this—I think his name was Charlie. Neat guys. And they were supposed to meet me at Tan Son Nhut airport. Boy, this was great. Well, they had it all planned. The only thing is—now here you have air force people—I've got to get this in, Therese—two air boys and my twin, and they forgot to check arrival times, et cetera, and they were late. They had a bouquet of flowers, you know, to give to me, and some candy or something, but they never met me.

And when I got off that plane and all Vietnamese people and the foreign language—there were some military around—but I stood there in the airport—I literally have to say this—it's like a light bulb went on. And I said, “What the hell am I doing here?” That's the shockwave that I had that this is real. It would have, I'm sure, been entirely different if my twin had met me at that airport with those two flyboys. But all of a sudden I was all alone, not really that new to the army—I mean old to the army. My only experience was the Cuban crisis. Okay? There's no way to teach combat. I certainly felt very confident with all of the experience in civilian world. Asbury Park, New Jersey, was loaded with gun fights and knifings, you know, from that time, so [with] that experience I knew I was an asset. I'll be a little—you got to give me a word for it—I knew they were getting the best. How can I say that, Therese?

TS:

I think you just did, Nancy.

NC:

There was no doubt in my mind that I could do the job, which is another aspect when you think of the young nurses coming out of nurse's training, the lieutenants that went over there and with your traumatic stress syndrome. This was not stressful for me. It was devastating, you know, the wounds, et cetera, but I didn't have that sense of threat that I couldn't do the job. Was I doing the job of saving them? No. So does that help you to understand a little in relation to our younger troops? Look what's happening today when you look at Iraq and those young—It's the same thing. It gets me right here. I'm touching the old heart when I think of those young troops that are over in Afghanistan and Iraq. And it has forever been.

TS:

Was it what you expected when you got to Vietnam?

NC:

I really didn't know what to expect. I just, you know, my—I had never been to a foreign country that I can remember. No. It was my first time out of the United States that I can remember because I didn't go to Europe until 1969. Yes, that was—so that's the shockwave of all of a sudden—I didn't feel threatened. I just all of a sudden—well, I don't know how to put it—it's like you're alone but not alone, because there's nothing like the military to take care of the military. Because I immediately—as soon as that shockwave got off, there were some people there that spoke some English or, you know, I got hooked up with some military and was able to let them know where I was going. And what's interesting, too, being an officer, nurse, female, I think there's an automatic camaraderie there that the guys take care of you. There looking after you. And I remember feeling then, all of a sudden, such the beginning of a secure feeling, which is interesting because it carried over to my whole tour and even when I got back to the United States and was in North—in my home in North Brunswick Township with my parents and the race riots were going on in the United States and had traversed from California across, and they were in Newark, New Jersey, twenty-five miles from my home and coming over the television were gunshot wounds—gunshots.

And I said, “Mom, what's that?”

She says, “They're having riots in Newark, New Jersey.”

And I said, “Boy, Mom, I'm not going anywhere near that place.” And that's only twenty-five miles. I says, “Mom, I was safer in Vietnam.”

I don't know how much that eased her, but that was the impact that I thought, “Oh, my gosh, within our own country.”

And that's because I was within a compound. We had military police, plus Vietnamese police. We called them white mice, They were little guys in white uniforms. And felt very, very secure.

TS:

Could you des—

NC:

So it's a—

TS:

Go ahead.

NC:

It's just kind of paradoxical, isn't it? If that's a good word for it.

TS:

That you're safer in Vietnam than in New Jersey?

NC:

Yes, at that particular time. I would not go into Newark, New Jersey, to go to the restaurant. I'd go to downtown Saigon. And I had me some nice food in downtown Saigon in a hostile country.

TS:

What did—did you—was there any sense—You were there in '66 and you were in Vietnam. Was there any turmoil going on about the war at that time before you left, or was there any?

NC:

No, I think it was just starting to take its turn.

TS:

What was your feeling about the war at that time? [NC coughs]

NC:

You know, it's kind of interesting, Therese. You're so—I was so taken up with my work and working hard, and after duty hours developing a procedure manual for the hospital. I was a good candidate for that because that's another interesting crossover. While I was doing my undergraduate study at Teachers College, during the summer I didn't have any courses, see. I was just six months—Well, they gave the summer period off. It was a semester-type thing for those two projects of public health and the cancer institute that—I lost my trend of thought. Where was I?

TS:

We were talking about the attitudes at the time, and you said that it had started and you were doing the manual in your off time and that summer job that summer helped you.

NC:

Oh, yes, the summer job. What they did, because I was in the army, they sent me to Fort Jay. And this is a funny story in itself. Hadn't been to basic, knew nothing about the army, didn't even have uniforms, so they supplied me with nurse's uniforms, white uniforms and the cap, and taught me how to salute. And that was army headquarters. I was given a directive—I still remember Edie Moe, our chief nurse.

She says, “Now, Lieutenant Christ, whatever you do, you go directly to the hospital and then you come directly back to the quarters and get into civilian clothing.” She says, “This is army headquarters and all the brass is here, and we don't want you to get into trouble not knowing who to salute or what to do.”

But my assignment at that hospital was to develop their procedural manual for nurses, which was a 100 percent wonderful experience because I got to converse with all the nurses on the floor, all your MSC [Medical Service Corps] officers who are the administrative people, and the different departments within the army medical facility there to develop this manual. For example, just to—what if somebody dies? What's the procedure? That's an example. How to write up a procedure. And then make a manual. I made it so it was flexible enough that you could take pages out and put pages in.

Now here's the real interesting thing, and you're going to get a charge out of this, Therese. The army—I had no army manual. I had no manual. I had nothing to work with, and I couldn't get a manual from Walter Reed. I couldn't get a manual from any place. Guess where I got my manuals? The navy and the air force. And those two procedural manuals I used as guidelines for me and developed the manual at Fort Jay, New Jersey, in nineteen—had to be '65. Isn't that fascinating?

So when I got to 3rd Field Hospital, which had been operational for several—a couple of—no, a little over a year, I guess, because we went into that capacity in sixty—I'd have to go back to the records as to when that hospital opened. Because the original hospital, in '62, was up in Nha Trang, and it was a field hospital. That was the army hospital in country. The navy had a dispensary down in Saigon. I would expect that the air force had stuff at Cam Ranh Bay. I'm not quite sure when that opened up for air evacuation. When these field hospitals open, when they open, I don't know where all their manuals come from, et cetera, but your chief nurses then tried to get functioning, working to have it meet as close as possible the surgeon general's, the IG, the Inspector General's rules and regulations, plus the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. And one of them is having a procedural manual. And so, besides my work, I got charged with this and had a little committee of other nurses. But I was basically doing the write-up. And we'd have meetings. So you say, “What did you do over there, Nance?” Well, that was where it was twenty-four hours a day.

TS:

Well, that's what I was going to ask you—

NC:

That type thing, see.

TS:

—if you could kind of describe getting up and then your day and then going to sleep. Can you do that?

NC:

Well, I was the assistant operating room supervisor there, so most of my work was day shift. The younger staff took the evenings. Well, you have to realize that we didn't really have—it would be like being on call type thing if something came in that had to be done. Because what happens is, in that situation, you can't wear out your anesthetists and your surgeons. 3rd Field Hospital was the only neuro[logical] center in Vietnam at that time, so we were receiving all of the head injuries. If that can be put into perspective, for example, Lynn's hospital, 3rd Surg, if they got a head injury, if they could stabilize the individual, they would be evac[uat]ed immediately to 3rd Field Hospital because we only had one. If you could think, he was the only neurosurgeon in country. Then, of course, as our evacuation hospitals came in, et cetera, then these hospitals had your full complex of specialized surgeons, okay? So we were the neuro center, so we were receiving the head injuries.

Which brings into focus—what's interesting, Therese, you've heard of triage? Patients get triaged. We only had what I would consider two flaps, and that was when they mortared Than Son Nhut Air Base and we got casualties from there and we triaged out on the grounds. And that's setting up who goes into surgery first, plus our emergency room which was right adjacent to the operating room. Then I would work in the emergency room there with the emergency room nurses doing the triaging, et cetera. And then as the surgeons were determining who best would survive, et cetera, would go to the operating room then we'd start to become functional and would weed ourselves into the operating rooms. Well, you can understand. What if we had a couple of head injuries? It's difficult—I did not get into the decision—making of who received surgery. This was your neurosurgeon, and you had to conserve his strength. And triage is based upon who is most apt to survive, yet is critical. Who can wait, who's most critical, and most likely to survive? Really, there's no way to describe that, is there? Now, I did not get into that decision-making process, so perhaps this is all part of protecting me from the post traumatic stress syndrome because we did not lose a patient in our operating room the whole year I was there. They all survived and went to recovery.

TS:

That's remarkable.

NC:

You see? And some of the wounds were pretty, pretty devastating. Lot of trauma. You know, amputees and the head injuries. Now if you only have one neurosurgeon, he can only work just so long. So he may do two cases. The individuals that would get caught up in what I look at as the stress area would be your nurses who were taking care of those who were put in a hold area as potentially not going to survive.

TS:

Is that what they called “the expectant?”

NC:

Expectant. See, and I didn't—so as an operating room nurse, we were protected—at the field hospital more so than my twin at the Surg hospital. My twin, she and I, we really didn't get into things until after we were together maybe fifteen or twenty years past that we even talked about our experiences, just because you didn't talk about it. [The surgical hospital] was where she would, as an operating room nurse, be able to go out on the wards in the evening when they weren't doing surgery. And she remembers mentoring this young lieutenant who was in the age grouping of your young men, helping her sort out, “Can she do the job?” and being very encouraging to her in that she could, and is still friends with that young lady today. She's president of our Retired Army Nurse Corps Association. A lot of crossovers, you know, that you meet up. So I don't know whether I answered your question or not.

TS:

Oh, sure, you're fine. Whatever you're telling me, Nancy, is just wonderful. But here is—

NC:

So I—You wanted to know what I did. So during the day I was in the operating room and we were working at taking care of the injuries that come in. Also took care of some Vietnamese that would be injured. Not many. They were usually out in the other hospitals. And then during the evenings, I would be working on this manual. And then the other times—

What's interesting, Therese, and people would be, I know, would say, “Was there drugs? Were there a lot of drugs?” They hear of the drugs and the drinking. I did not get involved in—Alcohol is a drug, but I didn't get into [illegal] drugs, per se, like our troops did. And to say that they didn't would be denying the whole aspect. But I did my share of drinking over there, but the army didn't teach me to drink. I did my share of drinking in the civilian community when I was drinking that can of beer back at my nursing school, you see. But it was more readily available. But when you can get a bottle of Drambuie, expensive cordial, isn't it? I was drinking Drambuie on the rocks because the bottle only cost two dollars and fifty cents! How much is it here? Fifteen, twenty dollars? [pause]

So that—a lot of hard playing, too. I think that goes part and parcel of really—Well, that's just like in life here. When I was here working in the hospitals, my evenings I was out dancing, going to the local hoedown out there in Plainfield, New Jersey, having a beer or two, and listening to country western music, and hipping it up.

So that—I received the Bronze Star, which is one of the awards that you can get only in hostile areas, as opposed to the Army Commendation Medal, and the air force has theirs. The Bronze Star—and your troops get it with Vs for valor and this type thing. And I feel that the reason for this was because of my above and beyond the call of duty of not just working in the operating room, but working in conjunction with the chief nurse and the staff and developing the manual, that's where it's called going above and beyond. Plus when you had the flaps and the—

TS:

The flaps?

NC:

Are you interested—

TS:

Flaps are like—

NC:

Flaps are the casualties coming in. That only occurred twice that I remember. And you know, that's what's interesting, too. We lived in fixed buildings next to the hospital that had a flat roof that you could go up on the roof. And, honestly, you know, when they were mortaring Than Son Nhut, we gals were up on that roof looking the mortars come in. Now, we weren't really given any direction like take cover, like if you have a tornado coming get in the bathroom and protect yourself. We were out watching the fireworks. And then what came to mind was, “Oh, we're going to get casualties from here,” because that's your basically a military base, even though it was an international airport. Lot of military over there. And that's exactly what happened. So that happened twice.

TS:

Well we should probably take a break.

NC:

Do you know it's ten [minutes] after 12 [pm]?

TS:

I know. I don't think we're done yet, though, Nancy.

[recording paused]

NC:

Okay, we're starting another segment with Nancy Christ. Go ahead, Nancy. You were talking about you can't remember the names of any of the patients.

TS:

Any of the patients from my whole year in Vietnam and working almost every day, so to speak. However, you have to realize that I was in an operating room, and therefore the contact was short time, as opposed to working every day with a service member who was in the hospital for several weeks or longer. But what says it so poignantly is this song [Til the White Dove Flies Alone] that was written for the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C., November 11, 1993, of which I was an attendee. And every time I hear this song or play it—I'm going to just read this first verse.

It says, “Here we are about to say goodbye, and I don't even know your name. But holding you the way I'm holding you, I know I'll never be the same. I'll press your hand against my face and whisper, 'I love you, too,' and talk of times and things back home as if I really knew. You were brave beyond your years with the heart of an eagle. You—yet the soul—yet the soul gentle as a dove and for the one you want—” no. “And for the one you wish were here, I'm crying every tear, and for tonight I'll be that one you love. So rest your head. Let my body be your pillow. Keeping wake, right here will I'll be. I'll share your pain through fire and rain, for part of you is now part of me. But if green pastures return to autumn, and the shepherd calls his own, I'll walk with you through the valley, til the white dove flies alone.”

And so beautiful because although I don't recall being with one of our service members when they left us so gallantly, I can picture that there would have been many army, navy, and air force personnel, medical personnel, that would share this. And it seems—I don't know how many would remember the names. I can sort of explain mine by the short time of being with them.

My twin, Lynn, she had closer contact because she went out to the wards and helped the other nurses, other army nurses, and therefore would see these individuals. In fact, she has a story of one of the fellows that she took care of at 3rd Surg. She said to him—I forgot what his name was. She said, “Now, if you happen to—I know you're going back out there again. If you happen to get wounded or whatever, don't come—tell them not to take you to 3rd Surg in that dust off.” She said, “You tell them to bring you right to 3rd Field Hospital because there are army nurses there now.”

And do you know he did get wounded again and that's exactly what he did? He told the helicopter pilot, “Any chance of me getting to 3rd Field?” And Linda [Lynn] saw him again. I mean, now these—See, I don't really have that poignant of a story, but it has to do with how much you get involved with each other and the service people, the wounded personnel, when you're taking care of them. It's kind of interesting. So Linda's experience—I think if you talk to anyone just like yourselves, that you have different stories. Different shared—different—

TS:

One of the women I talked to recently said she knew the men by their nicknames, and so it made it hard to know if they were on the [Vietnam Veteran's Memorial] wall or not because she didn't—you know, looking at the wall, there wasn't a “Red” or a “Cowboy” or a—

NC:

There you go. Yes.

TS:

I thought that was very interesting.

NC:

Yes.

TS:

So while you were in Vietnam, do you have any particular memories of the Vietnamese people that you'd like to share?

NC:

Several come immediately to my mind. The one is Little Miss Hoa. She spelled her name H-o-a, and she worked in our operating room helping to package our supplies and instruments, et cetera. Just a beautiful young girl. She was originally from North Vietnam but now in South Vietnam. Spoke three languages: French, English, and Vietnamese. I was so envious, me being a unilingual, you know. She ended up marrying one of our operating room techs and is now in the country, and I think she is either in Missouri or something like this. So just working hard with her every day and her being there, it was so hard to feel that you were in this war torn country. It's just indescribable, you know. I don't know. So with all the carnage that went on, you have these beautiful memories that just stay with you, and, if anything, just makes me more appreciative of what I do have as an American. The liberty, the freedoms, how so much we take for granted and how much an experience like this has broadened and fulfilled my life more than I can even express. So that was—that was on a daily—just a daily exposure.

We had Vietnamese women as maids within our quarters and they did our laundry, et cetera. And when my sister came to 3rd Field Hospital after six months in Bien Hoa at 3rd Surg—The reason she got moved was because that hospital was mobile unit and had been under tentage and was going to another area in the country, and they wanted to make it an all-male unit so that they didn't have to be concerned about female facilities. So they farmed all the female nurses out to different hospitals, army hospitals in country, and that's how we got together, living in the same quarters, working in the same operating room, just like it was all home week.

She had a shirt that was her favorite. It was a short-sleeved shirt, and the sleeve was torn from the shoulder down to the cuff of the shirt sleeve, but that was character! And she had this little Vietnamese woman rather frustrated because the Vietnamese woman wanted to sew it up. And Lynn says, “Oh, no.” And there's the saying, “Number one is wonderful. Number ten is [makes a noise] down.” And so the communication with my twin and this Vietnamese woman was Lynn would show the shirt sleeve and say, “Number one.”

And the little Vietnamese woman would go, “Number ten,” and she'd want to sew it up. She never did sew it up. She honored Lynn's “number one.” [laughs]

But these are the things that—I guess it isn't any too much different than Fred Yeager that you met at lunch today who's the World War II veteran, colonel, retired army, who was a three and a half year POW [prisoner of war] of the Japanese, who survived in the camp—that you just make the best of what's the—you just remember the good stuff. I don't know whether that was the exact point I was going to make. I might have lost my trend of thought there.

But when we were talking about the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese people, I was very fortunate—to show you how small the world is—friends of our family here in the United States who used to live next door, she and her husband sponsored a Vietnamese child from one of the orphanages through one of the programs that our country had and probably still has going now. And it was amazing. I was able to go visit that orphanage, meet that little girl, and take some material to her so that her mother could make her dress, et cetera. But I don't remember the little girl's name or any—But to have this kind of a contact so that I was able to write back to Evelyn and her husband, “I met your little adopted Vietnamese child.” I mean, that goes to show how small our world is when you really—you know, amongst all this hostility and the main reason for being there, to have so much other stuff encompassing your life at this time. It's kind of wonderful, isn't it? You don't want war but look how it brings you together, too. I don't know whether you want to call that an irony? Is it?

TS:

I think it probably is, yes. With your sister at the same place—the activities that you guys did in nursing school was sometimes a little rambunctious—did you have any kind of fun together in Vietnam as well, or was that a different climate for that?

NC:

What was interesting, I don't remember doing hardly anything with my twin, because I palled around with one of the other OR nurses, one of the lieutenants, and we would date the Aussies [Australians] and hitch a ride with them up to Da Lat. We went up to Da Lat one time on a weekend. It was just like hitching a ride. It was amazing.

At that time—you have to remember that '66, the war—the Tet Offensive hadn't taken place, and the freedom to travel in country was easier. And then when that Tet Offensive came, things tightened up and you weren't able to—[phone rings].

[recording paused]

NC:

So where was I?

CB:

You were going around the country much easier.

NC:

Yes, and so anyway, how much did I do with my twin? Very little, because she was doing her thing. Number one, it's kind of interesting. I was her boss. She was in the operating room and I was the assistant operating room supervisor and she was staff. So here I was my sister's boss. And so by virtue of the positions, we had different jobs to do within the operating room. She was more with the staff and functioning as such. We didn't have any problem at all. But if she was on duty the same time as me, or maybe not, because she would be taking call and working weekends and things like that that I didn't get involved with because I was in the supervisory capacity. So although we were together—

Now, I never opened my trunk, you know these foot lockers, because I wore her clothes. And when she went home she left her foot locker with me and said, “Bring it home with you.” [chuckles] Because I never had to open—[pause]

We went to a party one time. Now, I don't remember her being there, but it was with the Aussies. And, of course, we have the old Saigon River there, and the Aussies, I don't know where they'd get a speedboat and water skis. [coughs] But we—Now, when I was in Florida, living in Florida, I tried to get up on water skis and I couldn't get up for the life of me. But I tried out there on the Saigon River on skis that really didn't quite fit, but of course—have you ever had an Australian beer? That's pretty potent stuff. I probably shouldn't have been out there on that rivet. And after I swallowed half the Saigon River, I decided I'd better get back in the boat because no way am I going to get up on these skis.

Now, the interesting part about this, the VC [Viet Cong] were on the other side of the river, but that never seemed to occur to me that I shouldn't be out there playing around. We were with the Aussies, and they are great! And we were just having a day of fun together.

TS:

Did you ever feel like you were in danger while you were in Vietnam?

NC:

Not really. I didn't have enough sense, I guess. I was still too young. It reminds you of youth that can climb a mountain and not know the perils of it, even though I was in my early thirties. Maybe it has to do with my whole adventuresome nature of just willing to try anything, even back in the States. If somebody says, “Well, you want to—.” For example, at Letterman, I wanted to learn to parachute jump, and they had a parachute club at Letterman that was run by sergeants there. And this other lieutenant in the operating room and I wanted to try it out. Well, while we were going through the training program and everything, Karen would always say, “You first, Nance. You first. Okay, you try that first.” So that this seems to be the story of my life, that I would go ahead and try it out. And so when it comes to things like this—to get back to your question, Was I ever afraid—I went to the, I think it was the 12th Evac[uation] Hospital to visit a friend up there. I forgot how I got up there now. You can hitch a ride pretty readily if somebody's going there, helicopter pilots of whatever. And as I said, in '66 you could still venture out pretty freely.

And when I got there and was visiting, they had what was called a possible attack, and it's called “incoming fire.” It was word [to] get under cover, and they had bunkers. Well, somebody gave me a flak jacket—which I did have one of my own at 3rd Field, never even put it on or anything, and a helmet, and went into this bunker. Having never heard “incoming,” other than when I spoke about when Than Son Nhut was mortared and I thought it was Fourth of July, you know, with the incoming rounds, not really—just knowing you were going to get casualties, but not putting into perspective that one of those rounds could get misfired some place and hit the hospital. [It] never occurred to me. So being that I wasn't used to this and didn't train for it, here I am a visitor at a hospital that did have some. It's like having fire drills or something like this. Well, we never had this at 3rd Field Hospital as a renovated school building in the city like they did out in the boonies. These hospitals and they personnel were subject to possible in-fire coming in, so they would have what I would call like fire drills to prepare you for it. So when we got in the bunker, I really wasn't afraid because I didn't know what to expect anyway. And somebody kept a guitar in there to try to pass the time away, so we sang songs. And all of a sudden it was over, and out the bunker we went back into the hooch [dwelling].

So I just don't know how to say other than, no. I cannot put my finger on at any time where I felt my life was endangered or that I was frightened except that one thing I said when I got off the plane and everything was so foreign and I was all alone, just to say, “What the hell am I doing here?”—the shock of it, then that was over. Then it all fell back into place, and my next real thought of fear was Newark, New Jersey, the gunshots coming over the television. Even though I heard some—I don't know whether it was gunshots or whether it was the backfire of some vehicle out on the street. So I feel very fortunate that I—That's what's interesting—and it's wonderful talking to two ex-military people, too—is that when I get with veterans, they enjoy talking with me. They want to share. There's something about a nurse. You're just part of them. They want to—they feel they can share. “I want to share.” But for me to say, “I know what you went through,” no. But they don't know this, but some have. Some that—some nurses, but not me. But I can certainly—It's like, how can you fathom 9/11 [September 11, 2001] and those towers going down in New York, and be standing on the New Jersey side and looking at your neighbors? I mean, I just can't.

TS:

Was there anything in particularly hard emotionally for you while you were in Vietnam, that you know that at the time you were thinking about it?

NC:

No, I really can't come up with—and perhaps that's all part of why there is no post-traumatic syndrome. The drinking? I had a drinking problem, but I had a drinking problem before I even went in the army but didn't realize it. I mean, for me to say, “Well, the army, you know, the military, they don't want to own up to—.” It's like they have their clubs and they encourage you. In fact, when I—I don't know. When you were on active duty, were you encouraged to support your officer's clubs or your enlisted clubs and go?

TS:

Yes, yes.

NC:

So for the military to say, “Oh, no. There's no drinking problem.” This is hogwash. It's all over. It's all over the world. Our country is full of individuals with drug problems of one kind or another, and alcohol is certainly one of them. Now, I didn't have the most severe problems that you want to speak in terms of not being able to perform at work because I curbed it enough. In other words, I never went to work drunk where I would feel that I would be a hazard, because I'm sure with that eventually I would have been picked up for it. I would have been counseled and everything else. However, it's like saying, “Well, Nance, have you ever had a DUI [driving under the influence citation]?” Even in the United States here. No, but I should have had on quite a few occasions that I had too much to drink that I wasn't really totally in a responsible pos[ition], you know, a responsible person. So that—

Now, I'll tell this story but it's with trepidation, because it has to do with—Let's see. How should I put this? The chief nurse of the Vietnam theatre [of operations] came to visit. Now, see, I'm sure this could be easily investigated when you put the times together as to who our chief of the Vietnam theatre nurse was at that time. But she stayed in our hooch as visiting because it was her responsibility, one of the many, many hats that she wore, to meet the new nurses coming in to Than Son Nhut when they were going to come into country and then go to wherever their assignment station was and go elsewhere.

Well, she was quite a party gal, too, as was I, and we tipsied quite a few. And all of a sudden, she got a call at two o'clock in the morning that the plane had come in or whatever.

And she says, “Well, Lieutenant, I have to go.” I don't know whether she said “Lieutenant” or “Nancy” at that point in time. But “You can stay here. I may be back and I may not.”

Now, I lived right across the hall. But by this time, I had had sufficient that with nobody there to talk with, I fell asleep. Well, I didn't wake up the next morning because I didn't have an alarm. She had never returned because she got involved with the meeting of new troops and stuff like this. And all of a sudden I hear this rap on the screen door of the hooch part. And here it is one of the operating room staff whom I knew very well, Becky Brandon, saying, “Hey, Nance. It's past time that you're supposed to go to work. I knew where to find you. When the boss wanted to know where you were, I said, 'I'll go get her.'”

And so Becky put me in the shower. That was enough to wake me up enough and get me going. And when I got over to the operating room and faced my immediate boss, Major Kerr, Julia Kerr, wonderful person, I just looked at her and said, “No excuse, ma'am. It will not happen again.” And it didn't. However, it let me aware enough, at any time, even in our civilian lives here, of individuals who have drug problems, et cetera; there are many who need help. And I was one of the fortunate ones that was wise enough, still imbibed, but it didn't happen again because I knew what was on the line. I don't know what it was.

But over the years, it got to the point where my body wasn't handling it as well and my disposition changed. I didn't have the fall down drunk type stuff, but I would say things that would hurt people. Didn't like what I—didn't like myself. And so I did go for counseling, AA [Alcoholics Anonymous]. I had my little chips.

And it certainly wasn't the military, because I had been drinking the ten years before I went in the military, as I spoke with you, starting with my—Well, I really started with one little beer at home in one of these little German mugs like this because my dad would have a beer now and then and, of course, we wanted to sip the beer.

Now how did we get on that? I mean, boy, do I ramble on. But it gives an—It just lets you know where I'm at in today's world. So anyway, I didn't have anything to drink since 1991 up until about 2003. And one of our residents was celebrating her one-hundredth birthday over in the auditorium and they had champagne. And I thought, “I'm not going to go to this party and celebrate Pearl—Hannah Pearlstein's[?] one-hundredth birthday and not tip a glass of champagne.” So occasionally, I will have a glass of wine now, but I don't keep it in the house. So I think—although when you go to AA and you say—You're expected, eventually, to be able to say “I'm an alcoholic.” I can say I'm an alcoholic. My personal feeling is it's kind of a harsh thing to place upon individuals when you think of the negative connotation that it has in society like mental illness, et cetera, that I would rather talk in terms of having a drinking problem or an alcohol problem. Because my thought processes are, how do we get teenage alcoholics? You know, really that have problems. I think there's chemical dependency and there's gradations of it. I have to be very thankful. What I am is very thankful, that apparently my chemical dependence isn't as strong as those that can't give it up.

Because I smoked at one time. I gave it up when I had my mastectomy in 1988, just cold turkey. But that wasn't as difficult to do as the drinking, because the only time I smoked was when I was drinking and out at parties or something like this. [I] didn't smoke in the operating room. I might go out and have a cigarette. So most of my smoking was out in the evening when I was socializing and was never the type of individual that as soon as I rolled over in bed, before I got out of bed, pulled that cigarette out of the pack and lit it up. Those are rough, rough addictions. They are addictions. Alcohol's an addiction. The nicotine—whatever. So I'm very grateful that I didn't end up in the gutter, so to speak, where so many do. And that's such a tragedy, and you know it's in our world all the time.

Now how did we get—Oh, it had to do with me having a party with the chief nurse of the theatre, and not making it to work on time. And it never happened again. So it was once. And I'm sure if it did, these are when you get into your disciplinary situations. Does that—Boy, did we wander on that one, Therese.

TS:

That was a good wander. Well, did you—

NC:

How's the sociologist doing here? How's it sounding, Cheryl? Fascinating, isn't it? Hey, are you in agreement with that alcohol business that it's more a chemical dependency as opposed to mental, social?

CB:

I think it's a combination. I think part of it's upbringing, but a big chunk of it is the way your body processes. And Therese and I have talked about it. I drank like a fish in the military. And, you know, I remember thinking, “I'm at the pinnacle. I'm at the edge here. If I don't stop, I'm not going to be able to.” And we had a lot of friends who went right over that precipice and were never able to come back. So if I have a beer or two now, people are like, “Wow, Cheryl's having a drink.” But I made the same kind of conscious decision that I have to be sharp and I have to be ready. But my grandmother was an alcoholic. I think my father had alcoholic tendencies. And so I knew that I had the makeup that if I didn't watch out and pull it back—so yeah, I think a lot of it is genetic.

NC:

Yes, yes. I do. Yeah.

CB:

And how your different backgrounds come together to figure out how your body's going to process it. So I'm partly Irish but partly Native American, who as a people don't process alcohol really well, traditionally.

NC:

There you go.

CB:

So I have to think about that.

TS:

I have to make a comment here for the transcriber—I should have done it at the beginning—that this is Cheryl Brown. She's also in the room. You heard her.

NC:

So did that—I don't remember the original question now, Therese.

TS:

Well, I think you actually answered it, because my original question was was there anything particularly emotionally hard? And you had said no, but you were talking about the situation that you had where you didn't quite make it to work on time, so yes.

NC:

I never felt threatened. I never—I was a firm believer in conduct yourself as a lady, an officer, and a woman—a lady, a soldier, an officer—and how'd that go, because I used it in recruiting—and you will automatically command respect. So that with this in mind, [I] never went too overboard. Well, I was career-oriented, too. And remember back then, if you became pregnant, you were out. So I didn't mess around.

TS:

At what point did you think that you wanted to make it a career?

NC:

[pause] Before I even went to Vietnam, when I had the experience of Letterman. I always did like to travel, although I didn't travel that much, but the [beautiful?] opposed to work. I was doing the same I was in the civilian community, operating room nursing, and to take care of the soldier and his family—and I say soldier because I'm army, but it's service member and his family—is a very rewarding experience. And I was doing the same thing in the military that I was doing in the civilian community, and never—It was a real sense of security because when you change jobs in the civilian world, your salary fluctuates, your longevity, tenure, and all this. Whereas with the military, it was a very secure position for me to be in the early thirties when I started to think, “Well, so far, not married, probably not going to walk down that aisle.” It just didn't seem for me. And therefore to be responsible and take care of myself, that was the organization itself. I felt very proud to be an army nurse and to serve my country. And still do today. And take care of those troopers. They're the best in the world. And the families. So my whole twenty years was just one rewarding experience after another.

So that's the—the good security. I recommend it for any young folk. You don't know what you want to do or even if you do know what you want to do, it wouldn't hurt you to serve. I still believe that.

TS:

Did your ideas change at all when you came back from Vietnam and saw some of the turmoil that was going on? Like in—you were talking about Newark, the riots there and the protests against the war and the cultural revolution, women's movement, and all those things that were happening. Did that have any kind of—What did you think about all of that?

NC:

Well, Therese, it was very short-lived because for some reason, when you get involved in your work and doing for others, then you're so involved there that you can't sit and dwell on that. You just move on. And therefore, by me going on recruiting duty, then I focused on the need for army nurses. We were still involved and going to be involved. You know, the worse hadn't happened yet and we needed nurses. And I knew it was a wonderful place to be. And whatever you were going to be, it was up to you. It wasn't unusual there, in that coal mining area of Pennsylvania, et cetera—and we talked about this at one time at dinner or whatever—was, “Oh, you don't want to go in the army—you know, you'll go bad,” or, you know, it's bad morally.

TS:

For women.

NC:

For women, for women. And of course, nursing was predominantly women in the sixties. Males had come in, but we didn't have that many in the Army Nurse Corps yet. In that area of Pennsylvania, there were folks that said to their daughters, “No, I don't want you to go in the army, you know, you'll turn—.” And so I had, on several occasions, the young lady would say—and I'm glad most of the time it was in front of the whole class that I was presenting to—said, “I understand that when you go in there, you go bad.”

I just looked at the individual and I said, “Oh.” I said, “Just listen very carefully.” And this is when I go back to. I said, “You're in a wonderful program here and you're in a wonderful profession, and your school is just great, and your parents, what they have taught you—,” et cetera. I said, “When you go in the military, you can be an officer,” I said, “and you're a lady.” I said, “Conduct yourself as a lady and an officer and you will automatically command respect.”

I keep that going because you put the monkey back on their shoulders that it's really up to them. Whole new ballgame for them. They had, really, you know—They needed something there, probably, to have a little rebuttal to the parents and let the parents know, “You're teaching me everything, so you should, you know, trust me. Trust me and let me into the service.”

[End of CD 2—Begin CD 3]

TS:

What years were you a recruiter? Do you remember?

NC:

Nineteen—as soon as I came back from Vietnam in February of '67 until the latter part of 1969. Two and a half years in central Pennsylvania. Wonderful assignment. And I didn't experience—this is the other thing, too, Therese. We hear the stories about our service members being spat upon, et cetera, when they came back. Really it was a disgraceful period for our American servicemen in relation to how they were treated by their fellow Americans. I never experienced this. Now, I really don't know how—I don't know how to explain that because when I came back, I didn't feel disgraced. I can't imagine that feeling that those troopers had to go through. I just—I can't even fathom that. I would abhor it if I saw it. So whether it was because of the line of work that I was in, and I was out in the civilian community and there to help in the civilian community, that it took on a whole new face as opposed to going to the camp and working like that, that I was really part of the civilian community. So I didn't experience it. In fact, you'd be surprised at how many, when I would gas up the army—I didn't have an army vehicle in the first few months. I had to use my own car—which I never did ever charge the government; I think I should have, putting mileage on my new Pontiac, red fire engine Pontiac that I bought when I came back from Vietnam. Boy, do I lose my track when I—What was I—?

TS:

You were saying that you didn't really have a negative experience from people because it was [unclear].

NC:

Oh, in fact, when I would stop to fill up the gasoline tank—Back then you had your gasoline station attendants. You didn't fill the tanks like you do now. I wonder when that came in, where you pumped your own gas? I'd like to get sort of a time frame on that, because there were always gasoline attendants and you'd start to chew the fat with them. And, of course, they knew I was military because I had my uniform on because I was visiting the schools. And it wasn't infrequent that these guys would come out and say, “Boy, I wish I'd have stayed in,” because they were out maybe ten years or more and struggling with the working and didn't have the security aspect that your military provided at that time of basically not too bad benefits. I think the government reneged in many ways, you know, when it came to health care and stuff like this. But in the long run, I really can't sneeze at what I have now in relation to what people are going through as far as security. I have Tri-Care for insurance, and it's not all that bad when it comes to me being able to get my medicines. A salary coming in since 1981. I mean, I'm very blessed. I've been out longer than I've been in. What, 1981? What are we talking, twenty-seven years now? [TS coughs] And I was only in twenty. So I say thank you for your taxes because you—Now, that ought to make you feel better about paying your taxes because here it is, you're paying my salary in my retirement.

TS:

Well, thank you, Nancy—

NC:

[chuckles] So I thank—

TS:

—for putting it in those terms for us.

NC:

Well, I thought maybe—of course, I'm paying taxes, too, so.

TS:

That's true.

NC:

Well, did you notice—were you ever—Did you ever feel or hear about any sort of sexual harassment of men towards women in the military at that time? I know they didn't really call it that then.

NC:

Personally, none for me. And I may just go back to, “Conduct yourself as a lady and an officer and you'll command respect.” Now, not to say that I didn't get myself in some, what do you want to call them? I want to use the right word. I don't want to look like a Puritan here that I didn't go to bed with one of the air boys. Well, let me give you an example. I dated an MP in Vietnam, full colonel—no, he was a light colonel. This is interesting, too, because my boss, Julie Kerr, who was the operating room supervisor, had just recently married—now, she had to be in her forties—to a military police officer, full colonel, who was in Vietnam with her, and she lived in a hooch some place with him. Well, I was dating one of his immediate subordinate—well, I want to call him assistants or something—within the MPs. Now, what's interesting is we would go out dining and dancing downtown Saigon, and then he'd bring me back to my hooch. Well, I think, basically, I don't—I'm from the old school where, first of all, married men—see you're going back to my upbringing—and not to be promiscuous even though these are the times when they're lonely and everything else. I just couldn't go with that type—well, you had—I didn't want to get pregnant and get out of the service. You have to realize that I was in my early thirties, so I had, hopefully, a little more discretion than if I was maybe eighteen, nineteen, twenty years old.

So anyway, we went to Vung Tau for the weekend, which was the army—or the military's R&R [rest and recuperation] center in country, and here we go. When we up to the desk at the hotel that was there, he looked at me and he said, “One room or two?”

I looked at him and I said, “Two.”

Now, I didn't have to answer to anything the rest of the weekend. That was basically how simple it was for—So when you get back to the harassment, it's all according to how much you put yourself in the position. Now, I'm not blaming, you know, when this stuff happens, and that it doesn't happen. I think it's unfortunate when it does. There's a lot of legitimate stuff out there where there's violation. But I never experienced it. And I'd have to say on a couple of occasions, perhaps, I was very fortunate. But it happens to be who I was.

I can give you an example when I was in the Cuban crisis. First lieutenant, new to the army, I could have been a little intimidated, you know. I had just gone to Letterman. I didn't know anything about the army. And so when I was there in Homestead under tentage, the nurses, they set up a little officer's club type thing. And the chaplain was out of Fort Bragg [North Carolina], and he knew this other army nurse quite well, Major Sims, the one that was my operating room nurse. But he took a liking to me, and we ended up in his tent. And let me tell you, you know, these usual stories that you get like, “Well, Nance, you know, we don't know what's going to happen with this Cuban crisis, this missile crisis, and maybe we should enjoy life a little.” And this was the Episcopal minister chaplain. Well, I guess maybe I should say I'm fortunate that I was with the chaplain because when I finally had a No [be] a No, it terminated there and everything was okay, but had I been in another situation, it might not have turned out as well. You know what I mean?

TS:

Yes.

NC:

So it's—Maybe we should talk in relation to circumstances. I tell you what I'd like to share with you, though, Therese, while we're on military. A lot of people talk in terms of being given orders and this type of thing. I know your enlisted ranks and your officer rank and whether you're medical or in armored division, you know, these different branches and different stuff. But what I want to get to is—and I don't know whether this was going to be a question—Did I ever have to give a direct order at any time in my career? No.

In Vietnam, I didn't give a direct order. The closest I came to direct order was a lieutenant that was in our operating room, and I can't remember her first name right off hand, but her last name was Ford, Lieutenant Ford. And when you think of, boy, did we have good nurses and corpsmen. This Lieutenant Ford had worked for Dr. [Michael E.] DeBakey in Texas, the renowned heart surgeon of the time. You heard of Cooley, Denton Cooley and DeBakey doing open heart surgery? She was their private scrub nurse, and we had her in our operating room. Now, you tell me we didn't have quality, you know? A neat gal, but young, certainly. She was middle-twenties.

And when we were—when we left our compound, other than going downtown—and you know we were off duty—to go to Vung Tau or something like this, you had to have a pass. And only so many people could be away from the compound at a particular time from each area, and the operating room was certainly a part of it. If there happened to be a mass disaster and all of us were out gallivanting, you know, we wouldn't be prepared to do the mission. So this other operating room nurse and I who palled around together, Kathy Mangold[?], neat gal, we were down in Vung Tau on a legal pass to be there for the weekend. And we were at the usual little night club that the troops went to, and we were sitting there with some fellows, and all of a sudden and I looked up and here at the bar was Lieutenant Ford, and she was a with a fly boy, a helicopter pilot. Wow! Now, she was not authorized to be away from the hospital. Certainly I had to do something as the OR's assistant supervisor, plus our mission and everything else. So I got up and I didn't have to introduce myself. Her eyes just bugged out, and the helicopter pilot that she was with was a captain. My rank at that time was only captain, but here I am, her immediate supervisor, and I just very nicely addressed and said, “Lieutenant Ford, you're not authorized to be away from the hospital, are you? Do you have papers?”

And she said, “No, ma'am.”

And the captain was sitting there at the chair. And I said, “You know we're not supposed to be away from the compound unless we have a pass because of the mission that we're here for, to take care of our servicemen?”

“Yes ma'am.” And this little captain, pilot's listening.

I said, “Do you have a way to immediately, right now, get back to Saigon and to the hospital?”

She took one look at that flyer, the captain, and the captain went, “Yes, ma'am, she does.”

And I said, “I suggest, strongly suggest, you go right now, and I'll see you in the office on Monday.”

And that was all that was said, all that was done. She went immediately back. And that was the only time that I, in my military career, where I had to exercise—

TS:

Authority?

NC:

Authority. Discipline. That Monday she was shaking in her boots when she came into my office, and, of course, I had written up a report. I did not share this with my immediate supervisor. I had it in the files and had no reason to use it or even to keep it after the tour of duty was over, as long as something didn't happen again. She was able to sign it, et cetera. And I said, “This is going nowhere unless some other incident occurs.” Nothing happened thereafter, so it was all handled, so that was the end of it. But it was like, you know, that CYA [cover your ass] business. Well, it was appropriate, you know. She was—I could really, you know, some mean person would really read them the riot act, particularly if you're in a hostile zone and stuff like that. Subsequently, I found—and I don't know who told me—but I understand that she committed suicide when she got back to the States about a year later or something like that. I don't have any details on it, and I don't know how accurate that is, so that's just—I guess you want to just call it scuttlebutt. But I didn't experience any serious problems with her at all, or that she would be having any, you know, so I don't know anything about that. But I that's an inter[esting]—I think it's pretty good to go back on twenty years and all the people worked with, et cetera. I think it speaks well for the organization and the people.

TS:

Sure. Sure does.

NC:

They're pretty dang good.

TS:

Yes. Well let's—that's a good segue to a question I was going to ask you about any—how you feel about—Did the military influence your life? I mean, you were thirty—what did we say, thirty-three, thirty-two when you went in? So you'd already matured when you went in. You didn't have all that young experience in the military, but you did—you served twenty years. So would you say that it had an influence on your life from that point, or when you look back on it now?

NC:

I just have to think in terms that it enhanced it. Disciplined more. I have no doubt it made me a more responsible person because I had individuals under my wings to develop, had a big responsibility. So if anything, it really enhanced my life and made me a more responsible person. I think it all really started way back in Girl Scouts, you know, when I said, “Do a good turn daily,” and this type of thing that we learned. I certainly have to attribute all that I am today. This may sound very whatever you want to call this—my mother and older sister. I kid my older sister all of the time. Everything that's good in me I learned from my older sister. Anything that you see that's bad is all mine. [laughter]

It was a wonderful career. It is. And very diversified when you come down to it. Some person may not fare as well if they get thrown into—sometimes you wonder if it's Peter's Principle [“In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence”] working, that you're put into something—“Geez, am I prepared for this? Am I prepared?” I don't know how you ever get prepared for much of anything. It's all learning as you go along. And if you're an individual—I wonder how you look at this, Cheryl—that doesn't adjust very well or seems to have to be more or less toned in one way, the service could certainly throw you big curves.

CB:

Well, yeah.

NC:

Because it's, “Do more with less.” I often said, I think the reason that we win our wars—I don't know about Iraq right now; I'm hoping and praying all goes well—is, if we don't know what we're doing, then how in the world does the enemy know? That's just a little—you know, when I think in terms of my experience that three weeks in Florida for the Cuban crisis, and that chest team never arriving at the hospital for three weeks. Well, That was to confuse the enemy, I think. And we arrived before all the equipment, and Avis and Hertz rental. Anyone that was there vacationing couldn't get a Hertz or an Avis rental because the army had them all. It's amazing how when the government moves in like that and in this crisis, how it can change a community drastically, encompass it pretty rapidly. Do you think there's more? I could go on.

TS:

I have two questions for you. The second to last one is how would you define patriotism?

NC:

[long pause] That's not difficult for me, really. It's my life. I love my country. I have a responsibility to my country. [pause] I'm Christian. I believe God is the ultimate. Everything is in his/her hand, whatever you want to call it. And that patriotism is being true to yourself and to your country, to where you are. Believe in it, be responsible. I think that's probably the big part. Be a responsible citizen as best you can. Honor your flag. I don't think anyone can say it better than the military, “Duty, honor, country.” I believe in it firmly. I think we are so fortunate to be in the United States of America. We're very spoiled. [pause] I'll tell you, I really think that John F. Kennedy said it as best as I could probably say it now is, “Ask not what your country can do you, but what can you do for your country.” Be a responsible person. That's the patriotism. Love your country. And loving the country is certainly loving your fellow man. I don't think there's anything greater than that.

TS:

It goes back to your “Do a good deed every day.”

NC:

The upbringing. I often wondered—What just came through email now is that they're making a coin, a new American dollar, that does not have “In God We Trust” imprinted. You know, we go through change. I think if anything, my years that I'm broadening, broadening as opposed to a narrow line. For example, I do not subscribe to the American Legion's thrust that they have—and I'm a Legionnaire—about making it a criminal offense to desecrate the flag. So it's difficult to think in terms—I love my flag, and anyone that desecrates it, I think it is abominable. I don't like it. But to make it a criminal offense—first of all, I don't know how you litigate that at all or monitor it—but it is in contradiction to my view of the—is it our First Amendment? Freedom of speech. Freedom of actions. The flag is a symbol. It's a piece of material, et cetera. I don't know how you would litigate. What is desecrating? Just burning it? I often thought of what if some little kid had to use it for toilet paper—you know, when you get—That's putting it more in simple terms. What is desecrating the flag? And if anything I would turn my back on that person and say, “That's despicable. Maybe you would like to go back to your—Did you come from another country?” As opposed to making—I don't know what your stand is on it, but say I don't—That's the broadness of mine. If you litigate that, if you make that a criminal, if you make that a crime, then are we slowly eroding our First Amendment? Because what's next, what's next, what's next? So we have to be very careful. And that doesn't mean that I'm not patriotic. My way of handling that would just turn my back on whatever that behavior is, ignore it. Certainly behave myself as an honorable citizen.

TS:

Very good.

NC:

I certainly wouldn't get myself into trouble. I'd like to punch his lights out. [chuckling] But then that would be abuse or whatever.

TS:

Make it your own criminal act.

NC:

Make it my own criminal act. But you know these are some of the serious things that come up. Years ago—So if anything, I hope I'm getting a little wiser and broad in thinking. I'm reading a beautiful book here.

TS:

I saw that.

NC:

The Shia Revival [:How Conflicts with Islam Will Shape the Future by Vali Nasr]. To learn more about the Islam.

TS:

You've got another one over there that I saw.

NC:

Yeah. She is quite knowledgeable.

TS:

She's holding up a book that says Islam [:A Short History] by Karen Armstrong.

NC:

This is called staying up with the times as best you can.

TS:

That's true. Well, Nancy, you have a long career and many wonderful stories. I was just wondering if there's anything you'd like to add that—you know, there's many things that we haven't talked about—but anything in particular that you'd like to add that I haven't asked you about.

NC:

Sometime I would like to tell my whole story about what I did on Christmas Day of 1966 in Vietnam. I traipsed all over Vietnam waiting to hook up with my twin sister who was back in the States, because we were supposed to be on the Bob Hope Show in Vietnam. It got sanctioned by the recruiting command. See, we hadn't recruited at that time, but they were slating us for it, but we didn't know it. Well, I don't know whether I had an idea a little bit that I might be going on recruiting when I came back through the chief nurse out of Letterman. When I saw the chief nurse, Mildred Irene Clark, she addressed the possibility would I be disappointed if I were to receive orders to become a nurse counselor and recruit for the Army Nurse Corps. And I said, “Well, Colonel, I don't think I would exactly ask for that assignment, but I would not refuse it, and I would enjoy every minute of it and do my very best.” So I think the little feelers were out there. So you had twins, Army Nurse Corps, Vietnam veterans, and the Vietnam War's going on. What's more practicum? What's more of a nice recruiting pitch to have them out in the community recruiting young nurses for the Army Nurse Corps.

So it was sanctioned by the recruiting command for Linda to come over, and we were supposed to be on the Bob Hope Show, and she never arrived. It was supposed to be a secret. I wasn't supposed to tell Lynn, and Lynn wasn't supposed to tell me. It was supposed to be a surprise for each of us, so we didn't talk about it. But Lynn got all her shots and everything, and it got squelched, as far as we know, by a three star general in the Pentagon, and she was not permitted come overseas back into the theatre and be there on Christmas Day. But my chief nurse didn't know, my commander of the hospital didn't know, and Colonel Saunders, who was in charge of the whole Bob Hope troupes moving through Vietnam, didn't know. I didn't know.

And I traipsed all over Vietnam looking for my twin sister, and that is a story and a half. No orders. No nothing. Here I am in my little summer cord uniform, my purse and my gloves and pump heels, dog tags is all inside of my shirt. But the story would be—It would be something like if you saw it on M*A*S*H, you would say, “Oh, that's all fake.”

TS:

Well what happened? We're here to hear the story, Nancy.

NC:

I saw Colonel Saunders. I met him in Colonel Betts'[?] office, who was my chief nurse. And she said, “Now, this is top secret, Nancy. I don't even want you to talk to your supervisor about this.” And it had to do with—because of moving through country, Bob Hope moving around country, to protect him, et cetera. “But the arrangements are being made with your sister and for you to be on the Bob Hope Show. We don't know which one, whether when it's at 3rd Field here, or whether it's at the Big Red One [1st Infantry Division],” which was one of the destinations on Christmas Day. It was—“But we need you to prepare for it. Wear your summer cords,” and I got my directives. They said, “We'll have a driver ready, Vietnamese driver, and he'll take you over to the airport and you're to meet at the heliport at—at Than Son Knut airport,”—air base there, airport. “And when you go to the desk, all you're to give is your name, rank, and serial number, and they'll know what to do with you.”

I says, “Okay.”

So now I have to figure out—I had already planned to work Christmas Day in the operating room so that my younger staff could have the day off. So now, old Nance is unavailable to do that duty, and what was I going to tell—I forgot what I had to tell my immediate supervisor, because I couldn't tell Julie that I was going to be on the Bob Hope Show, and I had to be out of here in the morning with the Vietnamese driver, and I was going to meet my—No, no. I wasn't supposed to say any of this stuff. I also met two of the reporters at 3rd Field Hospital in Kitty Betts' office.

So anyway, it comes the day. I forget what I said to Julie, but I got off duty and somebody else got assigned to work that day. And so I get in the car and we're driving over to Than Son Nhut Air Base or airport, and I get on the grounds there, and all of a sudden I got this feeling that the Vietnamese driver didn't know where the heck the little heliport was, and I was trying to communicate with him, “Do you know where you're going?” or, “Dee, dee, duh,” whatever.

And I thought, “Oh, gosh, I'm going to be late,” because I'm supposed to be going out with the Bob Hope troupe from the airport. So in frustration—Well, no, I'm not frustrated yet. That comes with time. There's a jeep there by the side of the road or something with a captain sitting in it, so I tap the Vietnamese driver and I said, “Stop. Go there.”

So I got out of the car and I said, “Dee, dee”—that means “Go, go.” “You don't know where you're going. I've got to get to this heliport.” So I said to the captain, “Do you know where the hell—.” Well, before I dismissed the driver, I said to the captain, “Do you know where the heliport is here at Than Son Nhut?”

He says, “Well, yes, ma'am.”

I says, “Well, I'm supposed to be there.”

He said, “Well, hop in.”

So I dismissed the driver and hopped into the jeep. And so, you know, the jeep's open. This one didn't have a roof on either. [laughs] This one—were we supposed to—I didn't know I was supposed to be doing that while I was sitting in the—but anyway, he knew I was in a hurry, so he turned a little u-ey [u-turn] real fast, and at that I had my gloves on my lap and the gloves flew out of the jeep on to the ground. And Vietnamese people were living within the compounds of the airport grounds, and this little Vietnamese woman comes running out and picks up the glove and starts back to the house.

And this captain, I says, “Oh, there go my gloves.”

He stopped the jeep, got out, and he looked at the little Vietnamese woman, and he looked at those gloves. And so he took the gloves from the little Vietnamese woman, and, you know, bowed or whatever, and back to the jeep. And I waved to her, and he gave me my gloves. I mean, now wouldn't this sound like, honestly, something in M*A*S*H? So now I have my gloves. Lord have mercy. Don't let the army nurse show up on TV on Bob Hope Show not fully dressed, right?

So he got me to the heliport. And so, like I was told, I walked inside. And here there's a GI behind the counter, and standing up against the wall is this major with his arms crossed like this and he's in the jumpsuit, you know, pilot, helicopter type clothes, just standing there. So I walked up, and the little GI says, “Yes, ma'am. May I help you?”

And I says, “Yes, my name is Nancy Christ, N3110. Captain Nancy—Captain Nancy Christ, N3110.”

And he looked at me and he says, “Yes.”

And I said, “My name is Captain Nancy Christ, N3110.” That's a regular army number, by the way. Nurse three, one, one, oh [zero]. Nurse 3110.

And he looked. “Well,” he said, “are you going to the Cambodian border?”

And I said, “I don't think so.”

And he looked at me and he says, “Well, do you tap dance?”

And I says, “Well, I used to when I was younger. I took tap dancing lessons.” And now we're going nowhere. And all of a sudden in walks a GI and he says, “Okay, guys, everything's okay. The Bob Hope troupes are up.”

And I looked at him and I says, “They're up! I'm supposed to be on those [CH-47] Chinooks with the troupes.”

And the little corporal or whatever standing there, he says, “Well, why didn't you say so?”

I said, “I was given direct orders to give my name, rank, and serial number, and that you people would know what to do with me. I'm supposed to be with the Bob Hope troupes.”

So the major, he looks, he says, “Well,” he says, “I can give you a lift. We can go on the helicopter and go up to the Big Red One. And, you know, you can beat them to that, and you'll be in the vicinity.”

I said, “Can you really do that?”

He says, “Yeah, I need some flying time.”

So here I had my own helicopter. Can you imagine? I don't have any orders. All I got is my little uniform and my purse and my ID tags here and my gloves. I thought, well. So into the helicopter I go, and I got taken up to the Big Red One. Now he's not going to land—he's not going to stay around. So real loud he says, “You going to be okay?” Here's the helipad and it's sort of raised off the ground and there's an embankment to go down and then there's a little shed over there and there's a shed over there with a sedan.

And I nodded yes.

And he says, “Watch your head,” because he kept the blade going at a slow pace. So off I went, waved to him, and started across the pad. And then going down the slope, you know, when you're climbing mountains or hills or something, you go sideways. Oh. It had rained and all the rain came up and over my shoes and into my stockings, you know, and here I am. I get down to this little shed and there's one little GI there. And he looked at me and he says, “Good morning, ma'am.” He said, “Can I help you?”

I says, “Yes, I'm supposed to be with the Bob Hope troupes where they're having the show here at the Big Red One.” I said, “Can you get me there?”

He said, “Oh, yes, ma'am.” You know, he has this sedan. And he looked down at my shoes and he said, “Oh, you can't go on television like that.” He said, “Well, I'll clean them up.”

Now, I don't know what in the world he had. He had a shoeshine kit there in that little shed with him. Now, doesn't this all sound—boy, he polished my shoes for me as best he could with that mud and everything, took me in the car, and I went over to the Big Red One to where the Bob Hope stuff was. Well, when the sedan drove up, there were two buses sitting out there. There's a whole row of tanks. You could see the stage, the back stage, and people out in the audience. And so he let me out and I thanked him, and I knew, well, I guess the best thing for me is to go behind stage and see if I can meet Colonel Saunders or something and let him know I'm here, whatever. So I thanked the little fella, and I went to the back stage, and there was Colonel Saunders.

And he looked at me and he says, “Where have you been?”

And I said, “Too long a story.”

He says, “Where's your sister?”

I looked at him and I said, “I don't know. You don't know?”

He says, “No, I don't know.” He says, “Well, I'll tell you,” he says, “have you seen the Bob Hope Show?”

I said, “No, I it missed when it was in Saigon.”

He said, “Well,” he said, “you can go ahead out and sit in the audience and watch the show, and if you want to come back and have sodas or anything and sit with the crew back here, you know, feel free to do anything.” But he says, “When the show's over, you see that bus over there, those two buses over there?” He says, “I want you to go immediately to that bus, because that's where the Bob Hope troupes are going to the next destination.” They were going to go to another hospital for lunch and stuff like this, but I was supposed to stay with the troupes because now I'm back with Colonel Saunders and part of this troupe stuff, right?

So I said, “Yes sir.” So I thought, well, I'll go get myself a soda. And in there is Miss World at that time. Remember [actress] Joey Heatherton? She was there. Now I didn't see [singer] Anita Bryant there because I saw her on the Chinook, and I'll tell you about that. But I also met the army nurse that was traveling with the Bob Hope troupes to give them niceties like Cepacol if they started to feel a sore throat or something like this. And she was running out of supplies, and asked when we got back to 3rd Field Hospital would she be able to get some supplies from our hospital to take on the rest of the trip that she had to do with the Bob Hope.

I said, “Yes, that's fine. As soon as we got back,” I said, “you come right over to the hospital with me and I'll get anything that you need for your supplies.”

So being that that was done, then I went out and watched the show. And when the show was over, I, little obedient captain, there I went. I went right to the bus. Well, there was the driver, and he opened up the door and I said, “Are you going out to the heliport with Bob Hope troupes?”

He says, “Yes, ma'am.”

I says, “Well, I'm supposed to be on this bus according to Colonel Saunders.”

“Yes ma'am.”

So I got on the bus. Now here's how the brain's working. There was a cardboard box in one of the seats and all the weirdest things went through my mind. I thought, “I wonder if Lynn's in that box,” because see, Lynn hasn't shown up yet. [chuckles] So I'm sitting there and sitting there and all of a sudden I'm looking at the stage area, the back stage part and everything, and here goes a caravan of jeeps with the Bob Hope performers waving to the troops and being taken to the heliport, and here I am sitting on the bus.

And I says to the guy, I says, I said, “Are you sure that you're going to the heliport?”

And he says, “Yes, ma'am.”

And at that, a captain came up, and now I'm starting to get frustrated. And I looked at him and I says, “You know I was supposed to—I was told to be on this bus,” that I was supposed to be on the heliport and be on the first Chinook. I forgot to put that in. First Chinook. They had four Chinooks carrying the troupes, the Bob Hope troupes. So I said, “I'm supposed to be on that first Chinook.” I said, “Can you get me there?”

He says, “Oh, yes, ma'am.”

So he gets on the bus. So here's the bus driver and this captain and me and the box and we're driving to the heliport, and I was hoping that we made it in time because by this time, that caravan was gone and the tanks started moving out, and I thought, “Oh, we're going to be in a traffic jam,” you know.

Well, okay, we get to the heliport. [coughs] Nobody's around. There's four Chinooks. The blades are just starting to whop [imitates helicopter blades], but not at full speed. And over on the side of the pad was this sedan and two soldiers out there. And by this time, now I'm in command because I recognize that it was General [William E.] Depuy of the 1st—Big Red One, and I had met him at a party that we went to as 3rd Field nurses. But he didn't really know me or anything, but I certainly knew the general, a little guy. By this time I'm so frustrated I said, “Captain, just take me right over to that sedan.” So he just took me over the sedan, he opened up the door, I walked out, and I said, “Thanks a lot.” And I went right up to the general, didn't salute or anything, you know, because now I just know I'm supposed to be on that first Chinook.

The general says, “Good morning, ma'am. May I help you?”

I says, “Oh, yes, General Depuy. I'm supposed to be on that first Chinook.”

“Oh, okay.” He grabs me by the arm, walks me across the pad there to the guy that's standing at the back of the Chinook with the ear things on. Now, you can't hear anything because the thing's whopping like this. And he salutes the general, and the general salutes back, and the general points to me and says, “Yes, sir.” He grabs my arm, the guy with the earphones, and walks me up to the ramp there. And I says, “Thanks, General.” I did not salute or anything because by this time I'm so beside myself to think, what in the world? This is a three ring circus. And then to think that I'm out there in a war zone and, you know, all this going on on Christmas Day.

So I go up into the body of the ship and I'm sitting—there was a seat they had on these Chinooks, the bench type stuff. And so I sat down and I'm sitting directly across from Anita Bryant, and she's putting her hair up in curlers and I smiled. And down in this corner of the Chinook were the two reporters, and they're mouthing, “Where were you?” like this. What could I say?

So anyway, there I am on the Chinook. So then we get up to the, I think it was the 12th Evac, and we're at the place where we were going to eat with the GIs. Well, they sort of put me on my own, and I really had a good meal, and I met a little corporal from New Jersey. We hit it off right away. I said, “I'm from New Jersey.” And I had my own personal jeep to ride around in and take me to the mess hall and stuff like this. And somehow I made arrangements with—I don't even remember now—to go back to—to get back to 3rd Field Hospital, that I was supposed to fly out on the Chinook that Les Brown and his band was going to fly on, and that's how I was going to get back to Than Son Nhut and 3rd Field Hospital. So anyway—

TS:

Did you ever make it on TV?

NC:

Never made it on TV. Lynn never arrived. I did get to fly back with Les Brown and his troupes, you know, and I did meet that—on the way to the operating room to help this nurse out—I don't know whether she came later or was with me, I forget how that worked—but I met my commanding officer. I shouldn't—Colonel Malloy. And he says, “Well, Captain,” he says, “did you get on the show? Did you meet your sister?”

I said, “No, sir. She never showed.”

So they didn't have anything. It was just [claps] that's how it is, you know. “Azoy gait es. And that's emmes.” That means, “That's how it is,” in Yiddish, “and that's the truth.” And I gave the supplies to the nurse. And then it just didn't make any difference when I told the story or how I told the story. It was all out of the bag and it never came to fruition. And I don't remember now how I found out that it got squelched by a three star general in the Pentagon.

TS:

I think that's a great story.

NC:

Can you imagine putting that on M*A*S*H? [TS laughs] In this little army, do you think anybody would believe it? That sequence is so stuck in my—

TS:

Maybe if you'd been in the army, maybe so.

NC:

That this is for real.

TS:

Yeah. Well I think we'll end on that, Nancy. You think?

NC:

But can you imagine?

TS:

Oh, I can't.

NC:

Oh, I'm glad—

TS:

Well, I'm glad you got your shoes shined. [laughs] I think that's terrific. Well, I think that's a good one to end on. What do you think?

NC:

Yes. Let's end on that. There's other funny ones in Vietnam. When the buffalo got loose in the compound and came barreling in. We had, into our central supply room, you know, the swinging bar doors type thing. That's what we had. And this—either a gun shot went off or a backfire, and this buffalo that was next to the compound, somebody had left our gates open, and when that backfire went off or whatever, this buffalo went frantic and he broke his rope and he came into the compound and went—the stairs there or the walkway was tiled, you know, and when he got onto that tile and was going lickety-split, and it was only about from here to the end of the door here. There's a corridor off the main corridor and there's the swinging doors. And when he got to the swinging doors there, he went down on his knees and he went head first, the horns out there, you know, and went through. And he pinned one of my OR techs against the rack who was putting a pack up on the drying shelf. And fortunately all he did was graze his side a little bit with his horns, you know. But he pinned him up against there. And then he backed off, shook his head, and then, instead of making a u-ey, he only made a half a turn, and he went into our packaging place within the operating room suite, and made another left and went right out the operating room main corridor—there were operating rooms on both sides—through the emergency room and out the front door and they finally subdued him out in the—[chuckles]

TS:

Oh, my goodness.

NC:

—out in the compound. But—

CB:

Hopefully there was a Purple Heart for your OR tech.

NC:

I'm so glad you asked that because—or made that comment—because a couple of days later, the tech, I asked him how he was, and he raised up his shirt and there was a little graze there.

He says, “Captain Christ, do you think this warrants the Purple Heart?”

And I looked at him and smiled, and I said, “I don't think so.”

It wasn't a combat injury, you know. I was saying to myself, this wasn't combat. It was a poor confused—

TS:

Buffalo.

NC:

Buffalo. And I don't think so. But he wanted a Purple—It was more a joke on his part, too. “Do you think this warrants the Purple Heart?”

TS:

Well, thank you so much.

NC:

Oh, did we have fun—

TS:

I think we had a great time.

NC:

—you guys? Do you think we have something here?

TS:

Oh, I don't know, Nancy. It might be tough to figure it out, but I think—I think the transcriber will have a joy with this one. So we'll go ahead and cut it off.

NC:

Thank you very much, Therese. It was wonderful. It's been a wonderful day—

TS:

Well, thank you, too.

NC:

—for me to reminisce like this.

[recording paused]

TS:

Okay, we have an addendum. Nancy's talking about a—

NC:

This is when I was at Letterman, my first assignment at the army. And I joined the local Parachute Club of America, a little club that was run there at Letterman's post by our sergeants, et cetera. And this Lieutenant Karen—oh, what is your name, Karen? Anyway, Karen and I, she was a second lieutenant in my operating, in the operating room with me, and my first assignment. And so we thought we would like to try parachuting. Well, the instruction—We learned the PLF. That's your parachute landing fall. And we were doing it on the ground, and we were doing well. And then all of a sudden the instructor says, “Okay, now we're going to go up on this layer of sandbags and then you can practice your PLF from there.”

And Karen says, “Oh, Nance, you go first. You go first.”

So I'm standing up there on the sandbags, here's old Nance. Well, Nance forgot to jump first. She went into the PLF from on top of the sandbags and you know when she landed on, square on her rear end and never hit any of the leg, side—

TS:

Ankle, knees.

NC:

Ankle, knee, on up. She was right on her butt. And of course, Karen laughed her fool head off. And I thought, “What is wrong with this instruction” or “what is wrong with me? What kind of instruction am I getting?”

So then, one of the other things was we were learning to pull the rip cord. And the guys says—Well, now, I'm left-handed, so I says, “Well, I'm left handed.” I said, “Am I going to be able to pull that cord with my right hand? Is it going to be strong enough?”

And he says, “Oh, yeah. You'll do all right.”

And so Karen says, “You first. You first, Nancy.”

And I says, “Okay, here we go.”

And I got the pack on my back, and I grabbed a hold of the rip cord, and instead of going out—he never said “go out,” to release those pins in the back. I went like this and it stopped short.

I said, “Did it open? Did it open?”

Karen says, “You didn't even get the pins out, Nance.”

So then I thought, “Boy oh boy. What's with this instruction that they didn't say to pull it out this way first so you release the pins?” And then, as I was telling Cheryl, it came time for us to think about getting up in the aircraft and learning about the jump master and stuff like this.

And I became an officer within the club. I became the secretary of the club, and I found out that they were not using a qualified jump master. They were given levels within the club, and I forget what it is. I think you have to be at C level to be a jump master, and they used a B level guy or something like that. And that's when I thought, “Wow, if something happens, and I know that they're not using a qualified jump master, and something happens to me, first thing you know it's going to be, 'Line of duty? No.' And then, 'What's this officer, military officer, doing this kind of stuff when she should have known better by being an officer within the club itself?'” End of story: I never jumped. But, boy, maybe it's best I didn't. Cheryl said she jumped.

TS:

I don't think willingly.

NC:

But that's my Parachute Club of America experience.

CB:

Well, I remember my—

NC:

It's fascinating.

CB:

My roommate in Korea came back one day and said, “I think we need to jump.” You know, “There's this parachute club. Come on.”

And I was like, “Okay, fine.”

So it was like ten guys and Cathy and myself, Cathy Landon. So we go to all the classes. You have to learn how to pack your own chute and the whole bit. And a couple of days before the jump Cathy quit.

And I was like, “You can't quit!”

She goes, “Well, I'm kind of scared.”

And I was like, “Well, I can't quit now because if all the women quit then we're just wussies and we look terrible.” I was like, “Okay, fine. I'll do it.”

Well, the day that we went up, the wind was gusting ten to fifteen miles an hour and you weren't supposed to jump there. Well, I was like one of the last people that was supposed to jump. By that time I was so air sick I went like, “Dude, you have to let me out the back door because I'm about to barf all over your Chinook.”

He goes, “Right this way then!” [laughs] So out I went.

And one of the young guys came up afterwards and he was like, “So Cheryl, were you scared?”

I said, “Oh, yeah, dude.”

He goes, “Don't tell anybody but I screamed all the way down.”

I said, “Your secret is safe with me.” [laughter] But I was telling Nancy that the—

NC:

Did you enjoy it?

CB:

You know, it was funny because a friend of mine is getting ready to jump, and I said what I was surprised about was the adrenaline rush. Because once I—because you went out the Chinook backwards. You did it like a back dive. And so you step tippy-toes, you stepped off, and I remember thinking, “Wow, that Chinook really took off. Look at how far away it is now.” And then, “Oh, no, Cheryl. You're the one who's falling!” And then the parachute opens, and so I'm trying to find where my landing spot—

NC:

Because were you to a hook up? You didn't have to—

CB:

Yeah, the first flight. The first jump you had to jump.

NC:

Did you have a—

CB:

Extra chute? Yeah.

NC:

—and extra chute?

CB:

And it was funny because—you probably had the same problem I did. I'm so short that the main chute was from here past my butt, and then the reserve chute was so low it was on my thighs. So trying to get up on the Chinook, I couldn't because I was so weighed down with gear [laughing], and I'm like—So these two guys pick me up and put me on the plane. “Thank you.” But when I hit the ground, some wind grabbed me and we were jumping right on the side of a river. So actually a riverbed was our landing zone. And it just took off with me. And being a little smaller then, I didn't have the weight to stop it. And all of the guys come running out and landed on my chute. And they made us all wear motorcycle helmets, and mine was all caved in and scratched. I cut my chin. And I jumped up, I'm covered with blood. I'm like, “Sweet! Sweet! Let's go again! Let's go again!”

And they're like, “All right. We're just going to go check her for head injury.”

But I was just so jazzed at that moment, you know, that adrenaline thing, that I made it down alive. I would have gone up again in a heartbeat.

NC:

[laughs] Do you re—Do you recall floating through the air?

CB:

I do, but it was kind of funny because once the chutes open and I'm trying to find where the land zone is, you know, and you've got your little—And I'm looking around and I'm thinking, “Well, which way is the wind blowing?” [TS laughs] Then I thought, “Yeah, Cheryl. That sticking your tongue out isn't really going to give you any direction.” But he said that the wind would be carrying you. So there was a lot of time actually looking around and going, “Wow. It's amazing and it's so quiet.” So yeah, we didn't jump really high—five-thousand feet maybe—but it was definitely enough time to kind of get the feel for it.

But then that day in Germany, a Chinook went down with a chute club and we weren't allowed to jump again from Chinooks.

NC:

By the grace of God we're still alive, huh?

TS:

I didn't jump out of any airplanes or want to. [laughter] Well, thank you Cheryl and Nancy. All right, I'm going to stop it again.

[End of Interview]