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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Carol Nachtrab, 2008

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Object ID: WV0404.5.001

Description: Documents Carol Nachtrab’s service in the Army Nurse Corps during the Vietnam War.

Summary:

Nachtrab briefly discusses her education and nurses’ training, including being removed from the Toledo Hospital program. She briefly talks about her employment at Riverside-White Cross Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and recalls the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Nachtrab recalls enlisting in the air force, but then joining the Army Nurse Corps when the air force lost her paperwork. She shares her family and friends’ reaction to her enlistment, her desire to serve in Vietnam, and her opinion of anti-Vietnam War protests.

Topics from her subsequent training at Fort Sam Houston include: different types of nurses; forming study groups; Camp Bullis; and learning to shoot M16s. Topics from Nachtrab's tour in Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam, include: the plane ride there; weather; bugs and rodents; food; the typical day’s work schedule; and the evacuation hospital structure. She also describes the common illnesses and injuries that were treated at the hospital; treating a young Vietnamese boy who suffered from burns; her down time and socializing; her continued friendship with nurses and soldiers; the room where soldiers were taken to die; taking phone calls from soldiers in the field; the need for humor in the field; military payment coupons [MPCs]; Vietnamese maids; the black market; white phosphorus; and punji stick injuries. She also recalls the explosion of the ammo dump near the base, the nurses' actions to protect the patients, and the recovery of a soldier trapped at the dump. Other topics from Vietnam include: going on R&R in Australia, Taiwan, and Japan; getting hepatitis, possibly from improper needle disposal; a USO show at which a soldier said the nurses were more beautiful than the performers; her concern for patients once they returned home; and her refusal to accept a Bronze Star medal.

Nachtrab also discusses her return to the States. Topics include: the difficulty she has had in discussing her Vietnam experience; her struggle to adjust back to civilian life and nursing; Agent Orange and health problems; the poor treatment veterans received on returning to the States; her opinions of the anti-war movement; the problems with the Veterans Affairs system; and veteran homelessness and mental illness.

Creator: Carol Ann Nachtrab

Biographical Info: Carol Nachtrab (b. 1941) of Napoleon, Ohio, served in Vietnam as a member of the Army Nurse Corps from 1970 to 1972.

Collection: Carol Nachtrab 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:

Okay, this is Therese Strohmer and I'm at the house of Carol—?

Carol Nachtrab:

Nachtrab.

TS:

Nachtrab.

CN:

Nachtrab.

TS:

And we're in High Point in the state of North Carolina. Today is February 26, and it is about quarter after two in the afternoon. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Go ahead and state your full name, Carol.

CN:

It's Carol Ann Nachtrab.

TS:

Okay, very good.

[recording paused]

Okay, Carol, my first question is why don't you tell me a little about where and when you were born?

CN:

I was born in Napoleon, Ohio, in June of 1941. It's a small town, small farming community. We do have a Campbell Soup Company there. And I am the only girl. Three boys, one older and two younger than myself. It's basically the two younger ones were quite a bit younger than I was, like eight years and ten years younger, so it was almost like two separate families, but I enjoyed being the only girl in the family. And I went to high school there. After high school went to nurses training in Lima, Ohio, and after nurses training moved to Columbus, Ohio, and worked there.

TS:

Do you know about what year that was when you started nurses training?

CN:

In 1959.

TS:

1959.

CN:

Yes.

TS:

Where was it that you went to high school? What was the name of the school?

CN:

Napoleon High School it was called.

TS:

Did you have a favorite subject?

CN:

Like, anatomy I liked best. Math I wasn't good at at all, but liked anatomy.

TS:

Did you have a job while you were in high school?

CN:

Yes. When I was sixteen I cleaned motel rooms at a local owned motel. During school, I worked on the weekends, and then during the summer I worked Monday through Friday, and it was just mainly for spending money, so I was spoiled in that respect.

TS:

And so what, when did you graduate from high school.

CN:

I graduated in '59 from high school, and then went on to nurse's training.

TS:

Okay.

CN:

Had a little bit of a glitch, went to Toledo Hospital School of Nursing with seven of us from the same high school graduating class, so we kind of did more partying than we should've. And so several of us were asked to leave, and I was quite upset because I wanted to be a nurse my whole life. And I remember coming home and my father saying that nobody could take an education away from me that I had already gotten, and that maybe I had gotten more of an education by just this fact. And so I waited, then, till the next year and went to Lima, and went there for three years and graduated from Lima Memorial Hospital School of Nursing.

TS:

Do you recall anything else about your college days that you'd like to share?

CN:

I think one thing that was interesting was when I went to Lima, I didn't—and I'd always been a person that got along with everybody and, you know, was sometimes the instigator of things. And when I went to Lima, I wouldn't talk to anybody because I felt like they were all very immature and I was the mature person who'd been out of school for a year. But that soon stopped. It was a three-year program and I really enjoyed it, because I felt like we really got to the meat of nursing and really got thrown into things and got the basics at the same time.

TS:

So after nursing school, what did you do next?

CN:

I moved to Columbus and got a job at Riverside-White Cross in Columbus. It was an eight hundred bed hospital. I was there eight years; started out on a medical-surgical floor, then became evening supervisor, and then became staff development coordinator where I taught some classes there and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Four of us lived in an apartment together and had good times, and really, it was a good, good time in life that we just worked for clothes and new clothes and went to parties. And at that time, the Vietnam era was starting. The war had started and that seemed to be what everybody talked about. When you went to parties and everything else, everybody had their opinions and, “This should be done,” and, “This is going on,” and, “That's going on.” And so it was a different time.

TS:

Now, you were also—let's see, where were you at when JFK [President John F. Kennedy] was assassinated?

CN:

I was in Columbus. In fact, my daughter and I were just talking the other night that how you remember where you are and what you were doing at certain times.

This is just a side note, but Todd Beamer, from 9/11 [September 11, 2001], the plane [United Flight 93, that crashed] in Pennsylvania, his father was at our church Sunday and he spoke, and that's how got us started on, because you know where you were on 9/11. I knew when JFK and also the Challenger [Space Shuttle explosion], you always know.

In fact, I was working nights and my one roommate was working downtown in an office and she called us up and we got up and laid on the living room floor watching it. And I remember that night going to work, none of the patients could sleep. That's all we talked about, like it was almost like our country's in a wreck, you know, turmoil, and it was really very impressive and long lasting memories.

TS:

So they couldn't sleep?

CN:

No they just, they just—everybody wanted you to sit down and talk about it, and, you know. I think almost some reassurance that things were going to be okay. It was really a strange night.

TS:

And then do you remember anything in, from your days in Ohio about, like black power or some of the other social movements that were going on at that time?

CN:

Not really in Napoleon. We didn't really have any of that in Napoleon. It was strictly—I think we had one black family in town—[coughs] excuse me—a few Spanish families, but it just wasn't an issue there at all. And Columbus, I didn't know—it didn't appear that much, even working in a big city hospital. You had your groups and stuff, but we just, I think coming from Ohio, we just didn't pay attention to that, because we were just used to treating everybody equally. So you just didn't pay attention to it.

TS:

Well now, Kent State [shootings] would've happened, I think, when you were still there?

CN:

Kent State happened after I had left.

TS:

Oh it did, okay.

CN:

Yes, yes. I remember my parents calling, or writing to me and telling me about it. I couldn't believe it.

TS:

Yes. Well, let's go a little bit into why you decided to join the military, then. Why don't you tell me a little bit about that that and other things you might have been considering at the time, although you were working as a nurse.

CN:

I was working as a nurse and I loved my job, but I felt like I had gone as far as I could go then, that I would've had to make a decision of going back to school or, you know, and doing—going to school full time or pursuing something else. And then again, as I mentioned earlier, everybody was talking about Vietnam and all of that. And so I just got to the point where I figured, “If I'm going to talk about it, I'm going to want to know what's going on.” And so my roommate and I, we talked about it and everything, and we decided to join the air force. And so we went down to the recruiters and talked to the recruiter and he seemed very pleased, and filled out the paperwork, and then he told us that we would be leaving for the air force basic training on October first of that year.

So we put in our thirty day notice, so that we could spend some time, about a month, at home before we left. She was from Newark, Ohio. And so we quit and went home and we talked back and forth, “Have you heard anything?” And of course, we were nave when it came to this stuff. Hadn't heard anything, didn't realize that he could give us a date that we were going in and stuff. We didn't know this, you know, you trusted everybody. So the time kept coming and coming and it kept coming closer and we still hadn't heard anything. So she went to her congressman and I went to my congressman to see what was going on. And they discovered that he had put our file in a bottom drawer and had left it there. I don't know whether his—I think they had certain quotas they had to meet and I think he was putting us away for another time and forgot about us. So she went ahead and reapplied to the air force and I thought, “Eh.” And there was an army recruiting place.

In the meantime, I had started working at our local hospital, just because I couldn't see sitting around not working. And living at home, it was a little difficult after not living at home for a while. So my mother worked days and I worked evenings and it worked out nice. And so one day I just decided to go to Defiance, which was a town about twenty miles away that had an army recruiter place there. So I walked in and there was this little PFC [private first class] sitting behind the desk, and he asked if he could help me, and I said yes, that I wanted to join the army. And he said, “Okay,” and he started filling out, and I said I was a nurse and his eyes got a little bit bigger. Said I had eight years experience and his eyes got bigger. And he said, “Excuse me ma'am will you just wait right there.” And he ran next door to where the recruiter was eating his lunch and he came flying back because I think I met his quota for quite a while. [chuckles] So they were quite shocked that—.

So then I knew that I had to wait and everything and the papers were processed. And my younger—the older of the two younger brothers, when I had to report for Fort Sam Houston [Texas], we drove down, took my car with me and drove down together. It was nice, because I was already older when they were growing up and so we really got pretty close on the way trip and had a good time and everything. And then I started at Fort Sam Houston. So that's how I got into the service. [chuckles]

[recording paused]

TS:

And did you have any—well, how did your family feel about your decision?

CN:

They were all right with it. They were used to me doing what I wanted to do, and I was older and everything. At the time, of course, they didn't know that I had signed up strictly to go Vietnam. I hadn't told them until after I was at Fort Sam Houston, and then I told them that I had signed up strictly to go to Vietnam. And my mother told me years later that—of course, they would not stop anything that I wanted to do—that she was really, really upset because her only daughter was going over where people were being killed, but she knew that I had to do what I wanted to do, so that's about it.

TS:

How about your brothers?

CN:

They were pretty good with it, in fact—

TS:

About how old were they at that time?

CN:

They were—the older brother was—let's see, I had my twenty-ninth and thirtieth birthday party over there, so the older one was probably about thirty, thirty-one. He was married and had children. And the younger ones were probably in college by then. But it's really ironic, because the one that was, that traveled with me to Fort Sam Houston, dropped out of college on a stupid whim because he couldn't get the classes that he wanted one semester. So we had a family business, so he decided, “I'll drop out and work at the family business and then go back.” Well, he got drafted, so he ended up with orders to Vietnam while I was there, so I extended. That's why I was there eighteen months, because a normal tour was a year. So I extended so he wouldn't have to be sent over there, because at the time Congress had passed a law that only one family member had to serve over there, because what was happening was so many families were being wiped out because all their sons were sent to Vietnam and being killed. So I just stayed over there so he wouldn't have to come over there.

TS:

Wow.

CN:

He still is very grateful.

TS:

I bet.

CN:

Very grateful. But that was another thing I think that drew us a lot closer, too.

TS:

How about your friends that you had?

CN:

Most of the friends I had left were in Columbus, and, of course, they were used to people coming and going in their lives and stuff like that. And so really, some of them just couldn't believe that we would do it, especially the guys. “You're going when you don't have to go?” and things like that. But I think they respected our decision to go and stuff. And it was funny, the—I, of course, after—I guess it was before I went to Fort Sam Houston, they had a big party for me at home. And here I was almost thirty years old and had never smoked a cigarette in front of my parents. So it was really funny, after the party was over, why—of course, my dad always went to bed early but my mom was sitting there with us, and several of my brother's friends and my brothers were sitting there. We were just sitting round the table talking, and, of course, a couple of them were smoking, and one of them threw his pack of cigarettes to me and said, “Here. I know you're dying for a cigarette.” So I lit up a cigarette in front of my mother for the first time. And she probably was more upset about that than me going to Vietnam. But it was strange how in those days and age, you just didn't do certain things in front of your parents, and that was one of them. So I grew up a little bit then, too.

TS:

I had a similar experience.

CN:

Yes?

TS:

One thing I forgot to ask you was what did your parents do when you were growing up?

CN:

My family had, they had a family business, a roofing and sheet metal company. In fact we lived right next door to the company. It was like—uncles worked there, and my mother didn't work while we were younger and then when the boys got school-age, then she worked. Well, when I was smaller, she worked as a kindergarten teacher, because I went to kindergarten for three years in a row. And in those days, the teachers didn't have to be certified for kindergarten. So in order—didn't go to a babysitter, I just went to kindergarten for three years. But then she became a receptionist for a physician in town when the boys started back to school. So it was—I had a very happy childhood and very loving. Nothing unusual, except I was spoiled because I was a girl. [laughter]

TS:

That's right. Well we're going to go back now to pick your brain a little bit further on when you signed up for the army and you said you wanted to go to Vietnam. Why? Why that—why did you want to do that, Carol?

CN:

I just, like I said, I got to the point with my job I wasn't that satisfied with it. I felt like maybe I could make a difference even though I was one person. I felt like I wanted to see what was going on and that maybe I could help. If I just helped one person, you know, that I could make a difference. And then I think that it was the era that we grew up in. You know, it was America and apple pie, and you just didn't question not going if you're able to do something like that. It was just—I just felt like I should go.

TS:

So that was in 1970?

CN:

Yes.

TS:

So there had been a lot of student protests at that time.

CN:

Yes.

TS:

What did you think about that?

CN:

Very upset about it. That I thought again, “You don't know what you're talking about.” Here's these guys over there getting shot at and killed, and some of them were younger than the people that were protesting. And it's like—I just—I just—just didn't approve of it. It upset me a lot. It upset a lot of people over in Nam [Vietnam] with it going on then.

TS:

So you get to Fort Sam Houston, and how old were you at that time?

CN:

I was twenty-nine then. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, in through there. So again, I was older then what most of the people there were. And you had different groups of the nurses. You had just regular people that came in after nurses training; you had the RANE[?] students, which were students that were taught in the army nurse program; you had students that the army paid for their schooling, so they owed the army; and then you had a few people like me. [chuckles] So there were about, oh, five or six of us that—excuse me [coughs]—that were older and had been out of nursing.

So it was really interesting, because when you first get there you have all these classes, and of course we had been out of school so long we didn't know what to study and all this stuff, and you have to learn all the ranks you have to learn all this stuff about the army. So we formed a study group and we'd be out until all hours of the morning studying. These young kids were out partying. We'd take the tests and we would not pass or not get very good grades. These young kids would ace it. We got so upset. We thought, “Here we are, we've been out.” So we went to talk to the chief nurse, we were that upset. We thought can you get kicked out because your grades aren't that good? And she just laughed and she said, “Don't worry. The second half we're going to be running field hospitals.” And she said, “Guess who's going to be in charge?” So we were running field hospitals and we were in charge, and that's where we were shining much over everybody else, and so we saved our face by doing that. But it was interesting being up with those.

And we had some—we didn't have a lot of the hard stuff that the guys had, but we did have one time where they'd take out—it was called Camp Bullis, and anybody that's been through Fort Sam knows about Camp Bullis. And so they take you out and they dump you out, and you have a compass and you have to find your way back. And so I guess after a while, they come and get you. And so we kind of walked around for a while and then we'd just sit down and smoke cigarettes until they came to get us. We couldn't be bothered with this nonsense. [chuckles] [coughs]

But part of the training was a little bit, I don't know, you wonder what you got yourself into. We did get—we were taught how to shoot an M16. We weren't taught how to tear it down and all that, but how to shoot one. Then we also, they—in our labs and stuff, they would—which was kind of cruel, and I suppose animal activists would have a fit—but the goats were anesthetized, but they would shoot them full of holes and stuff. And so then we would practice sewing them up. And we also had to practice doing tracheotomies, because they felt like if a compound was overrun, either the doctors would be help—would be fighting or maybe would be some of the casualties. There were more nurses than doctors, so that we might have to be doing some of the things that the doctors did. Fortunately, only one time we thought we were being overrun, but other than that we were okay.

TS:

Did you ever have to put any of that training into use, though?

CN:

No, like I said, the one time it—we—in Qui Nhon we were on the coast, and then behind us was a mountain range, terrain. And they—on one of the mountains kind of behind us, they had an ammo [ammunitions] dump, the United States had an ammo dump. And one night we were working nights as [unclear], and there we worked a month of nights and a month of days and a month of nights, we rotated. And we were on nights and they blew up the ammo dump. [coughs] And so what happened to us was our ward immediately went black and you could hear it. And so, like I said, you didn't know what was happening. The windows blew out. We had a metal cabinet on the wall where a lot of our medicines and stuff were; that fell to the floor.

So we were taught that if we were overrun or if anything happened, we get our GIs under their beds. And I worked the intensive care unit, so they couldn't get out themselves and our ward had GIs at one end and Vietnamese at the other end, and Viet Cong. The Viet Cong were under guard continually, but because we were intensive care unit, we took care of all of them. And so, of course, we first got the GIs under and then we got the Vietnamese under, but the VC stayed in their beds. We didn't get them under. And then we got under the beds with the most critical. So you're under there pitch black, and we finally get everybody under the bed. You're under with the most critical patients, and you hear footsteps out—out in the ward. So finally somebody gets up enough nerve and says, “Who is it?”

And it was one of the corpsman, and he said, “If I'm going to die, I'm going to die with a cigarette in my hand.”

So cigarettes made it important and so everybody said, “Bring me mine! Bring me mine!”

So we're sitting under there smoking cigarettes and looking at—there was big double doors at the end, and pretty soon those big double doors come flying open and it was one of our majors that was an anesthetist there. And he came in with his flak jacket on and his helmet and his M16 and said, “You guys all right?” because we didn't know if what was coming in. So then they got the generators going. But we had a couple of the guys we couldn't move, and the one was what we called a crainy that had frag[ment]s in his head, and he was unconscious and stuff, and when we turned the lights on, he had a piece of glass from the window, laying on his chest, very pointed, laying flat on his chest. If it had come down any other way, it would've just been it. So that was the main scare that we had there. We had some times when—of course, we always worked twelve hour shifts and we worked six days a week. [recording skips]

—that had some problems with living in the apartment. And it, if it gets too bad we could move. You want to see if it's coming—?

[Recording paused]

TS:

Okay. I'm just doing a quick test here in this room so, one, two, three. We're still with Carol.

CN:

I'm still here.

TS:

Enjoying a lovely afternoon.

[recording paused]

Okay, Carol, sorry about that interruption. You were talking about the corpsmen wanting to get a smoke.

CN:

So we all got our cigarettes and then, I said before, the major came in and all was well. But the ironic thing was that ammo dump blew for two days afterwards. It just kept blowing up and blowing up, you know, and it'd be quiet a little bit and blow up. What really made it bad was after it finally settled down, the troops were able to go in and they found a guy still alive in there. And they, of course, brought him and he was on my ward, and he was literally out of his mind. Because you can imagine laying there hearing this not knowing if the next one was going to blow up—blow you up or not. And I often wonder about him if he ever got, you know, okay.

We thought about a lot of people that, of course, we would fix them up and get them to the point where they could travel, and they would load them on planes and usually they would send them to Japan and then on to the States. And so we wouldn't hear from them very much after that. Once in a while we might get a letter that—we got—one time we had a senator's son and we did get a letter from his dad thanking us, you know, after he had finally gotten home. But you wondered. Some of these guys were newly married, like a day before they came, and some of them were so young and they would go home. Some of them, the ones that got shot in the head would go home as literally nothing. Some of them would have both arms off, an arm and a leg off, and you just wonder how—how the marriage survived, you know, with just being married and then to come home like that. And then what the guys had gone through. We would get calls at night all the time from the guys out in the field just wanting to hear our voice and to talk to us and stuff like that—with the American female's voice and stuff.

TS:

What kind of things would they like to talk about?

CN:

Oh, they'd talk about, you know, back home and talk about music and sometimes they'd talk about their girlfriends and, you know, just whatever that we'd talk about. And mutual things, where they grew up and different things like that. There was always one of us usually, if we weren't too busy, that would talk to them and stuff.

TS:

Could you talk a little bit about—make sure I did that right. [chuckles] Could you talk a little bit about your plane ride—you described a little bit in the [Greensboro] News and Record—to Vietnam.

CN:

Yes, that was—

TS:

And maybe even just, even before you got on the plane, how that—

CN:

Yes. Of course, I had come back home, and then—before I left—and then I took a ride from Toledo to San Francisco. I think it was San Francisco we landed. And so then, you know, was in the process of waiting while they board the planes and all this stuff, and immediately—of course, I was in uniform—and immediately there was somebody there to help me. The guys were so good. Of course, being the minority helped matters, but they were so good. There was always somebody there to carry my luggage. There was always somebody there to talk to me. So we boarded the plane, and the plane flight was twenty-four hours long. And I was the only female on with the exception of the stewardess. Of course, it must have been pretty lucrative for the stewardess, because it was always the older stewardesses that were on the plane. Had warrant officers who were dustoff [medical evacuation] pilots, and most of them this was their second or third tour over there, so they kind of took me over under their wing and told me what to do and took me wherever and we played cards all night long. And, of course, they told me what I should do, what to expect when I'm over there and everything.

TS:

Can you explain a little bit about for people who don't know what a dustoff pilot is?

CN:

Dustoff pilots, well, they were warrant officers in the—and they were the pilots that were trained for the helicopters. And what they did was they went into, whether it was the battlefield, whether it was the aid station or whatever, and picked up the wounded. So it was a pretty dangerous job that sometimes they would go right into where the fighting was going on to pick up the wounded and then they would fly them to the evac[uation] hospitals or any of the hospitals in the area. So we got to know most of the dustoff pilots that were there, because they would bring the guys in and stuff. So they were great. They really took care—took care of me a lot.

TS:

So you're playing cards with them on the plane.

CN:

Yes, played cards and I don't know if there was a movie on that plane or not, I don't think we watched it if there was.

TS:

Did they have to do like an aerial refueling for a twenty-four hour flight?

CN:

Yes, you landed. We landed in Hawaii and then Guam, but you didn't get off the planes or anything. It just was a quick refuel and up again. And they—and then we landed. I'll never forget the landing, it was so hot. I mean, you got off that plane and the heat just hits you in the face. Immediately drenched, inside and out. Clear into your underwear, you were completely soaked, because the heat is just oppressive. Even worse than North Carolina's heat in the summertime. [chuckles] And the smell was just unreal. There's a smell over there and you can't describe it, but anybody who's been over there knows what you're talking about. And when I've talked before to groups, all the guys sit there and shake their head when I say that.

First of all, we couldn't land when we first got there, because there was some ground fire not far from the airport. So we had to circle until it was safe to land, which you know, certain times I kept thinking to myself through all this whole thing, you know, “Why did I do this again?” Just kind of fleets through your mind every once in a while. So then got off and had to stay in Long Bihn for a couple days till we got our assignments and stuff. There were more women there then waiting to be dispatched throughout the country. We stayed in these little hooch—like places that all there was was a bed and a chair and a lamp in there. And it had, you had to go outside to the shower, and the shower was open air shower. And you always had bugs in your room and in your showers and little geckos or little lizards on the walls and stuff. I've been all right with certain bugs, but I hated crickets and grasshoppers. Wasn't too bad; I didn't see too many of those over there. We spent most of the time in the officer's club, again playing cards and drinking a few drinks. And again, never had to buy a thing, never had to do a thing. The guys just took care of the females so well over there. And I think—I don't know if it'd be different now because the women are now more in combat and more—like where we were kind of put up on a pedestal for the guys, where I often wonder now if it's any different than that.

TS:

That's a good question. How about, where was the evacuation hospital, what was the name of it?

CN:

It was the 67th evac hospital and it was in Qui Nhon, which was right in the kind of middle of Vietnam on the coast. And the army or whatever, the military, had it divided into three sections, in the upper and then the middle and then the bottom. Down at the bottom was where the delta was and all of the rivers and stuff like that. So we were kind of in the middle. We were what they called an evac hospital, in which they brought them in straight out of the fields and we had an emergency room where were triaged them and everything. Had a surgery and recovery room area. And then we had intensive care, we had some surgical wards. We also had some medical wards that sometimes the guys had medical problems and stuff, malaria or something like that, then they were on the medical floors. Once in a while the guys would be there and then they'd get shipped back out. Of course, any of them in our unit they got shipped to Japan and the States and stuff.

TS:

Because you were in intensive care?

CN:

Yes. And what was very interesting, which I often think about that, which came into play later on in my career, but these guys had to be on oral pain medicine before they could fly out. So you would have guys that were literally blown up, you know, arm and a leg off and everything within a day or two, they were on oral pain medicine. Which kind of, after I got out of the service and everything and was married, I was working in a hospital in Maryland that 90% of their patients were—I was on a surgical floor—was facelifts and all of that stuff. And those people would be ten days post op[erative] and still be on IM [Intramuscular] medicine. It was a little bit difficult for me to accept. In fact, I would come in the nurses' station and shut the door and expound every once in a while. When I saw so much that the guys went through, and like I said, they were on oral medicine, usually Darvocet, before they could be shipped out, so they did everything possible before they could go.

TS:

A lot of people, I'm sure, have an image of an evacuation hospital like M*A*S*H. Can you describe really what it looked like for—in person?

CN:

Ours was—we didn't have the tents. I think originally, when the United States first went over there, they had tents. But, of course, ours was a—they were what they called Quonset huts which had cement sides and then tin roofs. They did have—the hospital did have two stories in some sections. Ours was a one story, the intensive care unit. And some of them were just a series of buildings with walkways between. And of course, our intensive care unit was right on the air field, and then the rest of the hospital was around and behind us. And it was just long cement wards, cement floors, windows at the top, and just with beds along the walls and stuff. You know, it was quite different.

But like I said, ours—where we lived was also Quonset hut, no tents or anything like that. It was pretty good. We had indoor plumbing, which I think originally when the nurses when over there, they didn't have that. We had rooms, which two of us shared a room and then it was connected to another two-man room with a bathroom in between. And so that always—excuse me—posed interesting things, because when you got up to go in the bathroom, you never know what was going to be greeted. We've had—several times there were mice or rats in the toilets that had come up through the sewers, and, of course, cockroaches. We just lived with those. There were cockroaches all over the place. And before you went to bed at night, you opened your covers and flicked them out of the way, so that they wouldn't take up too much of the bed with you and stuff. Which that's one thing my family couldn't believe, that I managed to live with cockroaches, because, like I said, I was afraid of—didn't like crickets and grasshoppers which my brothers used to chase me with. But you had to accept it, otherwise you'd go crazy.

And we also we were always writing home to the States to send us stuff. And we could cook a complete Thanksgiving dinner in the fry pans, and we did it. [laughs] Of course, it was always good to know the guys who worked in the mess tent because you got some extra privileges there.

TS:

I was going to ask you a little bit about that. What did you have for like food and things like that?

CN:

Our food was pretty good. They—like I said, if you knew the guys in the mess tent you got special things when you went through the line, but just regular food most of the time. Everybody talks about the old SOS [shit on a shingle], the stuff on the toast, which was just hamburger and gravy over toast in the morning, but you had other things if you wanted it. You know, you had cereal and stuff like that, and so most of the time our food was pretty good.

We had what we called the roach coach. It was a trailer that, I think, was run by the Vietnamese. There were Vietnamese working in it. Probably it belonged to the United States, but we had a lot of Vietnamese working on the ground. And you could get hamburgers there, what you'd call hamburgers. They weren't like the United States, but it was close enough for us. Potato chips were one thing we talked about a lot, because our potato chips came in a can and sometimes they were rancid. So you talked a lot about the real world and real food. We talked a lot about McDonalds, and at that time I don't think there was Burger King and stuff like that. We talked about potato chips, couldn't wait to get actual potato chips in a bag. So that was one thing families sent us, but usually by the time we got them they were pretty much crumbs. Like I said, food wasn't bad for us.

And we had a lot of people that stopped by our mess tents and stuff, like travelling in country and stuff like that. A lot of the guys would fly in and then fly out and stuff so it was pretty used quite a bit.

TS:

So you think you could describe—I hate to use the word typical, because I don't imagine you had a typical day—but could you describe from the time you got up to the time you went to bed? Could you give us a scenario like that or maybe even a most memorable one?

CN:

They were all pretty much about the same, depending on what, what kind of action was going on. In the intensive care unit, of course, we went to work at 7:00 in the morning, got off at 7:00 at night, or vice versa if we were working. And of course, got report and everything. And then it was mainly, most of the time we were full and so we had a lot of tracheotomies. We had a lot of dressings we had to change.

We had—of course, in nurses training you're always taught you never give a medicine that someone else has mixed up. And I think that was the most memorable thing, because we had—the guys were on so many IVs. Some of them had three IV sites going that we had to—and of course, all the IVs had massive doses of antibiotics in them because the infection rate was horrible over there. So we had one person that all they did for the twelve hours that they worked was set up the IVs for the next shift and put the medicine in and label them and everything. And we had a counter, it was probably at least twice the size of that coffee table, that was solid, row after row after row of IVs that you set up. You mixed up the medicines in them and that was another thing you were taught. You mix it up as you use it. Well, this you mixed up. A lot at that time, the antibiotics we had to mix in the saline and stuff like that, now they come already done and everything. But then, we had to do all of that, and they were in bottles, they weren't in bags. We didn't have bags. So they were just row upon row upon row of bottles that you put the antibiotics in and you put a cotton ball on top and a medicine cup and taped it, so when you needed it on your next shift you could just go and grab it, because you didn't have—you had so many of them you didn't have time to do it.

We had burn patients. Those were usually the Vietnamese patients. We had one little boy, I'll never forget him. He was burned over 90 percent of his body. He was in the garbage dump with his family going through the garbage, and, of course, hit a land mine. And so that was an interesting case because we had to, every hour, roll the pus out of his grafts. He was grafted with pig's skin, which they did a lot of grafting in those days with pigs' skin. And at night you would go back there and he had a heat cradle over his bed. It was just a wire frame to keep the covers off of his legs and his body. And you'd go back at night, of course, it was dark and warm in there, flip back that heat cradle and the cockroaches would just scatter. They had been eating on the pus. But I'll tell you one thing, that kid walked out of there with very little scarring. So I often said, if you could stand it, that they could somehow breed sterile cockroaches that would be something to look into with burns that were infected, because he had very little scarring because they kept it clean. So you learned all kinds of stuff over there.

TS:

That's amazing.

CN:

But your day was pretty much taken up with just giving the medicines, doing the IVs, suctioning, tracheotomies. Once in a while we'd have patients on what we'd call the striker frame that had back injuries, which I don't even know if they use the striker frame anymore. It's like a—it looks like two ironing boards together and the patient is in between and it's on this frame and its bolted and then you turn them every hour to—you have to turn them so their pressure is not always on—so we had those that had to be turned all the time. A lot of people on oxygen. I saw cholera. We had a cholera patient, which I'd never seen that and probably never will. We had a patient that had tetanus, which never saw that and probably never will again.

TS:

Were those Vietnamese?

CN:

No they were GIs.

TS:

They were GIs?

CN:

Both of them were GIs. And like I said, burn patients. Just about everything the critical patients you know, we had. Sometimes we would have to relieve the recovery room if they got really busy in surgery. And that was—surgery was right off our ward and recovery room was right off our ward. But nights were usually, depending a little bit, quieter, but it was the same routine with us for nights. Some of the other units, of course, weren't as busy at night, but we were. We had the same things, so just real busy.

One time there was a big push over Easter, as a matter of fact. It was an outpost some place that there was about sixty of our GIs up there and the rest they were training the ARVNs [Army of the Republic of Vietnam], which were the good Vietnamese that were ARVNs. There was the Viet Cong and the ARVNs. The ARVNs were the good Vietnamese. And they got overrun. And so, at that time, we worked four hours on and four hours off, four hours on and four hours off, just to keep up with it. And because we usually had one day off a week, but then you couldn't. We did that for about two weeks straight, till we got everybody stable and out of there and stuff.

Sometimes at night, maybe I shouldn't even talk about this, but we'd get off work in the morning and sit and drink beer until about ten o'clock. [laughs] We were lucky, there was a beach not too far. Because, like I said, we were right on the coast. And they had like a USO [United Service Organizations] place there that the—it was kind of an R&R [rest and recuperation] place for the soldiers in-country, so once in a while we could go there if we had like the next day off. Or sometimes we'd go to the beach, lay on the beach all day, come back, get ready for work, and go to work again. We could only do that for two or three days and then—of course, I was older than the rest of them, so it was a little bit more hard on me. But we had our good times and we had our bad times. It sounds like we had good times all the time, but you didn't.

But you just utilized those good times so much more, you know. You became closer with people than you ever did any place else. Like I said, the friends you made there, you know, I'm still close to a couple of them. You know, you let them take care of your kids. You'd let them—lay your life down. It was probably twenty some years afterwards, I picked up the phone one night and this guy said, “Well, what are you doing, Captain?” They used to—I was a captain at the time. I can't remember, it was some stupid name they always said. And it was one of the corpsmen. And I knew right away when I heard his voice who it was.

And so several of us—he lives in Savannah, Georgia—so several of us for years met in Savannah, Georgia, over St. Patrick's Day. We did that for ten, fifteen years I guess. But now we've kind of—some of us are getting too old and infirmed, but we laughed because all we'd do when we were down there was drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and sit up and talk all night long. And we laughed because at first we'd be talking about our children and families and stuff, and then it was our grandkids and all of that, and then it was, last time we got together, it was our illnesses and what was wrong with us. So maybe it was good we don't get together that much anymore. But the friendships you make over there is unreal. It's just unreal.

And we had it, I think, better where we were than some places were. Like I said we were protected by the 173rd Airborne [Brigade Combat Team]. And if you know anything about the service, the men in the 173rd are nuts. And they would do anything if you ask them to. So we were lucky that they were there. In fact, the 173rd I think is out of Fayetteville, isn't it? I don't know.

TS:

Not sure. Not up on my airborne. [chuckles]

CN:

They would always—them and the air force guys would always bring us stuff that we couldn't get in the PX [post exchange]. So they were all good to us. They'd bring us Matuse wine and Salem cigarettes. You never could get those in the PX, and so they always brought them to us and stuff.

TS:

Well, let me ask you, Carol, if there—was there any particular time that was particularly difficult that you remember that was—?

CN:

Yes, the difficult time was—and I think I mentioned it in the poem—where the unexpected—or the expected room. That we had this room, it was off of the emergency room, and one of us was always assigned to that room. It could be your day off, and if it was your day, you got called in. And it was a place where they brought them to die. And we—in fact, the nurses are the ones that really started that, because we didn't want them to die alone. So any other time, say if it happened now and it was one person, and say in auto accident with the equivalent, they might have been saved, but when we had so many that you couldn't take the time, it was better to sacrifice one to save many. And so that was the worst time that you had. But like I said, we all went through it. We're the ones that decided it and so we'd always sit in there and hold their hands and talk to them until they died. And so, that was the worst part of it.

The other thing was they were so young. And I think maybe because I was older, it just—it just would get to me how young these boys were and that their life must never be the same, never. And it just—that got to me, I think, more than anything. But like I said, I'd do it again in a minute.

But it just, when I came back, I wouldn't talk about it. And if you notice any—know any Vietnam vet, you can't talk about it. You can't talk about it. And it took me a while, it took me a long time. You know, my family would say, “You were in this beautiful—.” Because I wouldn't even write home half the time. “You were in this beautiful country,” and, you know, all this. You just have to put it aside. The best thing that happened to me was this friend from West Virginia that I talked about. She lived up on the side of a mountain and so—my parents about killed me but—in fact, after I'd been there [Vietnam] a year, I came home for a thirty day leave, and you just couldn't handle people and their questions. You know, constantly, “So-and-so wants you to speak to them,” and this. I took off and went and sat up on her mountain, because nobody asked me a thing, and I was there for two weeks, which I really feel bad for my parents because I only had two weeks when I came back. But I couldn't handle it, you know, I just—it took a long time. So I think when I got home from it, why, they finally realized and kind of left me alone for a while and stuff. So I never really said—.

A lot of people I worked with never knew that I'd been there, never until one Veterans Day, I think, somebody asked to interview me and there was a thing in the paper. Many of the doctors came in and stuff and said, “I never knew it.” And I said, “No.” I think because the country, they hated Vietnam vets. And it just—you just didn't want to go through that hassle. And so you just never, never told anybody you were there. And then one day, I think it was Memorial Day, they were dedicating the war memorial in our town of all the wars, and so my daughter and I went down. And there were all these guys in their uniforms, every—in their dress uniforms, every branch of the service. And there was this ragtag bunch in fatigues, because, see, we never got issued dress uniforms at all. And I knew what they were and I went over and asked them if I could stand with them because I was a vet.

And, you know, like I say in the thing, there's—the guys were so appreciative of us, you know, that it just—that's why I wonder about now. I still don't believe in women in combat, I'm sorry. And maybe I'm not a feminist or something like that, but I just—I just feel that—I don't know, maybe it's a different army now and different service of all, but I just, I just don't think that they need it. Maybe because we were treated so great.

TS:

Well, a different era too.

CN:

Yes, very different era.

TS:

Well how about—[cough].

[End CD 1—Begin CD 2]

How about tell me—do you remember anything that was specifically humorous?

CN:

[chuckles] Well, let's see. Oh, we'd pull some things. Like I said, nights—you had to see humor in some things or you'd fall apart. And so sometimes we had humorous things that really shouldn't have been. But other times—like I said, nights weren't quite as busy as days. And every time you worked and you'd come on days, you'd wonder if there had been a push that night or something and you'd come on and the ward would be packed full. So one night we were working nights, and, you know, sometimes you'd get so tired. And so we decided then—so we gathered up a bunch of corpsmen and stuff and we put them all in beds and we bandaged them up and all this stuff. And it doesn't sound like it's funny to other people, but the day crew came in and they were just, “Oh no!” you know, and all this stuff. And we gave them report just like everything was—then they finally decided what we'd done to them and stuff. I don't know.

Some of the memorable things were—the nurses were always asked by the brass to—like the commanding officer of the post would have visiting dignitaries in and for a dinner or something and they'd want the nurses to come over, and a lot of us wouldn't do it. We were more comfortable with the enlisted guys than we were the officers. Most of the doctors were more comfortable with the enlisted guys. And so we had the commanding officer, he had a nice trailer and stuff that was there and our hooch was right next to it, and we had this big under cover, almost like a patio that we always sat out with picnic tables. So we'd just sit out there with the corpsman when he'd have his parties and stuff. I don't think he liked it that much, but they couldn't do anything to us! They couldn't send us home. So we weren't very good, as far as being the officers we were supposed to be. It just—stuff like that.

I don't know there was a lot of stuff we did, a lot of stupid, idiotic things that—I had a friend back here in the States and he would send me stuff, like he'd send me the Muppets tapes of songs and stuff. And I mean, everybody got into these! They were borrowing and playing them all over the stuff. And I think just anything that has contact with, you know, the outside world. Oh, we had—our chief nurse lived in our compound where the nurses lived. We sandbagged her door one night so she couldn't get out the next morning. We never did admit to that. And, oh, different stuff like that that we used to do.

TS:

I know I had a friend who was a practical joker, so I know in the military what sort of things you can do.

CN:

Oh yeah.

TS:

How about like the culture that was happening? There was a lot of new types of music coming out. Was there an interest in that? Like even in the—what about the anti-war songs with [Bob] Dylan and the things that were playing? Did they—

CN:

I didn't like those too much. The big song over there was of course, Leaving on a Jet Plane. I still think of Vietnam when I hear that. “I want to get out of this place,” whatever song that was. And I tell you one thing, they did have TV reception over there, which wasn't very good. But all they played was Big Time Wrestling and some local weather stations or something. So the big thing was to watch Big Time Wrestling for entertainment. But of course, a lot of people were in to the black lights and the smoking the marijuana and that type of music, but we never got into that that much, maybe a little bit, but not much of that.

TS:

Like the way you see it portrayed in movies and things like that today, it's—?

CN:

No, I watched China Beach when it first came out and then I quit watching it, because it was not realistic at all. I mean they had her wandering all through town by herself and stuff like that. We never were allowed that. I think originally, when the very first nurses went over there, they were allowed to go downtown, but we could not go downtown unless we had an escort. She had to find her own housing and stuff like that. No. And it seemed like she was the only person working in the whole place. It was nothing like that, and so I quit watching that. I didn't like that one.

There was one other documentary they had out where they interviewed some of the nurses, and that was pretty good. But most of the movies, even The Men of—is it Charlie Company [The Boys in Company C?]? Was it that the one? That one was the most realistic, with Charlie Sheen [Platoon]. I can't remember. But a lot of them I haven't even seen, and I know a lot of the friends haven't seen them either. Because they just—it's impossible to tell and to write about how it was. It just is impossible. Because I think if you did make a movie, people wouldn't be able to stand to see it. And you know, M*A*S*H was okay. It—their OR [operation room] and our OR sometimes was nonstop and stuff like that. And, you know, there was a little bit of truth in that stuff. But you just had to be there.

TS:

You said you worked like twelve hours shifts, and that sometimes you had the four on and four off, and you described a little bit about your downtime, but did you have any—did you get out at all?

CN:

I was fortunate because I was dating a guy that was in special services, and so he—in fact, this compound where it was on the beach, he was in charge of that compound, and he had a vehicle. And so I wasn't supposed to do it, but he would come pick us up and we'd go over on the compound and stuff. They would get Vietnamese bands and the big song that they always sang was Proud Mary and it was always something to watch how they tried to do a Tina Turner and how they pronounced the words and stuff like that.

But we'd get there and then, of course, on R&R I managed to go to Australia, and because I was there for an extended time, I went to Taiwan and went to Hong Kong. Now when I was in Taiwan, I discovered I had hepatitis, so that was after I had been over there a year. And when I went back, my unit had stood down, so I went to Cam Ranh Bay to a drug treatment center, which another whole side of the war there.

I was head nurse of a—it was called an intensive care unit there, but it was just the people that were really, really sick with hepatitis. And we always had to draw our own blood from the patients. They didn't have like lab techs. They had lab techs but they just ran the tests, the nurses had to draw the blood. And I always tell people I got hepatitis through my boob, because we had, of course, our fatigues had pockets like this is, and we'd draw the blood and then we would put the syringes in our pockets because we kept them locked up, so you didn't run back every time. And so in those days you didn't worry about getting stuck and all of that stuff. And I'm sure that one of the caps came off and I got the hepatitis. And so, I had noticed that I hadn't been feeling well, but they always say nurses and doctors are the last to know. And I was awfully tired, and cigarettes tasted terrible but you smoked so many of them because they were so cheap. So I went on R&R and had my first big meal in a long time and of course promptly lost that. I went to the bathroom and it was all white and I looked at my eyes and I thought—So I was in a navy hospital for about a month while I was there with hepatitis.

So then I went back to Vietnam and was there just—I was close to my date to leave, so then I came on home. I could have been medevac[uat]ed out but I didn't want to because they said that you had to make sure you had your payroll papers and all that, and I was getting out anyway so I just came home regular. Of course, the money you made over there, because we never spent anything, that I think I drew $75 a month and always had money.

One thing that was—they paid us in MPCs, which was military payment coupons. They looked like monopoly playing money. Well, periodically they'd have to change it because it would get out on the black market, and so they would change it so that what was on the black market became worthless. So they would always announce that they'd be changing it on that certain day. And so you'd bring all your old MPC that you had to exchange for new. Well, half the time you forgot you had it, and I can remember one time a friend of mine had some in her desk drawer or dresser drawer that she forgot about. So of course, once it's changed its worthless. So we're lighting cigarettes with $20 bills and stuff like that, because it was worthless. We learned our lesson about that. We made sure we got our MPCs changed and stuff.

TS:

And that was to help prevent black market.

CN:

Yes, because it—everything filtered out on the black market. That's why we never had Salem cigarettes and Matuse wine, because they like that on the black market. So they would change it so that all the money out there would be worthless.

But Vietnamese—we had Vietnamese women that did all our laundry, cleaned our room and all of that for like I think it was ten bucks a month or something like that. Really took care of us, did our dishes if we had dirty dishes in our room and all of that. And we had two Vietnamese nurses that worked on our ward. Of course, they didn't work as nurses because they couldn't, but they took blood pressures and temperatures and then acted as interpreters for any of the Vietnamese patients that we had and stuff. You often wonder about all of those people, you know, what happened to them and stuff.

TS:

Now you're—you've talked very highly of the men that you worked with. Did you ever know of anyone that had suffered any kind of sexual harassment or discrimination or anything like that?

CN:

Not in our ward at all. Not at all. They just—we were just always treated quite well. There were several couples dating and stuff like that, and that was a big thing. If a nurse was dating a corpsman, you know, you had to sneak around with that. But no, we never had any problems with that whatsoever.

TS:

How about since you went over and you'd been working as a nurse for a while—so you had—I don't know if you had more experience than a lot of other nurses that were there.

CN:

I had—when I first got my orders, because I had been in the teaching end of it in Columbus for probably a couple years and hadn't done any actual bedside nursing. So when I got my orders and arrived—you arrived at four o'clock in the afternoon. You went to the chief nurse, she gave you your assignment, and you reported to duty at seven o'clock the next morning. And it was to intensive care unit. And I thought, “Oh my word.” Another time I thought, “What am I getting myself into?” But it's like riding a bicycle, your basic stuff never leaves you, it comes back. And it was a type of thing that you learn by doing and learn very, very fast. And the doctors were very respectable. They valued your opinions, and many cases we'd sit and talk about together and stuff what was going on.

And then you had your basics, you know. Like I said, we had the one cholera case and the one tetanus case, but most of them were injury-type cases. We had some punji stick injuries, which were really bad. And those were when the VC would file down bamboo to a point and then rub it in either animal or human feces and then stick them up in like where—the swamp or where the men were going. In fact, they developed a boot after a while, after they'd been over there, that had a metal sole in them because the punji sticks would go up through their foot. And as a result after that, then they'd get them in the side of the leg or whatever. Of course highly infectious, highly infectious. So we had those.

And a couple times we got white phosphorus burns in, and those were one of the worst I think. In which—it's a type of chemical that burns when it is in contact with air. And they would make, I don't know, with bombs or whatever they would make. And when they exploded all these pieces of white phosphorus, so it would hit like the leg, it would continue to burn all the way through. So when they arrived, usually, in the ER, somebody would jump on the gurney, other people would come along and we had big bottles of water or saline and you just kept pouring water on it and rode them right into OR. And they wouldn't even hardly mask or gown to pull those out; otherwise it would burn all the way through. So [we] had a few of those. But most of the other times it was you know the routine: the burns, the frags, the stuff like that. So you learn quickly.

TS:

Was it what you expected, do you think, when you went?

CN:

No, it was more than what I expected. It really was. And it wasn't quite as primitive as what I thought, but it also wasn't as nice as what I thought. You know you have different pictures in your head. But the medical care was top-notch. In every war they learned different things, and this war was one of that they developed some things because the guys were getting wet lung syndrome, because it was so damp during monsoons and stuff. And they would get—like it would be a pneumonia type thing. So they developed a lot of different strategies for treating that through the Vietnam War. And at that time, the care was top-notch, you know, that they could get at that time.

A lot of blood was needed. We sometimes gave blood, depending on how low the blood supply was. I felt sorry for the guys or anybody that was type O because that's the universal donor, and so they were always tapping those guys. Because a lot of times we'd get them from the helicopter and we had to be pumping blood in them right away. So those poor people were dragging a lot of the times and stuff. But there was always somebody willing to give blood when needed.

TS:

Did you have any like favorite supervisors or commanders or anything? You were there for eighteen months, so I don't know if there was a turnover.

CN:

Yes, there was a turnover. There was a couple of the superiors that—the one assistant CEO, or chief nursing officer, she was really, really nice. The main CO, nursing CO that was there while I was there, she was the one that we sandbagged her door and stuff. We didn't like her that well. When I first got there, one that was there was really nice, but she left shortly after I got there. Most of the time we didn't have a lot to do with them, and like I said, they really had no control over us. I mean they tried, but we, you know, we did our job and that's what we were there for. And we didn't like all that saluting and all that stuff.

TS:

Nurses were different than the army?

CN:

Yes, different breed. Like I said what were they going to do, send us home?

TS:

About how many nurses were there at a time, approximately?

CN:

I'm thinking—well, there may be forty. I don't know. I'll get my stuff, because I think there's some numbers in some of my stuff.

TS:

We can look at that. How did you feel about your fellow nurses then that you worked with, and the corpsmen, too?

CN:

Like I said, we all were very, very close. Everybody really, really knew what they were doing. I mean, after you worked there for a while, you really knew what you were doing. And the corpsmen were well trained. Some of them liked to give us a bad time but it was all in fun. We knew it was in fun. They—those are the ones that we still get together with and stuff. But we were all a close-knit [group]. Usually the closeness was between the physicians, the nurses, and the corpsman, that group. Of course, that was about all that was there besides. Pretty much that was a good group.

TS:

You had talked in your poem that I remember that you wrote, about trying to look—you remember always trying to look your best, and the perfume. Do you want to talk about that a little bit more?

CN:

The humidity was terrible over there, terrible. And a lot of us had hair like—of course, your hair was long because you couldn't get it cut over there. Somebody'd cut it, but most of the time you just pulled it back. So you tried to at least do something with it. And that was one thing, we were always writing home for hairspray and perfume and all this stuff. You just tried to look your best even though it was—the humidity was so bad, just because the guys appreciated it so much. Perfume, they loved the smell of perfume when you'd lean over and stuff. They'd always say you smelled so good. It just, I think, helped them a little bit. We tried to do what we could. But that was stuff that wasn't available. We always had to write home for it and stuff. And every time we got a package from home—because your mail would come to your ward, and then you'd have to go pick it up. And if there was a box of anything, usually by the time you got there somebody had opened it up to see if it was food or not, cookies or not. [chuckles]

TS:

You have to share.

CN:

Yes, you shared with everybody.

TS:

I remember having to share.

CN:

Yes, yes.

TS:

It didn't matter if it was labeled for you or not.

CN:

No, no, no, they'd get in to it. Especially if they could smell anything through the package.

TS:

And then you had also talked about when the USO came.

CN:

Yes. That was kind of our triumph. It first of all was kind of a downcast, because these chicks came in and were unreal. They had these beautiful gowns on and this hair just perfect and this makeup perfect. And there we sat in army fatigues, combat boots, our boonie hats, standing off to the side. They would just go around and just, you know, think they were being so wonderful to the guys. And that one that was, I could've—well, in fact, I think I did after they left, went over and kissed him and everything.

When she leaned down and said, “Isn't it nice to see these beautiful women from the United States?”

And he looked at us and said, “No offense, ma'am, but my nurses are the most beautiful people in the world.”

So we had our day that day. We felt good. Because they always had—well, Bob Hope didn't come to where we were because at the time it was pretty hot, so he didn't come there. Which I think was good that they came and they boosted morale and stuff like that. But they just had a lot more to work with than what we did. So we were pretty happy that day [chuckles] that he said that. I don't even remember his name. That's another thing, you forget people's names and stuff like that.

TS:

Sure would've been a lot of names to remember though.

CN:

Oh, yes. Yes.

TS:

Now what did you think about, basically, the administration, the government at that time and the leadership at that time?

CN:

At that time, I don't think we agreed that we should be there. We felt like it was a very political war. We saw it every day and the construction companies that were there was owned by Lady Bird Johnson's companies. And different things like that. I think that war started even in the Kennedy administration. I think there was rumblings of it then. And there was a lot of people made a lot of money off that war. And I think we saw that more than anybody else, and that's what we didn't agree with is that type of thing. And we felt like we weren't making any progress, you know? That that country had been at war for so many years and just felt like there was a lot of lives that shouldn't be lost. But again, it was that era that most of us had grown up in, that it was the thing to do.

TS:

The patriotic duty.

CN:

Yes very much so. [pause]

I can tell they're going to start again.

TS:

Oh, they'll be fine. I was going—with the way that you felt about that, you know, not necessarily agreeing with it, but then having to see all the GIs every day. And then you had said something, too, in your—in going home. Do you want to talk about that?

CN:

It was difficult. Totally different atmosphere on the plane coming back than going over there. I mean, there was—it wasn't total plane full of GIs, like going over the plane was completely full of GIs, and just a totally different atmosphere. I mean the guys were glad to come home, but a lot of those guys were in the field one day and the next day they were on a plane to go home. So you look at that shock of it, you know, type of it, still mud on their boots and stuff like that. So we always landed in California, again I think it was San Francisco. So we got off the plane. And there just at that time, the feelings towards the military was not good at all.

TS:

This was would've been '72?

CN:

Yes, and you could sense it no matter what. They—of course, we got to where we were to pick up our luggage, and this guy on—he had on a uniform from the airport there and got on the thing and asked the people that—the military people wait until the “paying customers” could get their luggage. And I was really upset and I don't know what made me do it, but I went over and took the mic from his hand and I said, “If you guys would only realize what these guys have been through. They were in the field yesterday, and they're here. You would be honored to carry their luggage.” So the majority of the people stepped back. There were still a few people.

But I held it together and I could never get a flight out of there to Ohio, to Toledo, till the next day. So I always had to stay over the night in a hotel or motel there. So of course, they have those phones to the different motels that you can call. And so I called to have a car to pick me up to take me to my normal Holiday Inn or something like that. So the guy came and the sweetest guy you'd ever want to see. Of course, I had a uniform on and he was asking me about it. And I got in there and he asked me a couple questions and I started crying. I held it together till then. And he got so concerned and everything. He pulled over, he got out, and he kept talking to me and everything. I got calmed down and everything, and he got me to the hotel and stuff. That night, his wife called me to see if I was all right, and I found out that they had lost three sons over there. And then I felt even worse.

But just the whole country was just, it just wasn't good. And for what those guys went through, it just was unreal that the people had that attitude. You know there were bad things that the GIs did, but there's bad things in everything. I mean you're not going to be able to control. You'd like to, but you can't. And I think sometimes that breeds. You know, and I hate to say it, and in those days—I don't know if they still do it—but a lot of people had the choice of going to jail and going to the army, and so you will have some unrest and stuff like that. I don't know if they still do that, but then they did it a lot.

TS:

That's right.

CN:

Not to make any assumptions or anything.

TS:

Did you—you had—would you say you had a difficult time then, in returning?

CN:

Somewhat. After that, again, like I said, I couldn't talk about it. By that time I think my family pretty much backed off. Then I had trouble when I was working in Maryland. I had met my husband through mutual friends in the army and we had—I had gotten married and everything, and was working in Maryland when I went through all this with the—I had trouble dealing with patients because of the fact—I guess I didn't have the patience to take care of them after seeing what I saw. And then these, what I considered minor, but looking back now, it was very major to these people, but I couldn't see it. Fortunately, I'd been married for about a year and I became pregnant, and so then I didn't work for a while. And that gave me time I think. Because I went right back to work when I got home. So I hadn't worked through some issues.

I think nurses didn't have quite the issues that the men do, but then you look back and we do. A lot of us still are dealing with it. We do everything in excess, you know. We're overweight, we eat too much, we smoke too much, some people drank too much. You know, that you just feel like—I think everybody over there felt like—some of the guys felt guilty because they lost their buddies. You felt like, “Look at me, I survived this. I can survive anything.” And I think that's what's been so hard for us to realize, that no, we can't, you know? And I think that is the biggest adjustment, and some of us haven't made that adjustment yet. When reality is going to look at us.

Some of us have had conditions that developed over there. And I think that's another thing that was so hard, that the government would not accept the fact that some of these things, you know. I'm convinced I had Agent Orange [herbicide] poisoning. I had become a diabetic, [with] no diabetic history at all. They do not know what caused this tumor. It's a big mystery. I had—it was exactly ten years after I got back, all of a sudden, my hands up to here, my feet up to mid-calf broke out. Just in great big massive cracks and stuff, and would bleed and stuff. And it was really bad. I couldn't hardly get, put anything on it or anything. Talking to other guys, I knew of three guys in my hometown that had the same thing, were all Vietnam vets. Exactly two years almost to the date, it went away. It's really strange. The same thing happened to those guys.

TS:

It's not like eczema?

CN:

No, it was just—I mean I hated to even put my hands out to get change because it looked so bad. And a lot of times when I was in public I'd wear gloves because it looked so bad. To this day I can't stand heat on my hands and feet for any length of time. So it's really strange. I had a basal carcinoma on my shoulder, which we had what we called jungle rot across our shoulders, which was a type of a fungus that—So, and when I think of all the DDT [pesticide] intoxication that these guys—and I think that's what's so bad, is that they've seen so many birth defects and stuff like that, and they really don't take the responsibility of staying, “Yes, this did happen.”

Somebody asked me, “Well, why don't you put in some claims?”

And I said, “No.” Because number one, all the red tape, number two, the guys deserve it much more than I do. I can function. I can do things. So I think that's been hard to accept, that, yes, there was. And I think the guys from Desert Storm are seeing the same thing with all the fuel oil, the lung problems and stuff. You know, if they're going to send our guys over there, then make sure that you back them up. But that's my soap box, I will get off of that. [chuckles]

TS:

It's okay. I was going to ask you if you—so when you joined the army, it was the Army Nurse Corps. Was there a period of time that you were supposed to serve? Was it a three year—?

CN:

It was a two-year [commitment].

TS:

A two-year, okay.

CN:

Yes, and like I said, I got a little bit of an early out, because they were usually giving early outs. And like I said, Vietnam was only one year, but because I extended then I got the early out, because I just extended the six months. So I was out within the eighteen months. I could've stayed in, and I thought about making a career of it. But I was only a captain, so I would've had to go back to school to become a major and in order to stay in. But at that time there was a quirk of something that I would've had to—they recommended that I get out, go to school on the GI Bill, and then reenlist. And then, of course, by the time I got out, then I got married and the service was the last thing I wanted to do. So I didn't stay in. I don't know if I could've stayed in. I don't know. Because I've always been kind of an outspoken person, and so I don't know if I could've buckled under all of it or not. I loved the travel. I would love to travel, but life took a different turn.

TS:

So your whole experience in the army was in—?

CN:

Was Vietnam.

TS:

And Fort Sam Houston.

CN:

Yes.

TS:

How about that? How do you feel about how the army treated you then? For a—

CN:

Yeah. I think it was all right. I mean I got—I went in, I got what I wanted, pay was good. I think it was okay.

TS:

Anything not okay that you would care to share with us? [chuckles]

CN:

I just don't like the bureaucracy of the service and stuff like that, but I suppose they have to have it. But anybody that—I don't know. One cute thing was, of course, I'd gone in as a first lieutenant, where most nurses went in as a second lieutenant, but because of my experience and everything I went in as a first lieutenant. And then after I had come home after the year and I was checking back into country, this guy was sitting at the desk that I was checking in, because you had to check in with your orders and stuff like that, and he said, “Lieutenant, you're out of uniform.” And of course, we never could get things straight half the time and I thought, “Do I have my caduceus on the wrong thing or something like that?” And he reached in his drawer and pulled out some captains bars and he said, “Because you're a captain now.” I had gotten promoted when I was home and didn't know it. So it was cute the way he told me that I got promoted to captain.

TS:

What's a caduceus?

CN:

It's the—oh, I know you've seen it. It's a medical insignia. It has the snake up the—yes. And ours we had that, and then we had an N in it for nursing.

TS:

That's right, and they had the M for the medical. That's right, okay, I remember what those are now. Do you think there's anything that you would like to, you know, to have a civilian understand about life in the military, or even, mostly because you were so—you were—it was all in Vietnam. Is there anything that you think the people don't understand that they should understand?

CN:

I think, in talking to other people in the military, they said mostly the stateside—what they have to serve stateside is just kind of like having a job. That it's not really—you know, you can have your own apartment and different things like that. So I think—I think it would be a good career for someone that really wants something with security and wants to see, kind of travel and stuff like that. I think it would be good. I think if my daughter said she wanted to join the military I probably would've said go for it. But I would've said get your, either your bachelors or your masters or something before going in. Because I think it's better if you do have that behind you and go in as an officer than as an enlisted man. You just get a little bit more perks and stuff like that.

TS:

As an enlisted person, I can say yes. [chuckles]

CN:

Yes, yes.

TS:

I liked being enlisted, too. It was okay.

CN:

The nurses loved the enlisted men.

TS:

We talked a little bit about the anti-war movement and how you felt about that. Is there anything you'd like to add to that? From when you came back, more, because we talked about a little bit before you went in.

CN:

Yes. I just, I don't know. Maybe it was a time and they had to do it and all of that. But I just don't—I'm one—why bother with stuff like that. If you question something or don't agree with something, then do something. Make it better, don't just protest it. Make it better, or find out why it's this way. And I've always been that way, you know? It's just like—and I think I said it in the poem—that my daughter had asked me when we had all this Desert Storm welcome home and stuff, which the Vietnam guys started, she said, “Why didn't they do this for the Vietnam vets?”

And I said, “It was a different time. Our country was at a different place,” and stuff like that.

And I think that's it. I've always said, you know, if you don't agree with something, find out why, what's happening, and then do something. Don't just stand waving a flag and saying you know, “This is wrong.” Then figure out why it's wrong and do it. And I've always been that way. I just think there was a lot of time wasted, money wasted, and stuff like that. It didn't get us out of there any sooner, I don't think.

TS:

How about the women's movement?

CN:

That has its pros and cons, which I think it's been good. Of course, I'm all for equal pay and stuff like that. I think that, like anything else, could be taken to extreme. But I think it was good that we're no longer in the dark ages that way. Then I think that still women have got a lot to—a lot further to go, but then again, I say I don't know if I agree with the women in combat, you know. So I guess I'm kind of wishy-washy on the subject. Just being over there and not being in the fighting zone, you know, I just—I just can't believe, I don't know, maybe they're better people than I am. But I just—I don't think it's right. But the women's movement would differ with me. But it was good. It's got us a lot of things.

TS:

I think there's some on both sides of the women's movement, some are anti-military—

CN:

Yes, and some are the apron meeting at the door type thing.

TS:

Now have you—were you able to use any of your veteran's benefits at all?

CN:

I didn't. I probably could've when I bought my house, but I didn't. And I thought about going back to school. Now I did, once I retired and moved down here, I did go to the VA [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] to see if I could get some of my medicines and stuff like that. And I was treated better than most of the guys were treated, but still wasn't treated the best in the world. And [I] was told that to get myself a civilian doctor because it would be months before they could do anything with me. Which I'm kind of glad now, because I developed—they discovered the tumor. But it's just that they have so many that they have to—you have to jump through so many hoops.

But then you have the other example, you have people who are taking advantage of this, too. That they're claiming or filing claims when they really don't need to file claims. So I think that's what's overwhelming, but I think the system's so overwhelmed. And people, I talked to other vets and they say, “Go for it. Go get them,” and I will, probably eventually. But we were down there all day long and I came out with nothing. They said, “Well call back in six months for an appointment,” and I thought, you know, it's just it's not worth it right now. There's so many guys that need it worse than I do. And that's not being noble, it's just—oh, I don't know.

TS:

Do you think that, because there's been a lot in the news in the last couple of years about the VA, do you feel that's fair criticism that they're getting or needed? You're kind of answering that.

CN:

I think maybe some of it's true. But again, working in a hospital most of my career—of course, I don't believe in mistakes happening and neglect and stuff like that, but so many times, sometimes inspectors come in with no background and don't know what they're looking at. So I think sometimes they see other things that really aren't the big deal that they see. They don't know what they're seeing. But then again, I think there are some areas that really could be very much improved on. But again, I should get involved if I want to know what's going on. [laughs]

TS:

How about—you know a lot of Vietnam veterans. Do you know of any that may be homeless? Or the issue of the homeless Vietnam veterans, is that an issue that has concerned you at all?

CN:

It's concerned me, but I really haven't come—been involved in it. Now when I was up north, I served on the Veterans Commission, which—and again is another prejudice that I kind of had to deal with. And it's a judge appointed position, and what we do is—or what I did when I was on the commission, is you review cases of veterans asking for assistance. And it's a temporary assistance that maybe they've lost their job and they need money for heating and groceries and stuff to get back on their feet and stuff. And so every month we would meet and go through these cases. Now the com—or the service officer, he could okay different things but then he had to run them through us. And so I saw a little bit, and we did as much as we could. But the whole thing with that was to get the veteran help to get them back on their feet so they wouldn't be homeless.

But I also had a comment from some guys that observed our group and left and wanted to know what in the H a woman was doing on that board. And so he got promptly told by a few of the other veterans, “She has every right to be on the board,” but that's another whole story. I mean in Napoleon where I lived, we didn't have that much of it. I'm sure Toledo had it and stuff, but I hadn't been involved that much with it. I think we probably have got homeless just like there's other homeless people. And I really think things should—they should be helped at all possible. And then you also have the ones that don't want help, too. So I think it's a double-edged sword there.

TS:

Do you think there's any link to mental illness at all and some of the trauma they went through?

CN:

I think there is very legitimate the PSTD [PTSD, post—traumatic stress disorder]. I think very much so. Again, you know, when they left one day and arrived back here—and I think the combination of the country not accepting them. I just can't imagine killing somebody and then coming back and saying, “It's all right,” you know. And some of the living conditions and stuff like that. Then of course, you have others that are claiming they never even saw any, you know, fighting. So I think there is very legitimate reasons, and I think they need to be helped, whether it's a support group or, you know, something.

TS:

Now you had started out a little bit, when you were talking about why you went in the military, part of that—part of it, not all of it—had to do with patriotism. Have your views on patriotism changed at all since then, since 1970?

CN:

No, not really. Not really. In fact, I think even with 9/11 it's gotten stronger. I think everybody's have gotten stronger with that. But, no. Like I said, I'd do it again in a minute.

TS:

Did being in the military change you at all?

CN:

Oh definitely, definitely. I'm not as patient as what I used to be. My daughter points that out to me all the time. And then again, I kind of think I'm more understanding of certain things and stuff. But as far as job-wise and everything, military, I got the experience that I've never had, would've never gotten in a lifetime and never will. But I also was raised from a family that my father, “You do your job, and you do it well, and you shut up about it.” So I think I still have that in the back of my mind, even though I became more outspoken on certain things. I think maybe it's made me a better person, too. I really do. It's made me proud of what I did.

TS:

Would you—is there anything in particular that you would—advice that you would give the current generation of women veterans or women—servicewomen?

CN:

I think in a way they probably got it tougher than what we had. I think again, because of being in combat. Like I said, there was—to my knowledge, there was no sexual harassment in my whole area. Where I think now they have it more, and I don't know why it's more, whether it's just more common now or being reported now, you know. I kind of feel bad about that. But I think it's good, you know, that—I think, like I said, try and get education or get your education in the military. What a wonderful way to get it and get it paid for, if you can. I think it's great. I think we need people to go into the military.

TS:

We have covered quite a lot.

CN:

Yes.

TS:

Is there anything that you'd like to add that we didn't get a chance to talk about?

CN:

I think it's really great that something—that you're doing this, because I've always had the fear—and that's one reason I wrote the poem, too, and I like to give the poem out—because I've always had this fear because the women's veterans, especially the Vietnam era, were kind of back here, that we just kind of disappear and nothing, you know, there would be one line in a history book that, “Oh, X number of women served in Vietnam,” and that's all you'd see. So I'm really proud of that fact that you guys are doing this. I think it's wonderful. And one thing I didn't bring up with my poem: you know, you always want to help at least one person. And my church back home on Veterans Day, the minister knew I had written this, so he asked me to come up and read it. And so I read it in front of the church. And the next—the next Sunday, this young woman came up to me that I had never met before. And she said, “I want to thank you for your poem.”

And I said, “Well, thank you, that's nice.”

And she said, “You know, my father was a Vietnam vet.” And she said, “He came back and he was totally changed.” And she said, of course, “He became an alcoholic.” She said, “My mother became very bitter.” She said, “He ended up dying of alcoholism.” And she said, “My mother never forgave him.” She said, “She was a very bitter person.” And she said, “After you read the poem, she started crying and she said 'I'm going to go visit his grave.'” And so she said, “It made a world of difference.”

And I said, “That makes it all worthwhile.”

You know, things like that—I feel that my experience maybe could help someone that's really struggling with some things as to why—I still think about that, these guys coming home and the families understanding what's going on, what these people—because sitting back here, we don't realize. We're lucky that we don't have a country at war, that we can walk out our door and do whatever we want to. People don't realize what it means to have a country in war, or to be in that country and be in the war. It's amazing.

TS:

That's very true.

CN:

So really, thank you for doing this.

TS:

Carol, thank you. I really appreciate you sitting here and talking to us and I hope I get the—some of the, our acronyms down for the transcriber.

CN:

Oh, I hope I didn't talk too much and too much around and stuff like that.

TS:

No, you were terrific, I'll go ahead and stop it.

[recoding paused]

TS:

Okay, Carol, we're back on again. I have one question that kind of came up there, that you were talking about the Bronze Star [medal], how you were awarded the Bronze Star and what happened.

CN:

Yes. While I was over there, I was awarded the Bronze Star, and [the] citation [was] all written up and everything. There were several of us nurses that were to receive medals while we were over there. And they had a big ceremony in the colonel's place where he was. And we all refused to go and get our medals, because we felt like we did not deserve it, that the guys in the field deserved it much more. We were over there doing our job, so therefore we did not deserve it. So I did not bring mine home. It was sent to my home after I was out of the service. So I have it, but it was sent to me, I didn't accept it.

TS:

Do you think a number of the women felt that way about—?

CN:

I think a lot of them did that, you know, we were there doing our job. We weren't being heroes. We weren't—you know, the guys deserved it so much more than what we did. We were doing our job.

TS:

Did you get any award at—that you thought—that you are proud of?

CN:

We got the Good Conduct Medal. Everybody got that. [chuckles] You know, no, I'm not. Just the fact that we were appreciated was reward enough. Sounds hokey, but it's true.

TS:

The one fellow telling you that you were the most beautiful.

CN:

Yes, that was the best reward ever.

TS:

Well very good, well thank you for adding that. I thought that was—

CN:

Okay.

[End of Interview]