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Salute to the Nurses of Vietnam

By Harry Kieninger

Harry Kieninger served as a medic at Cu Chi in ’67. He is the author of When Can We Come Home? Understanding the Viet Nam Veteran. Please visit with Harry.

When we think about war the first mental pictures are those of brave men running and dodging enemy bullets, shielding themselves from mortars and grenades.

We see these brave men firing weapons and shooting down the enemy. For the most part we see heroes defending their country.

In every war this country has fought there are countless stories of brave men who went beyond the call of duty, putting their life on the line to rescue a fellow soldier.

I have seen many heroes in action. I was a combat medic in Vietnam in 1967 and experienced the real war. The only problem I see is the fact that it takes a team to make it all work. In all that is said and written we seldom hear about the women soldiers that made not only their contribution but many times went beyond the call of duty in service to their country.

The following is my salute and recognition of honor to all the nurses, medical aids, or any area of service in the Vietnam War.

The Sixties was a time of political unrest and confusion and this country protested War in Vietnam. Those who served in ‘Nam were cheated because of this whether they were male or female. They didn't receive the respect and honor of the American people. My goal in writing this story is to relate the truth concerning Nurses in 'Nam which hopefully will give you a clearer understanding concerning their value and commitment.

Most do not know that almost all women that served in Vietnam were volunteers. They went because of a will to serve. The truth is that when most people think of ‘Nam Nurses they visualize these nice little ladies all dressed in white, wearing white shoes and hose, white dresses and a little white hat with a red cross on it.

Not So...they wore Army issue fatigues and combat boots. If need be they wore helmet liners and steel pots. Women didn't go out in the jungles and rice paddies. They didn’t carry M-16 weapons but they were still in danger of mortar attacks and snipers or even a total enemy takeover. There was no safe place in ‘Nam .

I was a field medic. When someone was wounded I performed the first steps of life saving, applied pressure dressings or tourniquets and morphine for pain. The wounded were evacuated by choppers to base camp doctors and nurses who continued treating the patient doing advanced treatment. Without the base camp nurses and their professional training many of the men would have died. ‘Nam Nurses did a wonderful job. I'm sure that the number on the Washington Wall would likely be 158,000 instead of 58,000 but for them.

'Nam Nurses were very emotionally involved with their patients; I’ve seen them actually sobbing in tears grasping the hand of a soldier who had died. Many times a nurse would work 12 to 14 hours straight.

If there was heavy action on the field they may work around the clock. There were times following fire fights resulting in multiple injuries that I would walk to the main medical station to see friends who had been hit only to be met by a weeping nurse, she would say, “He didn't make it, Harry, I'm so sorry.”

As I’ve said the value of the many nurses who served cannot be put into words.

I’ve seen them run as hard as they could to the chopper pad to help unload the wounded. Some of the men were twice the weight of the nurse. These women of courage were great, they choose to suffer with the suffering, to cry with hurting and comfort the dying. I Salute these brave, brave women nurses who saved the lives of thousands of American soldiers. They never fired an M-16 or tossed a grenade but they did the job as well as any man could and they did it with pride. I say without a doubt that from my view the Nurses in ‘Nam are to be forever commended for a job well done.

In my final words I say thank you and hats off to all the nurses who did it right and rightly did a hell of a good job in the Vietnam war.

Thank You. Harry Kieninger
Combat Medic, Cu Chi, ‘67


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