Ann Danis, Vietnam era veteran
Kingston, WA, USA
I was in high school during the Vietnam war. So unaware of this tragic and powerful event that I continued to skip classes, smoke small amounts of pot and go to my theater group in a confused bliss. The world was certainly about me during this period and the men dying in this strange and foreign place had no bearing on my life.
I joined the Army in 1976 (which gave me the Vietnam era GI bill and the right to call my self a vietnam Era Vet). In the four years I was active duty I worked in a brace shop making leg braces, back braces, orthopedic shoe repairs and fitting hernia trusses. It wasn't until I left the Army in 81 and ran a brace shop at a Veteran's hospital that I was touched by that war.
I helped many of the Vietnam vets both with brace work and with minor repairs on prosthetic devices. Woody in particular I remember. A very angry, bitter man with a mangled leg (from a land mine I assumed) that required a plastic foot brace. I never could get that thing to work for him even though it was the best work I could do. He needed his good leg back. Most of the men, however were stoic quite creatures that if I had been more aware of the significance of their histories I could have learned much from them. But I wasn't and these stories passed me in the dark.
While placing a plaster cast on a new ambutatee in the operating room one day,I decided I wanted to become an Operating Room Nurse - I was at home in the environment and it was exciting. I went to nursing school on my GI Bill - that was paid for by those quite and stoic men I didn't understand. When I graduated I then became a Navy Nurse. My years in the Navy taught me ward nursing, ICU (Certified), Ambulatory nursing, and finally, Operating Room Nursing (certified). My last tour was aboard a USN war ship that had four operating rooms on it. My job was to ensure we were able to repair Marines injured in battle.
My most poignant memory was in December of 98. The Marines were required to go ashore in Kuwait. Those men (boys) knew they could be killed or hurt - I could see it in their eyes and their manner. The atmosphere was tense - and yet they hauled all their gear (for some over 100 pounds) onto the flight deck ramp and waited their turn to get on the helicopters. The Sergents kept them in line and kept them focused on their mission through those long hot hours of waiting. And they went. Fortunetly, those men all came back safe except four who were involved in a HumV accident. But they were required to spend Christmas ashore - the ship had moved out of range for a safe return. A long lonely Christmas it was.
Each one of those men went to war - even though it didn't occur. I still don't understand why they did it - what makes men (and women) go to to a place that may end their lives. I do know that I love America and I appreciate my life here so much more because of that long day I witnessed those men get on the helicopters.
What does this have to do with the Vietnam vets? It's just that I finally understood the braverly of those men (and some women) who went to Vietnam because it was their job and because they believed it was the right thing to do.
They are heros, each one of them.