Kim Heikkila’s Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 232 pp., $19.95, paper) looks at fifteen women from the Land of 10,000 Lakes who served as nurses in the Vietnam War. She melds their stories into six chapters that look at the nurses’ relationship with the troops, their war-zone experiences, their homecomings, and their postwar adjustments to life back home.
“It is a story of venturesome women who chose to practice their traditionally feminine career in a decidedly masculine setting,” Heikkila says. The collective stories in the book rise “to heights of adventure,” fall to “depths of despair as they experienced the carnage of war,” ascend “again as they eagerly left the war zone and returned home, only to descend once more as they encountered public hostility, institutional indifference, and psychological stress in the aftermath of war.”
Heikkila, who teaches U.S. history, U.S. women’s history, the Vietnam War, and the 1960s at St. Catherine University, found that the women’s experiences in Vietnam “were both similar to and different from men’s.” Their stories, she says, “are not merely interesting additions to men’s stories of the war—though they are that. They are also part and parcel of the war story itself.”
The group of women includes Diane Carlson Evans, who went on to spearhead the effort that led to the creation of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. Several other Minnesota women nurses, including Donna-Marie Boulay, also worked to build the memorial—which is the subject of the book’s final chapter.