This encyclopedic volume is a valuable in-depth history told in the words of women who served in the Vietnam War from 1962-1972. A book team of twenty members collaborated in producing Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories (AuthorHouse, 733 pp., $36.99, hardcover; $25.95, paper; $9.99, Kindle) by Donna A. Lowrey, who served in Vietnam in 1967-69.
The book contains the words of enlisted women and officers—other than nurses—who served in Vietnam during the war. The extensive databases and indices in this work are guides to this historical cornucopia containing the contributions of hundreds of female veterans.
The Army, Air Force, Marine, and Navy are all represented. I recommend a close look at the lists prior to reading the oral histories and biographical sketches, which are arranged chronologically according to when the veterans served in Vietnam. The entries would have been better had they included the homes of record of the veterans. I found connections to my own service in the extensive lists.
Readers will discover a wide spectrum of jobs and combat zone tales, from humorous to tragic. Women served as physical therapists, switchboard operators, clerk typists, journalists, nutritionists, comptrollers, and staff Judge Advocates, among many other jobs. Many of the accounts recall the same February 18, 1968, night attack when the Viet Cong blew up the ammo dump at Long Binh.
Spec. 5 Sonia Gonzalez, a clerk typist, was new in-country when the attack woke her and she scrambled to the safety of the first floor of her barracks. “I managed to get my issue [clothes] on,” she said. “We stayed there until the next morning. A formation was called and as roll was being taken, everyone started laughing. My pants were on backwards; my uncomfortable boots pointed outward with the left boot on the right and the right boot on my left.”
Several veterans share other memories of the 1968 Tet Offensive. Some marked their arrival in Vietnam by the length of time until Bob Hope’s Christmas Show. Maj. Betty Jean Stallings recalled the Hope show being broadcast on Armed Forces Vietnam Television: “Once when I had to walk down the hall, I realized the same TV show was coming out of every office. The next day, it was easy to see who had seen the show in person and who had watched on TV. Those who had watched in person were quite sunburned.” I might add that I was there photographing the show that hot day.
Geckos, bats, cockroaches, rats, and mosquitoes are described by many of the contributors—along with hot, wet, and humid weather, hygiene matters, living quarters, clubs, and Post Exchanges.
Morale is the subject of many of these recollections. Spec. 5 Ida Colford wrote to the governor of Maine in November 1967 asking for a fresh Christmas tree. A month later, a Pan Am jet delivered a nine-foot Maine Balsam to Saigon. “It lifted the spirits of all of us so far from home,” Colford said.
So did the formation of a quintet in 1966 called “The Bootleggers of Old Long Binh.” The group wrote songs and performed at their base. There was also a 27-member Women’s Army Corps Drill Team that performed at the WAC Detachment.
Today’s parlance could be used to describe the typical women’s work schedule as 24/7. After their twelve-hour days, many volunteered at jobs such as visiting children in orphanages. Marine Sgt. Ermelinda Salazar worked at St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage, home to 75 children.”This whole orphanage is taken care of by two Catholic sisters,” she said. “The two sisters are Vietnamese who speak no English at all.”
Many of the reports describe combat situations such as what the late Mary Van Ette Bender experienced. She served as an Army Chief Warrant Officer and found herself guarding her hotel billet during the 1968 Tet offensive in Saigon. “The MPs guarding the building had been killed almost immediately,” she said. “I was then asked by a male officer to guard the stairwell to the third floor. He then gave me grenades and instructed me to blow up the stairwell in the event that the Viet Cong were able to take the bottom two floors.” CWO Bender was awarded two Bronze Stars for defending her billet and the women inside.
There are too many poems, songs, letters, and opinions pro and con on the Vietnam War to include here. I found a veteran who worked in the same Engineer Command building where I served at Long Binh in 1970. Sgt. Maryna Misiewicz served as Administrative NCO/ Attache Specialist to Gen. A.B. Dillard, our commander.
Tragically, he and serveral others were killed in a helicopter crash. When Sgt. Misiewicz returned home she attended Gen. Dillard’s funeral.