'Invisible veterans' due honor

November 11, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

During the long nightmare that was Vietnam, thousands of U.S. military women braved enemy fire, saved horribly maimed soldiers and comforted dying teen-agers.

Yet, 17 years after the war's end, these women remain Vietnam's "invisible veterans."

Former Army nurse Diane Carlson Evans said she first felt the sting of the oversight when she attended the 1982 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Only eight women are among the 58,183 names of war dead etched on the Wall.

"I thought about the women I had served with and the fact that they were nowhere to be seen," Ms. Evans recalled. "The country didn't seem to notice that we were there."

On this Veterans Day, Ms. Evans and thousands of sister vets are about to reach an important milestone in a nine-year grassroots campaign. Tomorrow they will mark the site for the Vietnam Women's Memorial on a green expanse in front of the Wall.

The bronze statue of three women and a wounded soldier -- the capital's first memorial to female veterans -- will be unveiled on Veterans Day 1993.

The female vets' strongest support comes from male veterans who have deluged the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project with emotional letters and donations toward the $2 million needed for the monument's cost and upkeep.

Female vets say the statue will honor the military and civilian women who served in Vietnam and also recognize the 265,000 women who served worldwide during the war, including doctors and nurses.

"It's about healing and completing the Vietnam Memorial and closing the circle with the men and women veterans," said Ms. Evans, 46, a Minnesota mother of four who launched the project.

The Washington bureaucracy didn't embrace the idea of another addition to the Vietnam Memorial.

"We were told to take our statue and go somewhere else," recalled Ms. Evans. "But, we served beside our brother soldiers and there was only one place for us and that was beside them at the memorial."

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