Women Veterans: They Also Served

November 14, 1993

When traditional histories of war mention women -- if at all -- it is usually as a footnote of some oddity like Deborah Sampson, a housewife during the Revolutionary War, who disguised herself as a man to join the Massachusetts Regiment.

That is no longer possible. Debates may rage about women in combat, but women have become such an integral part of the nation's armed services that national leaders routinely refer to "our service men and women." That change came gradually, but it was thrust into our consciousness during Operation Desert Storm, with almost as many stories about mothers saying goodbye to their children as of fathers marching off to war.

With the unveiling on Veterans' Day of a statue honoring women who served in Vietnam, military women are beginning to get public recognition for their contributions to the defense of the country. Some 265,000 women served during the Vietnam war; 11,500 of them spent time in Vietnam. Eight of the names chiseled on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are women. But for most of us, the term "Vietnam vet" invariably brings to mind a male.

Most of the women who served in Vietnam worked as nurses, young women often just out of school who ended up witnessing much of the carnage from that war. They saw what modern weapons do to human bodies and, thanks to quick evacuation from the battlefield, they often saw it within minutes after it occurred. In the aftermath of Vietnam, the nation became acquainted with post-traumatic stress syndrome. But many of these nurses are still coming to terms with the fact that healers sometimes need healing, too.

For veterans -- and for the country at large -- the mesmerizing walls of the Vietnam memorial have symbolized the need and the possibility of healing. The addition a decade ago of a statue of three servicemen to the site satisfied critics who wanted a more bTC realistic monument. Yet, ironically, that "realistic" touch -- all male -- energized women veterans who said, rightly, "We served too."

Yes, they did. The new statue brings that truth home.

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