tv Oral Histories Vietnam War Nurse Donna Rowe CSPAN April 19, 2021 12:29pm-1:58pm EDT
washington's great lives lecture series. first we look at the military career of general douglas macarthur from his 1903 west point graduation to being relieved of command by president harry truman during the korean war. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. american history tv on c-span3 every weekend, documenting america's story. funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span3 as a public service. donna curtis rowe served as u.s. army nurse during the vietnam war. up next she describes her training, experiences and interactions with the vietnamese people. this interview is from the veterans history project and was conducted by the atlanta history
kenan research center. >> how old were you when you went to vietnam? >> i was 24. >> 24. what was your family status? >> i was married to my husband, al, who was also in the military. we went together and at home was my sister, brother, mother and father back in massachusetts. >> your hometown? >> massachusetts, small town, outside of worcester, massachusetts, about 40 miles from boston. >> outside worcester. >> uh-huh. >> what year it was you went to vietnam? >> i wases in vietnam '68 to '69. >> what was your sense of the vietnam war before you decided to enter the military? >> well, actually, i didn't have much of a sense of it at all. the way i entered the military was that the army nurse
corporation and the navy nurse corps came around to different nursing schools, and they had formulated the student nurse corps program, which was an rotc program because they needed nurses. i wasn't old enough so i had to take the paper home and only my father could sign the paper. not my mother, my father. i sat there with my irish father and i said, daddy, i need you to sign this because they're going to pay for my last 18 months of training and, plus, if i wanted to, they would have also paid for a masters degree in nursing. and my father looked down at the paper and he said, you know, child, if i'd be signing this piece of paper, you're going to war. and i went, i am? and he said, there's a war going on over there in that southeast asia somewhere. he said, you're going to war. and that was my first real, gosh, we're going to war. and my father signed it and
three years later, i was there. >> you were there. >> describe the training you received before deploying to vietnam. >> well, in between graduating from nursing school and i had to get my rn. in those days we did it with a number 2 pencil and it had to be scored out in st. louis. it wasn't this instant you knew you passed. so, i took my state board exams and it took about six months to get your rn. so, i was a graduate nurse in massachusetts. of course, i couldn't go in the army and be commissioned unless i was an rn. so, during that six-month period of time, after graduating from nursing school, i decided to get a certification in e.r. so, i trained in various city e.r.s around massachusetts.
worcester city, my home hospital, hannemann hospital, boston city hospital and i got certified in e.r. and then when i went into the army, they sent us off to basic training at brook army medical center, ft. sam houston, texas. from there i was basically assigned to either surgical wards or e.r. or o.r. during my military career before i went to vietnam. so, i had a lot of o.r./e.r. training civilian -- >> stateside. >> stateside. and in -- at like womack army hospital, ft. bragg, in, income, dewitt army hospital. i did have some time at walter reed, but it wasn't e.r. but i did a lot of e.r./o.r. because e.r. nurses are cross-trained o.r. and so that was my preparation for vietnam.
>> when were you sent to vietnam? >> june 1968. >> '68. >> and al and i went together on the same plane. we went over together and we came back together on the same plane. >> what were your first impressions on landing in vietnam? >> well, it was hot. and it had a funny -- a different odor to it. and it was dusty because we landed at long bend. and it was dusty, and the people were tiny. people were small. and i'm 5'4" and i was big. i was considered a big woman. and i found that very interesting. but it was the smell and the
heat that affected me. i mean, we came out of virginia, and i had been stationed at -- obviously in texas and in fk north carolina, but this heat was a different kind of heat. different type of heat. >> what -- how were you assigned to your first post? >> well, that's a story. the chief nurse of vietnam was colonel williams. to begin with, the army nurse corps wasn't too fond of the fact that i was married. you know, you're supposed to be married to the corps first. and then after that i guess you could get married. >> if they want you to have a husband, they'll assign you one. >> general's famous words he told me one time. but i -- i arrived and they didn't quite know where they needed me most mainly because of this e.r. background i had. first they wanted me at cuchi and they needed me at the ninth.
and then they thought, no, they really needed me closer to danang. so, they flip-flop around. so for about three weeks i sat there waiting for them to decide what to do with me. i finally went and i asked to see the chief nurse, colonel williams. i said, colonel williams, i've really got to get going here. i'm the welcome crew. i've welcomed nurses in, and i told them good-bye. i became the welcome wagon for the army nurse corporation. and i said, you know, it's really time for me to get going. at that time al was at wafuby. and she said, donna, i'm very concerned about where to put you. i said, why is that? she said, well, because you're married. i said, what does that have to do with anything? she said, well, she said, you know, donna, i was married to my husband in korea and i knew
you're going to jump on choppers and joy ride to try to see each other. she said, so my -- what i'm trying to figure out is where i can get you as close as i can to where he is. i said, well, he's being reassigned to saigon to magv, not that he'll be there all the time and she said, well, you're going to saigon. you're going to third field in saigon. they did need me because they were building a new emergency room, a new triage area. they really needed to have that, i really thought through and configured. and my husband was very helpful in the engineering of that because i said to him, you know, they're engineering this wrong as far as the triage, the process of triage. and then he said, well, how do you want it to be? so, he helped engineer that. and so i got there at the right time. >> yeah. >> yeah. once you were at third field,
what were your initial duties? >> i was -- first they put me at supervisor. and i played supervisor because of my multiple cross-trainings. and so i could cover -- i could check on icu, i knew what was going on in o.r. e.r. was okay but wasn't running the way it should be running. and then the different -- we had nine wards. nine wards. finally they said, donna, we need you down there to straighten out the emergency room, the triage, and get this thing up and running. so that was my -- i did supervisor maybe two weeks ask then they just pulled me out and said, you're going down here, you have to straighten this thing out. and so -- but that's what i was trained to do. that's all the training i had had preliminary to coming in the military. and then in the military stateside, i had done nothing
but emergency room or o.r. the emergency room in vietnam, the triage area was here, the insiding e.r. was here and then an l-shape that shot off that al designed that became the 13 surgical suites. so, we fed one right into the other. and so it -- >> made sense. >> it made sense. well, and then inside the emergency room itself, we had backup two e.r.s, two e.r. rooms. my men, all my men were cross-trained o.r. techs. so, if we had to have, if someone started to go sour and those rooms were full, our 13 were full at the time, and someone started to go sour on it, we could open an e.r./o.r. suite and we could actually operate with our emergency room doctors. so, it was quite an operation. >> what was your daily routine like? if you had one? >> there really wasn't one. it was dictated -- it was
dictated by the chopper in the air, how many were coming in. and you see in saigon, not only did i -- i was the hub of the wheel. out from me there were evac hospitals and out from them were surgical hospitals. if they got overloaded, then they started to feed into the hub, which was me. and i had no other place to go except to shove them out to tonsanut and get them out of country. but we also covered saigon. so, if there was anything going on in saigon at cholona or along the river -- >> blew up the embassy -- >> yeah, anything like that going on, we were covering that, too. so, my days -- days ran into days. there were some days i actually remember going off duty. there were other days i remember just staying on and staying on
and staying on. they brought food carts down to the e.r. because we were under such constriction that we could not really wander around the hospital. i mean, we had to be there because we never knew. a jeep could come flying in the back gate with five casualties in the back. or, i mean, we could have a hand grenade go off in a little cafe outside our perimeter, and banga would have casualties or all of a sudden choppers started to come into our hotel, which was between tonsanut air force base and us. it was a little green -- little green. it was a green island kind of space. so, the days were -- the days were long but there were quiet times in the days. and that's when we sort of rehung ivs, we made sure we had
enough needles, we made sure we had enough blood. we ran low on blood a lot of times. and there was a couple of times when we actually drew blood from the hospital personnel. >> what were your living conditions, your quarters like? >> well, that was -- my husband pulled that one off. the nurse -- there was nurses, which was a five-story building. there was nurses hooch over there and then the enlisted hooch, which was a two-story -- three-story, actually, part of our compound. westmoreland and abrams lived in our compound. they were right outside my triage area. i'll tell you about general abrams later. he was wonderful. and then there was the hospital, and then there was a little nurses' hooch here and then there was the massachusetts boq, which was basically for macv. and so my husband got a room on
the third floor, bob trombue, that was the number, and my nurse allowed me to move into the massachusetts boq. i was the only female so i had to sing going down the hallway to let the guys know that i'm -- there's a female on the ward -- on the floor. so, i lived with my in my husband's hooch. >> all right. >> they wanted it that way. they didn't want al living in the nurse's hooch, so that was okay that i lived in the macv. >> what responsibilities consume most of your time? as a triage -- >> the responsibilities that consumed most of my time was the management of the flow of casualties and the management of
supplies. i was very cognizant of how many ivs we had, how many number 14 gauge catheters we had, because that's what we used to start their ivs because we had to give so much blood at one time. >> you were doing cutdowns and -- >> we didn't do a lot of cutdowns. the only time we did cutdowns is if we had a real cardiovascular collapse. if they really came in and they were grenaded out and we couldn't find a good vein, then we did a cutdown. my men were trained on how to do a cutdown. we did things in vietnam that were never allowed in the states. we did intubation. i mean, i had pfcs doing intubations because there were just so many hands. there were so many casualties that if you waited for me to come and do your intubation, then you really had a problem. >> would you describe for the
people who don't know what a cutdown is? >> a cutdown is when you identify a vein, you actually cut and you bring the vein up and then you make a small incision into the vein and then you thread the catheter or iv catheter into that. >> because you can't find a vein, it bled out. >> because the vein has collapsed. you know, when you're looking for a vein, you're looking for one that's sticking up. in most cases, most of the men, fortunately, because of their age, because they were so young, if they had been hydrated at all, if they had had water that day at all, they were pretty easy to hit, for me and for my men. again, my men were already combat seasoned. they had already been in the field. 90% of my men had already been in the field for six, seven, eight, nine, ten months. so, when they rotated back to
me, they were already -- they already knew what under fire was. and that's why they wanted to work in the triage emergency room because it wasn't just changing bandages, giving food trays. i mean, we were constantly moving. we were constantly on the go. and while the triage area was running and we were doing whatever, we also were handling the inside, which were the snakebites, the heat strokes, the heart attacks, the small stuff were being handled inside and the bloody stuff was being handled outside. >> wow. >> and then after we handled -- let's say the waves stopped. let's say we got the 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever the wave was. and the wave stopped. then we were on holding. we'd bring them inside and they were inside the emergency room holding with us watching over them while they waited for surgery. and then at the same time, we were treating the other things
inside, the heat stroke, the broenl finger, whatever it was, and then at the same time, there was another group of my men outside resupplying and cleaning up the triage area for the next wave. so, it -- it was a constant motion. constant movement. >> what were your impressions of the vietnamese people you had any contact with? >> well, we have civilian vietnamese that worked in the hospital with us. my momma san was very dedicated to my men and her responsibility. she worked with us in triage. she was very cognizant that we had to get it cleaned up and get ready for the next wave, one right after the other. she didn't let things stay dirty. she was very loyal to us.
she loved to bring us food. of course, we had to be careful what we ate because we didn't know -- like i love, i love lechi and i loved watermelon but had you to be careful about not eating some of that stuff because of the way it was fertilized. so -- but on the other side, besides for the people that worked for us, i remember one day we had a real bad day in the triage area. and we hadn't lost anyone, but we came close. and i went home, went over to the hooch because everything had slowed down. and i was going to the hooch. and we weren't allowed to have keys to our hooch. it had to be given to us by the people that ran the main desk behind the mps. it was sort of a security thing. but the people behind the main desk were vietnamese. and vietnamese men, boys.
and i said, and i put my hand out, and i looked at them and i said, how old are you? i said in vietnamese. i could speak vietnamese. some pigeon vietnamese. i asked them how old they were. one said 20 and the other one said 22. i said how come you're not in the army? and he looked at me very arrogantly and he said, i'm student. i said, no, it's your country. how come you're not fighting for your country? and he said, you'll do it for us. and i went literally, i don't remember it, my husband's friends told him that i did this. i went over to the desk and i literally attacked them. i did. and i don't remember doing it. but that kind of attitude i did see. and i didn't like it.
i didn't like it. my husband, on the other hand, was serving with the vietnamese airborne, and they were very dedicated to their country and what have you. but that little fraction of viee airborne and they were dedicated. >> describe your friendships with and your impression of your fellow nurses and soldiers you worked with. what kind of people were they? >> my men were very unique. they came from the native lands of new mexico. they came from the mountains of utah. they came from detroit. new york. you know, they were just a microcosm of this country. they came from texas. they came from georgia.
they came from, you know, the banks of the mississippi. they were very -- they were very strong, patriotic people. >> black, white? >> everything. >> everything. >> my first sergeant grant, best i ever worked with in the military, tall, thin, black, and he was from chicago and shaved his head, and he would always say, ma'am, i really believe that's a little bit too much. i would go, well, sergeant, you know, that's the way it is. you know, he would say that. and i got him promoted because he deserved it. he had been passed over three or four times and i said, you're being promoted. and i did, i got him promoted. i had hispanics. a majority were white. vaulty, i remember he was from
the michigan peninsula, dedicated. blond hair, blue eyed. they were good medics. the doctors were unique. vince rossetti is a good example of one of my doctors. he arrived in the country two months after i had taken over the emergency room. he was good looking, but a short italian doctor. he came down and said i have no earthly idea why i am here. i said, i beg your pardon. >> he said, i am obgyn. i said, well, doctor, let me ask you this, can you do a cutdown. >> he said, yeah. i said, can you do intepwaeugs.
he said, yes. they sort of lost that attitude when they came into the triage area, and i didn't take that attitude. they all respected me, and my men. now, the nurses, judy, and pat, we are still friends to this day. judy is in st. louis, and pat is in chicago. pat ran the icu. we were close together because she came over to me to find out how many were coming at her out of the o.r. she would come over to me and say should i empty out to the wards? i would say, yeah, you have 15 holding and i have 10 more here.
i said you better empty out because they are all definitely icu, and she would empty out to the wards, and when the wards got full i would have to empty out to the air force. i had them coming in and going out sometimes at the same time. so yeah, but those nurses, as i said, they were younger than me, and pat and i were the same age, and pat was 23, i think. we were old women. we grew up fast. we grew up very fast. >> as did they. >> uh-huh. we grew up very fast. there was no time for -- well, we did have some fun every once in a while, which was, you know, once in a great while. and i hung around with the chaplains, the catholic chaplains because they were the safest and i was married and if i went anywhere i went with the
chaplains, it was my cocoon, and i didn't want to be attacked or anything like that. the nurses were great nurses. judy, she ran the renal unit, and we had a lot of renal shutdowns because of the amount of blood we had to give these guys, and we didn't have time to type and cross match, so we were not always giving an "a" positive patient, "a" positive blood, we were giving them the "o" positive blood, and because of that we had renal issues. there were also copier sulfite, and the phosphorious grenades
could burn right through you, and then anyways, judy, who i said is in st. louis, she was a remarkable repbl nurse. i don't remember one that just flipped out completely, and she was new to country. she really had not been in a strong nursing program back home, because i was trained in massachusetts. you train where i was trained, and you are trained by the sisters of mercy, they have no mercy. >> they have none. >> you didn't have time to break down when you were trained by them. but i only remember one nurse who was very young, and she had assigned her down to me and i had to tell the chief nurse that
she had to go someplace that was not quite as -- >> someplace to season her. >> uh-huh. because she was not ready -- she was not ready to see some of the things that we saw. >> what did you do for off duty activities? >> well -- >> where did you and the chaplains go? >> well, let me tell you. some of it was fun. in between our hospital and the hoot, there is an alley, and at the end of the alley was the fighter chopper pilots nest. >> oh, my. >> they allowed the hospital personnel to belong to their mess. i think they would like to have the nurses come down. >> you know it. >> that was the reason. so when we -- like, if the uso
had a band come in, it would usually go there. if there was a lull and we could go -- of course that horn could go off at any moment and we would be right back to where we were. we would go and i would go with father sullivan or father cochran, and we would have a lot of fun, and father jc was a hoot, and he loved time-out a party and we would dance, and at the top of the massachusetts, it was flat, and we discovered we could take half barrels and make them into barbecue pits, and we would get chicken and stuff like that from the mess hall -- >> steaks. >> and get up there and do that and occasionally have a beer. i didn't drink very much because i was always afraid the horn was
going to go off, but we did things like that. when the big uso shows came on to our perimeters, we couldn't go to those because it was outside the compound, but i remember -- >> you were pretty much confined to the compound? >> oh, nurses were not allowed outside the compound because there was a bounty on us. if the vc had gotten our cadusa off our uniform, they got 500 rmps and i escaped a couple times -- they didn't know i did it but i escaped, and i made it out of there for my sergeant promotion party and i dispatched an ambulance with me in it and went to my sergeant's promotion party. i flew to vun town.
i spent three hours there and i came back with a sunburn and it had rained the whole day in saigon -- >> explain that. >> yeah, i said i was on top of the massachusetts, and i did not tell her i had a joyride to vung to you and sat on the beach for hours. bob hope came in one night just before christmas eve, and he came in to go to mass and he came into the triage area and we were receiving, and i didn't know it was bob hope. he came in and stopped and talked to the casualties. when i looked up, i went, oh, my gosh, that's bob hope. he went to mass and then he went back to do his show. it was amazing, you know.
>> do you have any specific memories that linger of the popular culture at the time using books, film -- >> i loved the music, like clarence clearwater revival. yeah, i loved that. >> oh. >> i am really not into that music that was in woodstock, you know, or hate ashbury, and i watched a special on peter, paul and mary. they were a little off, and their music was great but they were a little bit on the other side. i watched that and i said, gee, i never realized they were quite that liberal in their, you know, thought process. >> from the get go. >> i never realized it, because if i had a hammer -- you know, that's the kind of stuff that we all loved. in saigon we had good morning
vietnam, and they would play our music, but the thing i remember is that we never -- my parents never sent me, like, "the boston herald." we would get the life section or the comic section, and i would get "better homes and garden," and i would never get "time" magazine because our parents never wanted us to know what was going on, and that's the difference between our war and the war of today, and when we came home, when i came home and i saw what i saw, this group of weird-looking people with beads around their neck and dirty clothes, i felt like i dropped into a different world. i had no idea who these people were. i said to my husband, i can remember saying to my husband in san francisco, are we in the
united states? it just seemed so strange to have these people being so weird. >> were they being nasty to you? >> oh, yeah, they were nasty. matter of fact, when we landed in san francisco, it was at some air force base, i forget the name of it -- >> travis. >> allen and i had a layover and we were waiting for a bus to take us to san francisco airport to fly commercial to chicago, because al was from iowa, and we were going to chicago first and on to boston. i can remember we were in fatigues, and we were walking towards the gate and the base mp stopped us. they said, ma'am, sir, you really don't want to go out there. i said, well, it says hamburger -- i had not had a hamburger, and it says hamburger, and we want to go and get a hamburger, and he said, ma'am, you don't want to go out there. look who is out there.
there were people with nasty signs and yelling pretty bad stuff, and i looked at al and i said, are we in the united states? we hopscotched, first we landed in japan and then alaska and then in san francisco, and he said, yeah, we are in the united states. i remember thinking, what are these people complaining about? why are they taking it out on us? you know? and, you know, and i think hal moore says it best in the movie, you can hate war but you must love the american warrior. >> yeah. >> and i remember that. now, i didn't experience any of that in my hometown. my little hometown was very patriotic, and there were 12 of us had that gone to vietnam from 750 people, so it was a very patriotic hometown.
i can remember landing in logan. i remember that. >> still in fatigues? >> uh-huh. >> we were still in uniform. it wasn't until about seven or eight months later until they stopped us from wearing uniforms in the airports. they stopped us. >> what did you think about that? >> i thought it was terrible. and i think -- i think the vietnam vets came home and we made up our minds of two things, either we were going to do something great and do something great and positive or we were not going to do anything at all. the majority of us chose to do something positive with our lives, and cobb county, which is outside of atlanta where i am from, the commission chairman
was bill barr. so there were people that came home when we decided to do something. we also decided when president bush ii declared war, that we were not going to let the men and women serving today come home to what we came home to. because they were our sons and daughters, and in some cases they were our grandchildren. we made up our minds, matter of fact, my husband who was president of the georgia vietnam vets chapter 1 said if we are the only one standing on the overpasses waving the flags for these young men and women, we will be the ones that welcome them home. so a lot of vietnam vets went down and volunteered at the usos all over the country, and i think our experience made the american people realize they had
done -- they had tolerated something that they should not have tolerated. >> what were your emotions in the heart of your tour? >> sometimes i got angry because of, you know, they were too young to be so mutilated. sometimes -- i never got depressed. i don't remember being depressed. my emotion -- sometimes i was just flat lined, you know, i was going to do it, you have to do it, and this is your job, you know, go and do it. and then there were other times when i was, you know, when i was
a positive uplifting -- it all depended on -- well, to begin with, the monsoons were the worst things in the world and that terrible rainy season can be depressing anyway. triage was outside, and we were covered but there were no walls. that blowing rain, that can be very depressing. >> also casualties were very slow to come. >> yep. yep. it was very hard in those conditions for those choppers. i mean, can you imagine. and in most cases during monsoon, we received a lot of choppers, but, boy, they came through bad weather to get to us. i mean, i give a lot of credit to the dust-off pilots. those guys were angels. i mean, really. they went in where most people would not go. >> yeah. >> what would you say is your
most vivid memory of your time in vietnam? >> my most vivid memory. i think the opening of the triage, when it was brand-new. i remember it was a major accomplishment, not only for the engineers and the cbs that helped to build it. it was also -- it was a big moment for my men in the hospital to have such a -- well, it was an advance in those days -- but an advanced unit like that in a war zone. i remember that. i also remember my r & rs, those were wonderful memories. >> where did you go? >> we went to thailand and then
we were on our way to kwaul law lum poor, and we ended up in singapore. i had the best time in singapore, and i learned to drink those little rainbow drinks and what the rainbow drink is seven different lacures, and you couldn't drink too many otherwise you were too happy. i remember singapore. i loved thailand. i loved thailand, i love the kwan, i love seeing the temples. i loved the people of thailand, and i loved the fact they did not eat with chopsticks, they ate with big spoons and a fork. i thought that was fantastic. >> describe the best day you had
on your tour? >> probably sounds redundant, but the last day -- well, my best day was the day before i was leaving, my commander, colonel thomas -- no, colonel chandler at the time, he said, you know, captain, he said, we're one of the few triage areas that never lost anybody in the triage in the year you were here. >> not even one? >> not one. a lot of people wanted to be assigned to the emergency room triage when they were rotating in, especially if they were combat medics. we have a policy, i said, they
come in alive and they stay alive, and i said that's a high bar and are you up to that bar? he said, yes, ma'am. that's true. we never lost one in triage. now, they may have lost them in surgery. they may have lost them in icu or they may lost him on the ward and they may have lost them on the aircraft going home, but if they came in alive in that triage area, and sometimes i wonder if we were too heroic. i remember this one not brought in by a dust off, but he was brought in by that little flying helicopter -- >> a hroefp. >> yeah, a fast little thing. he kept flying around, and we said look for the red crosses.
he finally found it. he put down, and this young man had not been treated inside because there was no medic. he had one arm gone with a lung exposure. he had both legs gone with intestines on the litter. he came in, and he was as white as needs umbrellas are, and i got up on him and i couldn't get a pulse. and i slammed down on his chest and i said, darn it, we lost him, and he opened his eyes and said, i'm still alive. i said, that's all you have to say, sweetheart, and we saved him. as i rotated him out and turned him over to the air force, i always have this thought, what happened to him when he got home? what kind of a family received
him? there was no wounded warriors, there was no -- there was nothing. i am saying to myself, what if he is sent to the middle of, you know, wichita, or, you know, someplace and i often wonder what became of him. that bothered me -- it didn't ptsd me, but that stayed with me. >> could it become max cleveland? >> i was going to tell you, i was in washington and they wanted me to consult on the design of the vietnam memorial. i don't know why, but they did. so i, max cleveland was the head of the va, and i'm standing there in the corridor and he's coming down and he said, hi, he said, i recognize your eyes. i went, you do? he said, yes, he said, we have
met somewhere before. i looked at his injuries and i went, oh. here he was, he was secretary of the va and then became a senator of georgia, and then i said, maybe that's what happened to the young man that came home. i often think about that, you know. that might have been what happened to him. >> never know. >> no. describe for me the worst day you had in the vietnam. >> the worst day i had was -- it had to be -- it was after the monsoons. there was a lot of firefight going on. we were in offensive mode and we were receiving a lot of
casualties, a lot of casualties. this -- the way we lined up the casualties, there was tripods that held the litters and it went on and on, and try pods that held up the litters and it went on and on, and try pods that held up the litters, and we could take an awful lot in that triage area, and i worked my way down the litters to make sure, number one, they had an airway and number two we had an iv going and, if they didn't have an iv i started the iv, and make sure they had their name, their name and their unit, their name and their unit. we pounded that, because as i said, we rarely had dog tags. i came to this one litter, and my husband was in from the field and he was helping put the litters on the tripod, because the -- where our helipad was, the choppers could not come into
the triage area. they had to come into the helipad and my ambulances, i had 21 of them, they had to come in and drop off and go back out and drop off and so on. so i'm working down the litters to make sure everything is going the way it's supposed to be going, and making sure we are on to the worse and so on and so forth. i came across this red-headed young man and freckled, and he was from kansas -- no, he was from arkansas. he was laying there with his eyes shut, and he had both legs gone, one from the knee down and one from the thigh down. i was -- he did not have an iv started on him yet. i was starting the iv and my husband was at the end of his litter, and i'm starting the iv and he looked up at me with these blue eyes and he said, are my feet gone? i said, yes, they are.
he said, i'm only 16. he said my mother and father don't know i'm here. i said, well, i said, they are soon going to know you are here, but i will tell you what, why don't you write a letter and i pulled over one of the red cross gals, and i said he wants to write a letter to his mother and father and i said write it now and get it to his mother and father. he said, so they're both gone? i said, yes, they are, they are both gone. he said, okay, and he closed his eyes and my husband looked at me and he took me aside and he said, how dare you say that to him? how dare you tell him that.
he could have found out later. i said, al, his recovery starts in the triage area, and he woke up with no feet he would be worst off than if i told him straight off. he's going to japan, but his rehab starts in this triage. >> right now, with the truth. >> and here he was, 16 years old, and that was the worst day, that was my worst day. >> how much contact, if any, did you have with our allies, the koreans, the aussies, new zealanders? >> we had a battalion of new zealanders that came through and we knew they were there because
it was quiet. i would say, gosh, it's really quiet, guys. the joke was, well it's either the koreans or aussies were around, and sure enough we would have an accident with the koreans and then we would know. there was a little korean lieutenant that was in charge of a little group of men, and i don't know if it was a battalion or platoon, but he was always coming into the emergency room with some problem. he just followed me around, every place i went. he was tall for a korean. and finally one afternoon he came in and he said -- he said, we go to dinner. i said, i beg your pardon? he said we go to dinner. i said, no, we don't go to
dinner. he said, number one, i'm married and i don't go outside the compound. he said, married? yes, married. he kept coming and coming and the korean men were very regimened, and if they came in and we had to treat them, it was like they were regimented. we had a geneva convention alert that would mean that some pows were coming in, so we prepped for that and the aussies come
trotting in with this one p.o.w., and i said i thought we were getting a whole bunch of p.o.w.s, and he said, no, you are just getting one, and that was fine with me. but the aussies were fierce fighters and as jolly as they could be, and they love to come over to the hospital. >> chat up the nurses. >> well, they like to seat blue eyes, the round-eyed, blue eyes, they loved to be with us. >> what was your impression of the vietnamese? >> well, they were very dedicated to their mission, and i mean very dedicated. on the most part most of the vietnamese people was -- well, we have to remember and it's a
fact of history, the vietnamese people had never really been free. they had been under the chinese and the french, and so what we were hoping for them, and wanting them to have really didn't equate to them. all they wanted was the three bowls of rice a day, and a life. you know, we're toting democracy and freedom, and you will be able to vote and going through all this, and they are looking at the average person on the street, not the hierarchy, and just the average person on the street, all they cared about was three bowls of rice a day and didn't matter who gave it to them, it could be us, the french, it doesn't matter. >> how much contact did you have back home? >> my mother was wonderful. he was a hoot.
she lived to be 94. she was a worker, and she was all of five feet tall. she got into the tiny tape-recorders, and i would take to my mother and she would tape back to me, and she would take the tape to church, and then mother would send all the care packages -- see, in vietnam there was not much stuff for women, you know, deodorant, powder, that kind of stuff. you know, they didn't have that stuff in the px for us women. we had to depend on care packages. my mother would pack up, you know, baby powder, deodorant -- >> air spray.
>> -- all that stuff for ushair. >> -- all that stuff for us girls. mother would also send family circle magazine. lifestyle out of the boston herald. the comics. now that i look back at it she was being very protective of us. she did not send the front page of anything. but she -- we had a lot of communications. a lot of the men -- or boys from my hometown that served in vietnam, they wrote me in vietnam because they knew what i was going through. >> yeah. >> they said they would write. my sister was very diligent. >> that's one of the questions coming up right there, how much news did you receive about the war from home? none. >> none. >> none. >> none. the only time that i realized
that there was really something going on is when they started to talk about this jane fonda and this that and the other thing, and i realized there was something -- there was some fraction of society back home that had gone a little askew. i didn't know quite what, but something had gone askew. but, no, we were really -- well, we didn't have satellites. air vietnam didn't tell us anything like that. i mean, they played music and they told us the weather in chicago. you know, that kind of stuff. the entertainers that came, they didn't want to bring us down by telling us stuff that was -- like, i remember gypsy rose lee and ma katia phaupb tree bomb, and they came to the hospital to visit the patients. my mother said you had your
picture taken with who? i said, gypsy rose lee. she said, do you know what she does? no. she said never mind -- >> she takes her clothes off for gentlemen. >> i found out that years later. but monta bomb, his son was one of my medics. he was nice and wonderful. but they never said anything to us, so it really was -- and the guys out in the bush, you know, slopping through the rice patties or going through the mountain terrain out there or up along the dmz, their only communications was an occasional letter that made it in to base camp or whatever, it caught up to them, so you can imagine the shell shock when we came home.
it was like being dropped on to a different planet. i can understand why a lot of the men went introverted. we didn't come home like the 48th brigade, we didn't march down times square with a ticker-tape parade. we didn't have any of that. we came home one at a time. and al and i were still on active duty, but most of us went to our home towns, and here you are, going to your hometown in west virginia, and number one you arrive and find out they are hating you so you are not telling anybody where you have been and you kept it inside, and no wonder they had ptsd, no wonder. they buried everything. so when you are with the georgia
vietnam vets, when we all get together, for them to talk about where they were and say what they did, they do it with, well, i was with the third infantry up along duh, duh, tkau, and we had a wonderful time and they would leave it. >> how much contact you have had with your fellow veterans over the years? >> a lot. >> a lot. >> a lot, mainly because when al retired from the military he came here to work for as a research engineer and that's how we ended up in marietta. then we discovered that -- we became very active in the community. al became active in certain things, and i became active with cassa, which is for abused
children and i became active with habitat for humanity and so forth, and through that we found out about the georgia vietnam vets. then there was the dust-off pilots association, and then the purple heart association. we found all these different organizations, and so we have been in touch with these people for the past 30 years. as far as people we served with in vietnam, roy collar, who was our best man, he's godfather of our first son, and he lives in douglasville. he was special forces in vietnam when al and i were in vietnam, and we got to see him three or four times in vietnam, and in fact he spent christmas with us in vietnam. we stay in touch with all of those people we served this, and al served for 30 years, and so
people he served with, served in vietnam with us. i stayed in touch with several of my nurses friends, and then we got active here in georgia with the vietnam vets. in fact, vietnam vets, we're client of clannish. i think i can say that. we're very clannish. i think that's our protective mechanism clicking in, and there's just so many people that came inside the circle. >> yeah. >> kind of funny. >> was it difficult readjusting to life after the war? >> well, you know, i have analyzed that, and i often wondered why al and i did not end up with some of the ptsd and some of our fellow vets.
i think it was because al was assigned to the 82nd, and he became an italian commander -- >> as a combat engineer? >> yeah. >> yeah? >> yeah, he was the commander of the 82nd airborne division, and then he became the g forward of the division. everybody at ft. bragg were either there or going. our farewell parties were every night. we had a group leaving and we had a group coming. it was constant. we were cocooned at ft. bragg. fayetteville, north carolina, a very pro military town. we didn't have any problems.
you know, we had time to decompress. when we said dede phou to someone -- >> they understood, because they had been there. >> the only time i really got taken back after we had been home for, i don't know, two or three months, we came home in june, so this had to be around thanksgiving, and we were home and my sister, very progressive liberal and her husband were sitting at the table, and she looked at me and said, you know, donna, i don't know if we really want to eat with people that nay palm manied people and killed babies. well, at that particular point in time, i had enough puts
bough, and i never did this as a young woman, and i stood up and i what al called, i army nursed her and i dressed her down in no uncertain terms, and my father was sitting at the other end, and he looked like fred astaire, and he was an irishman and he was sitting at the end of the table, and he said, well, now -- this is after my outburst. my father said, well, now, i don't know what be happening to you. we send over this getty head girl and got back this strong and determined woman. i said, is there anything wrong with that? he said, no, and he turned to my sister and said you will be apologizing to your sister and bother in law or you will never be sitting at this table again, and he said i will tell you why,
gayle, because of these two people here and the other people that served in uniform you can open your big mouth and say anything you want but you are not doing it at this table. >> not at this table. >> and my sister bet but -- and my father said, there's no but, and gayle said, sorry, and that was the end of it. >> that was the end. >> we had been cocooned at ft. bragg. we had seen it in san francisco and saw it in chicago and at logan airport, but we didn't see it in my hometown, and then we went to ft. bragg, and we were cocooned, and we were protected. we could decompress there, but what about the people that had to go to wheeling, west virginia? duh pwaoubg island? what about them? >> how did your vietnam experience affect your life afterward? >> it made me better.
it made me better. i'm stronger. i am very determined. if i have a mission, i stay to the mission. i am compassionate. a lot of people say, donna, you know you call it the way you see it, and some people -- i mean, i'm not mean when i say it. if somebody asks me a question, i assume they want the answer and i give it to them the best way i can. i'm a little sudden. i have learned to soften it just a little bit. i said, you know, i just don't know if that's proper for you to be asking, instead of just saying i'm not answering that stupid question. but i think i'm a better person because of it. i think it made me a better nurse. i think it made me a better american. i think it made my husband and
my marriage strong. i think it made us better parents, and i think it made us better patriots. so i don't consider -- i consider the service an honor, and i don't consider it a detriment. i don't consider it a detriment to my life. i became better because of vietnam. >> is there any memory or experience from your time in vietnam that has stayed with you through the years and had a lasting influence on your life? >> yeah, i think -- i think seeing those -- being where i was in the triage, and the emergency room, i came face-to-face with death on a
daily basis, and i came face-to-face with the reality that i either accepted that challenge and helped these young men through this crisis in their lives or i was -- just give up, just stay, so i think that on a daily basis i was reminded that these young people needed us to be strong and care for them. it made a difference, i think. i think -- i know we made a difference. i know the nurses made a difference. the men will tell you that even though they didn't see us, they knew we were there. >> yeah. >> they knew we were there. a chopper flight away. >> did your experience in vietnam affect the way you think about veterans coming home from
combat today? >> absolutely. unequivocally. i think the experience of coming home from vietnam affects the way i think about that today, and i think that i am very much concerned about the treatment and the va. i have worked and am working with senator johnny isakson, head of the veteran's senate committee. i am very concerned they get the benefits that they are allotted. there are vietnam vets to this day, and roy collar, our best man being one of them, who has been applying for 30 years and just the other day he was given 50% disability, but he's been working on it for 30 years. >> that's so wrong. >> and it's wrong.
and so if the vietnam vets can do anything, we can pave the road and try to make it easier for these veterans coming home today. i think -- i think the experience of ptsd is being more -- it's being discussed more. it's being recognized more, it's being identified more quickly, and i think that comes from the vietnam vets being proactive in that particular field. we can identify it, i mean, i can identify ptsd easily. >> see it coming two blocks away. >> i can see it and i can feel it, and i was giving a speech not very far from here about the
movie, and this man came up to me afterwards and, and i mean, and i was in a library, and he had a hold on me and he went right down in front of me. i mean, he was full blown. i raised him up and i said you need to get help, we need to get you help. and i got him the help. but they don't -- these veterans today that have ptsd, they recognize it, and they called it strange things like shell shock, and it's not shell shock, and it's traumatic when you are 18, 19 years old, to see five family -- five people in your platoon killed. >> to have the brains in your
face? >> yes, or to carry the man that is in the movie with us, the black gentleman that carried that young italian man all the way, and then he died. you can't forget things like that. >> cannot. >> you can't get over things like that. >> how do you think the vietnam war is remembered in our society today, or is it? >> well, you know, when my son richard, our youngest, who is 40, was studying in his social class in middle school, the vietnam war, this is before the internet, there was -- i forget the encyclopedia, but there was a two-inch paragraph on the vietnam war. >> that's it?
>> because he was studying the vietnam war. i said, richard that was not all there was, and it said the beginning and then it said the end. i said that's not all there was to the vietnam war. so now i believe because of the vietnam vets and because of people like you and because of people like normal and because of people like my husband and because of people like many, many, many of us all over the country that have written about it and talked about it -- cheryl and pat doing the movie, and you and me willing to talk about it, and i think this country has a better picture of the vietnam war and i think it has a much better picture of the men and women that served in vietnam. we were not all high school dropouts. we were not all drug addicts.
we were not all misfits. we were not all black or hispanic. we were a microcosm of this country. we were a very well educated group of men and women. and we served proudly. and i think that picture has changed. but it's because people like you have written about it. people like me have been willing to speak about it. i think that's what has changed it. and our children have changed it. >> i have to tell you, i was in vietnam in '05, and i went in a bookstore in hanoi, and i was looking at their books and i found a middle school textbook and there was about that much of the american and vietnam war, so
it's the same place in both places. >> yeah. now, for example, i have three speaking engagements next month, one at noon at a high school, and one at king high school in roswell, and one at another high school and i forget what it is, it's on my calendar, and they are asking us to come and talk to their classes, the vietnam vet classes. southern poly technical institute has a class -- a sole semester class on the vietnam war. >> all right. >> but it's because roger, who is running that class, he's a vietnam vet. >> did you take away more from vietnam that is positive and
useful that you spent in blood, sweat and tears? >> yes, i did. i think both al and i would say the same thing. it was a sacrifice and it was hard, but i think both, al and i and our children -- well, our whole family was changed by our experience in vietnam. i think we became better people. i think we're better because of it. >> in the end what did that war mean to you and your generation? >> you know, we were idealisic. we were raised with the love of god and love of country and love of family, so when our country asked us to fight for peoples'
freedom, it was just a natural thing for us to do as the children of the greatest generation. so we were very idealistic. we carried those ideals with us to vietnam, and in some cases they were shattered, but i believe that our generation showed that we were willing to sacrifice for someone else's freedom. i just watched "sons of will beer -- liberty," and i watched adams and john hancock and i
thought i don't know if i could have stood there in a ragtag outfit with one little phus kit, and took on the british that way. that's how we were raised. i think we were idealistic and did what our generation would have naturally done. >> what lessons did you take from vietnam that you would like to pass on to future generations of americans? >> i think that future americans need to realize that there are sacrifices that you have to be willing to make to give a people the right to be free. but you cannot make them drink
the water. at all times. and you have to be willing to acceptt all times. and you have to be willing to accept that. and i think when you are committed to a war for the freedom of other people, and if you think about it that's all we generally have done in the 200-year history of this country, is freed other people, whether we freed them in germany or france or italy or the dominican republic, or bosnia or wherever, and when you free them you have to be willing to let them take the reigns of freedom and decide their own destiny. sometimes you will be
disappointed. others -- look at germany. >> look at korea. >> that's right. so you know, it's not all-for-naught. but i'm willing to do it. it's naught, but i'm willing to do it. >> have you been to the vietnam veteran's memorial in washington. >> uh-huh. >> what are your impressions? >> well, i have to tell you, as i told you i was asked to sort of sit in on -- we really weren't consulted. park services was going to decide what was done as far as that. they were going to have people submit these designs. and all we did was sit there as vietnam vets and go, gee, i don't really like that. at first, when the wall was put in the ground -- so you couldn't see it from constitution avenue or 23rd street. you could see it from the
lincoln memorial. i first thought -- my first thought was i was pretty upset about that. it was sort of like, okay, you can have your damn monument but nobody is going to be able to see it, okay? we are going to hide it in the ground. and we are going to make it black. couldn't be red or anything. it is going to be black. so at first, i didn't like it. and then, there was a movement to have the monument of the three men and one woman. but the park service wouldn't approve the monument with the woman. they wanted the woman removed. so us women said, all right, get the men, for the living, their monument, the black, the latino,
and the white american. and then us women decided that we were going get that monument. and thanks to linda carlson-evans and several others, we -- we got that done. and i went back for dedication of the women's memorial. i think it was 1993. and i think that's the last time i have seen the wall. but it was a very moving experience for me to finally to commit, have peace with the wall being the way it is. i finally realized that it has -- it had a meaning. but at the time, when i was so much against it, i think i was not over the anger of how we
were treated when we came home. >> it is so majestic? >> uh-huh. so now i have come to realize that it gives a lot of peace to a lot of people. it's hard to go to the wall. for a lot of people, it's very difficult. i like to go to the women's morm memorial and just sit there. i like to see how people react when they see that women's memorial. even children get quiet when they get near it. i thought it was -- i think the whole thing is good. and i'm glad we -- we, the vietnam vets helped the korean vets get theirs. we were the ones -- the vietnam vets were the ones that carried those petitions and got a lot of signatures on those petitions
because korean vets were getting too old to do it. >> have you heard about the 50th anniversary of the vietnam war memorial commemoration project? >> big time. i am very involved with it. >> what do you think of it? >> the 50th? they must be celebrating the beginning of it, but it certainly wasn't the end, 50 years ago. i feel the same way. i think we should commemorate it. i think the country wants to sort of, in some way, say that we're sorry. and this gives them a vehicle in order to tell the vietnam vets that. and, as i told you, we're doing a big thing here in atlanta in october, at the end of october. and i am going to make sure -- seeing as how i am chairman of
it, i'm going to make sure that it's done correctly. and we are presently working on the music. and the producer of the music is in her 50s. so these -- and i said oh, no, you can't -- no, no, no. you can't do that. you have got do this one. you know in and she goes, leroy brown? you know? and i said, yeah, leroy brown, you know. bad, bad, leroy -- anyways, as i spoke at, as i told you, the national cemetery, the 50th, and when i looked out in the audience, wood good for the vietnam vets, to have that service. and it was good for their families. and it was good for their grandchildren. so i think it's a good idea. and, you know, we are dying younger. so because of this agent orange
stuff and agent purple and agent red and all the stuff we were exposed to. so i think it's good to do it while we are still young enough to "ride the motorcycle" whatever we do, to ride up there and see it. >> thank you, ms. roe. >> it was my pleasure. >> week nights this mont we are featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight, first we look at the military carry of general douglas mac arthur from his 1903 west point graduation to being relieved of command by president harry truman during the korean war. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span3. american history tv on
c-span3. every weekend, documenting america's story. funding for american history tv comes from these companies, who support c-span3 as a public service. next, milton jones recalls his experiences as a u.s. marine during the vietnam war. he talks about his initial reluctance to serve in vietnam and his lone journey to meet his unit in caseson. >> tell us a little bit about your upbringing. >> preacher's kid. huge family. great time as a kid. i