The Nurses of the Vietnam Conflict


The majority of women serving in Vietnam were nurses. Sixty percent of them had less than two years of experience.  Most of them had less than six months. Many were recruited from nursing school. 

The motto of the medical corps was “Preserve the Fighting Strength.” The nurses’ duty was to return the wounded to health so they could be redeployed in battle. There was no ‘front’ in Vietnam.  Soldiers and nurses were vulnerable to attacks both in and out of camp. Nurses worked twelve hour shifts, six days a week, caring for the sick and the wounded. They dealt with mass casualties and tropical illnesses. Nurses were also called upon to care for Vietnamese civilians and enemy soldiers, which brought on conflicted feelings of guilt and fear for many.

Adjustment to civilian life proved difficult amidst anti-war protests and the reluctance of family to listen to their experiences.  Some suffered insomnia, uncontrolled recall, depression, and symptoms of PTSD.  Many of their narratives mention the ironic truth that the most fulfilling experience of their lives was predicated on the horror and anguish of war.

Smith, Winnie. American Daughter Gone to War: On the Front Lines with an Army Nurse in Vietnam. New York, NY: W. Morrow, 1992.

Delany, Dana, Marg Helgenberger, et al. China Beach: The Complete Series. Burbank, Calif.: Warner Home Video, 2013.

Van, Devanter L., and Christopher Morgan. Home Before Morning: The Story of an Army Nurse in Vietnam.  New York: Beaufort Books, 1983.

Bouiss, Elizabeth. No Time for Tears: Vietnam, the Women Who Served. New York, N.Y.: West End Films, 1993.

Freedman, Dan, and Jacqueline Rhoads. Nurses in Vietnam: The Forgotten Veterans. Austin, Tex: Texas Monthly Press, 1987.

Walker, Keith. A Piece of My Heart: The Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1986.

Gruhzit-Hoyt, Olga. A Time Remembered: American Women in the Vietnam War. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1999.

Delany, Dana, David H. Smith et al. Vietnam Nurses. Indianapolis, Ind.: Creative Street Entertainment, 2007.

Steinman, Ron. Women in Vietnam. New York: TV Books, 2000. 

Nurse Cheryl M. “Nicki” Nicol’s memories of the 23 day Tet Offensive attack:

“They were giving us Benzedrine somewhere along the line to keep us awake, because we had to operate. I remember the anesthesiologist had a checklist, and he’d pop one in your mouth and then mark off that you’d had it…Somewhere around the third or fourth day, I remember going into the nurses’ dressing room to change my scrubs because they were so covered with blood. I got some water to pour on me because my clothes were stuck to me with blood…”

From A Piece of My Heart:  The Stories of 26 American Women Who Served in Vietnam.