Women in the Vietnam War

Women in the Vietnam War


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Women in the Vietnam War served as soldiers, health workers, and in news-gathering capacities. Though relatively little official data exists about female Vietnam War veterans, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation estimates that approximately 11,000 military women were stationed in Vietnam during the conflict. Nearly all of them were volunteers, and 90 percent served as military nurses, though women also worked as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and other positions in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps, U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines and the Army Medical Specialist Corps. In addition to women in the armed forces, an unknown number of civilian women served in Vietnam on behalf of the Red Cross, United Service Organizations (USO), Catholic Relief Services and other humanitarian organizations, or as foreign correspondents for various news organizations.

U.S. Army Women in Vietnam

The great majority of the military women who served in Vietnam were nurses. All were volunteers, and they ranged from recent college graduates in their early 20s to seasoned career women in their 40s. Members of the Army Nurse Corps arrived in Vietnam as early as 1956, when they were tasked with training the South Vietnamese in nursing skills. As the American military presence in South Vietnam increased beginning in the early 1960s, so did that of the Army Nurse Corps. From March 1962 to March 1973, when the last Army nurses left Vietnam, some 5,000 would serve in the conflict.

Five female Army nurses died over the course of the war, including 52-year-old Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham, who served as a military nurse in both World War II and Korea before Vietnam and suffered a stroke in August 1968; and First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane, who died from shrapnel wounds suffered in an attack on the hospital where she was working in June 1969. Lane was posthumously awarded the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm and the Bronze Star for Heroism. Colonel Graham is one of eight women whose names are listed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, a monument designed by 21-year-old female college student Maya Lin.

Early on, the U.S. Army resisted sending women other than nurses to Vietnam. The Women’s Army Corps (WAC), established during World War II, had a presence in Vietnam beginning in 1964, when General William Westmoreland asked the Pentagon to provide a WAC officer and non-commissioned officer to help the South Vietnamese train their own women’s army corps. At its peak in 1970, WAC presence in Vietnam numbered some 20 officers and 130 enlisted women. WACs filled noncombat positions in U.S. Army headquarters in Saigon and other bases in South Vietnam; a number received decorations for meritorious service. No WACs died during the conflict.

Women in the U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines in Vietnam

Members of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps also played an important role in the conflict beginning in 1963. Five Navy nurses were awarded the Purple Heart after they were injured in a Viet Cong bombing of an officers’ billets in downtown Saigon on Christmas Eve 1964; they became the first female members of the U.S. Armed Forces to receive that award in the Vietnam War. Apart from nurses, only nine Navy women–all officers–served in Vietnam, including Lieutenant Elizabeth G. Wylie, who worked in the Command Information Center on the staff of the Commander of Naval Forces in Saigon beginning in June 1967; and Commander Elizabeth Barrett, who in November 1972 became the first female naval line officer to hold command in a combat zone.

Women also served as members of the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps and the Women’s Air Force (WAF) during the Vietnam conflict. Captain Mary Therese Klinker, one of the eight military women killed in Vietnam, was the flight nurse on the U.S. Air Force C-5A Galaxy that crashed April 1975 near Saigon. (The plane had been on a mission for Operation Babylift, which placed Southeast Asian orphans with families in the United States; some 138 people were killed in the crash, including many Vietnamese children and a number of female civilians working for U.S. government agencies.) Klinker was posthumously awarded the Airman’s Medal for Heroism and the Meritorious Service Medal. The U.S. Marine Corps had a more limited female presence in Vietnam, as until 1966 only 60 female marines were permitted to serve overseas, with most of those stationed in Hawaii. From 1967 to 1973, a total of 28 enlisted Marine women and eight officers served in Vietnam at various times.

Civilian Women in Vietnam

In addition to the U.S. military women who served in Vietnam, an unknown number of female civilians willingly gave their services on Vietnamese soil during the conflict. Many of them worked on behalf of the American Red Cross, Army Special Services, United Service Organizations (USO), Peace Corps and various religious groups such as Catholic Relief Services.

Other American women traveled to Vietnam as foreign correspondents for news organizations, including Georgette “Dickey” Chappelle, a writer for the National Observer who was killed by a mine while on patrol with U.S. Marines outside Chu Lai in November 1965. According to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation, 59 female civilians died during the conflict.


Women in the Vietnam War

Women in the Vietnam War made significant impacts, being active in a large variety of roles during the War. Thousands of women served in the different military groups on both sides of the War, including as combatants, spies, nurses, and in logistics. [1] Civilian women also played significant roles, including as workers, journalists, and antiwar campaigners. Women in Vietnam were also the target of numerous war crimes during the course of the war. [2] [3]


Women in the Vietnam War - HISTORY

In one of the great ironies of the Vietnam War, the United States government has no idea how many women actually served. Record keeping at the time did not reflect a person’s gender, so the numbers vary from a low of 8,000 to a high of more than 12,000. Most of these women served as nurses, but they also served in the Women’s Army Corps, the Red Cross, and other government and related agencies. They nursed soldiers in field hospitals, served as intelligence analysts, and performed for the troops on stage and television to help them escape the horrors of war. All were volunteers none were drafted. When they returned home, many of them suffered not only the psychological hardships of surviving the conflict, but the added indignity of not being recognized as “real” veterans by their male counterparts. They have remained essentially invisible to the public.

In "Women in Vietnam," veteran journalist Ron Steinman, author of "The Soldiers’ Story," collects the testimonies of sixteen remarkable women who served, and provides an unflinching account of this crucial and long-ignored part of the war. In powerful first-hand accounts, we read of their experiences on the front lines, on the bases, and in the cities, towns, and villages. Whether working in the heart of triage or helping to dispense good cheer and raise morale, all of these women served with honor, without complaint, and with distinction. "Women in Vietnam" is not only a unique historical document, but a powerful record of extraordinary accomplishment.

“The women of Vietnam have been too often forgotten. Anyone who reads this book will never forget them again.”
--Linda Ellerbee

“These were the girls next door, the American women who did not have to serve, the sisters and daughters who cared so much for the American GIs they went where no one wanted to go, and did what the faint of heart could not. Each story in this book brings us one step closer to unveiling the full truth of the Vietnam War.”
--Diane Carlson Evans RN, Founder and Chair, Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project. Vietnam, 1968-69 Army Nurse Corps

“With the skill of an old Saigon hand, Ron Steinman adds a new chapter to the history of America’s longest war. These are poignant stories, told by valiant women who volunteered for Vietnam to support the men who fought there – and often to save their lives.”
--Liz Trotta, New Your Bureau Chief, The Washington Times and former Vietnam War correspondent for NBC News

From a New Author's Note on Women in Iraq
"It is impossible to ignore history. Women are now more than ever an integral part of the United States military. Today their presence is everywhere and their role important.

Since Vietnam, they have become soldiers in Iraq, and wherever our forces serve. Taking a look at the differences between Vietnam and Iraq will help us appreciate the American women who are in uniform today and looking at the role they play in Iraq will help us see how far they have come since Vietnam. For the most part, unless someone points it out, we do not take special notice that women are in Iraq and Afghanistan, unless of course they do something that is in one way or another, beyond the call of duty."


South Vietnam

While not much is known about their personal stories, we do know that the Army of the Republican of Vietnam created a Women&rsquos Armed Forces Corps to help women with family stationed in combat. Throughout the conflict, familial obligations were the leading cause of soldiers deserting the army. The Women&rsquos Corps, which at its height had over 2,700 members, provided vital services in administrative, medical, social work, and intelligence &ndash freeing up male service members to focus on combat with the knowledge their families were being cared for. To serve in the Women&rsquos Corps, women needed five years of formal schooling. Eleven years were required to serve as an officer. Recruits had to be unmarried and stay so during their first two years of their three-year term of service.

The South Vietnamese war efforts did little to break out of the era&rsquos established gender roles. While the Women&rsquos Corps&rsquo work was vital, it was entirely focused on child care, medical care and administrative duties &ndash work that was already considered acceptable for women at the time. Women could train in self-defense and weapon skills with local People&rsquos Self Defense Forces, but such training did not make a woman eligible to join a combat unit. Women were technically allowed to serve in combat roles, but the commissioner of the Saigon Self Defense unit went on record to say that women were best suited to support positions.

North Vietnam

The Vietnamese People&rsquos Army did not hold itself to any of the traditional gender roles of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. President Ho Chi Minh, the leader of communist North Vietnam, expected women to mobilize and fight for their country right alongside the men. Women enlisted in both the People&rsquos Army within North Vietnam and the Viet Cong, active as a sabotage unit in South Vietnam. Many of the enlisted women served as nurses, like in the US and South Vietnamese armed forces, but there were women who served in various combat roles as well.

The North Vietnamese forces do not appear to have had separate women&rsquos forces, unlike both the US and South Vietnam. At least two women, Le Thi Hong Gam and Ngo Thi Loan, joined Brigade 559 as a communications worker and nurse, respectively. Brigade 559 was a transportation unit of the People&rsquos Army that focused on transporting materials and information from North Vietnam to Viet Cong units active within South Vietnam. It was not designated as a women&rsquos unit.

A photograph of Nguyen Thi Nghi by Lee Karen Stow. The BBC

The North Vietnamese also undertook an effort to acknowledge the human cost of the war on its people. An award was created with the honorary title of Heroic Mothers of Vietnam. It was bestowed to over 50,000 North Vietnamese women in recognition of the loss of their sons. Some women fought in North Vietnam&rsquos conflicts themselves in addition to losing sons like Nguyen Thi Nghi, who was a resistance worker against the French Occupation of North Vietnam and lost two sons in the Vietnam conflict.


The US Navy, Air Force, and Marines

Much like the US Army, the US Navy also had a Nurse Corps. The Navy Nurse Corps had a presence in the conflict starting in 1963. On Christmas Eve 1964, the Viet Cong bombed an officer&rsquos accommodation wounding many, including five Navy nurses who eventually received Purple Hearts.

They became the first female armed service members to receive Purple Hearts through service in the Vietnam conflict. Aside from nurses, nine female Navy officers served in the battle. Lieutenant Elizabeth G. Wylie was a staff member of the Commander of Naval Forces and worked for the Command Information Center in Saigon, starting in 1967. Commander Elizabeth Barrett became the first female naval officer to hold a command in a combat zone in 1972.

The US Air Force also had a nurse corps in addition to a Women&rsquos Air Force (WAF.) One of the eight military women killed during the conflict, Captain Mary Therese Klinker, was a flight nurse killed in a plane crash near Saigon during the city&rsquos fall. Her plane had been part of Operation Babylift, which was evacuating South Vietnamese orphans to the US for adoption. One hundred and thirty-eight people were killed in the crash, including many children and women working with humanitarian agencies. Klinker was awarded the Airman&rsquos Medal for Heroism and Meritorious Service.

The US Marines had a minimal female presence, as their stringent gender requirements had only approved 60 women to serve abroad. The vast majority of those women served in Hawaii. Only 28 enlisted female Marines and eight officers served in the conflict between 1967 and 1973. The Marine Corps continues to have the lowest percentage of female service members out of all branches, with only 8.3% of enlisted members in 2017.

Civilian Women

In addition to the numerous nurses, enlisted women, and officers who served in the conflict, many civilian women traveled to Vietnam to offer aid. Unfortunately, these numbers were not officially tracked by any organization. The most significant organizational presences were the USO, the American Red Cross, the Peace Corps, and numerous faith-based organizations. These women would have volunteered their time in various capacities from nursing, missionary work, education, childcare, and more. It can&rsquot be forgotten that a side effect of war is many humanitarian catastrophes.

Jane Fonda in the famed &ldquoHanoi Jane&rdquo photo. Washington Post

American women also traveled to Vietnam as journalists and foreign correspondents. Georgette &ldquoDickey&rdquo Chappelle, a writer for the National Observer, was killed by a mine while accompanying marines on patrol in 1965. The Vietnam Women&rsquos Memorial Foundation states that 59 civilian women were killed during the duration of the conflict. One controversial civilian appearance came from the actress Jane Fonda. A prominent anti-war activist at the time, Fonda visited North Vietnam in 1972 to draw attention to claims of US forces bombing North Vietnamese dikes, which the US continues to deny to this day. During the visit, Fonda was photographed sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. The photo and associated widespread criticism earned her the nickname &ldquoHanoi Jane&rdquo which persists to this day.


Eight Women’s Names Are Among the Thousands on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Here’s What to Know About Them

S econd Lieutenant Elizabeth Ann Jones&rsquo mother had recently mailed a wedding dress to her in Vietnam. Jones, whom a neighbor told the Associated Press had a &ldquozest for life,&rdquo was planning to marry a man she had met after arriving months earlier to serve as an Army nurse. But on Feb. 18, 1966, Jones and her fiancé were both killed in a helicopter crash near Saigon. Her colleague, Second Lieutenant Carol Ann Drazba, also perished. The two women, both 22, were the first American female service members to lose their lives in the Vietnam War.

Over the course of that conflict, eight American women service members lost their lives. But, even as Americans pause on Memorial Day to remember those who have been killed in combat, the sacrifices of women service members have often been obscured. They may be fewer in number than their male counterparts, but what they faced in Vietnam was no less serious.

&ldquoWe were definitely in combat zones. We were rocketed and we were mortared, and we were injured, and some died,&rdquo says Diane Carlson Evans, founder of the Vietnam Women&rsquos Memorial. (Her story will be featured in a tribute concert this Sunday on PBS). Evans spent years fighting for an additional statue on the National Mall to honor the women who served in that conflict it now stands as a reminder that &ldquowomen, too, have sacrificed and contributed.&rdquo

Jones and Drazba, like the rest of the estimated 11,000 women who served in the American military in Vietnam, did not have to be there. But even though women were not conscripted, many felt compelled to help those who were fighting and suffering injuries. On paper, their roles kept them away from the front lines, but Vietnam was a war without clear distinctions on where that zone was. Increased utilization of helicopter transport meant the wounded made it to an operating room sooner, but close proximity also put nurses within range of hostile fire.

In the early morning hours of June 8, 1969, an enemy attack claimed the life of First Lieutenant Sharon Lane, 25, at her hospital in Chu Lai. Jane Carson, a retired colonel who was then head nurse of Lane&rsquos ward, was getting ready for work when the rocket hit the center of their ward. Shrapnel hit Lane, killing her instantly.

&ldquoEverybody was in a state of shock that we had lost somebody right in the middle of our hospital compound and couldn&rsquot save them,&rdquo says Carson.

Before her death, Lane had asked to remain in the Vietnamese ward, where both civilians and POWs were treated. &ldquoShe was a very kind, gentle person, and she had a lot of empathy,&rdquo Carson recalls. A foundation named after Lane built a clinic near Chui Lai in tribute.

Reflecting on her own decision, Carson does not regret going&mdashbut says, &ldquoI had no idea, none of us did, what we were getting into.&rdquo

Even so, Second Lieutenant Pamela Donovan, 26, was determined to get to Vietnam. She had become the only member of her Irish immigrant family to obtain U.S. citizenship, enabling her to serve in the Army. Her father later told the Boston Globe that she was &ldquovery touched by what she saw happening in Vietnam on the news and was not at all frightened to go there.&rdquo Shortly after she arrived, an illness claimed her life on July 8, 1968.

Captain Eleanor Alexander, 27, joined the Army after assurances that they would send her to Vietnam. But once there, she was restless working in the relative calm of a Qui Nhon hospital and sought a temporary transfer to Pleiku to be near the fierce fighting of the Battle of Dak To. Alexander wrote to her family that &ldquofor the past three days I&rsquove been running on about four hours sleep&hellipI love it.&rdquo

Her letters, which were later excerpted for a newspaper article in her home state of New Jersey, took on a more serious tone as the days wore on. &ldquoDon&rsquot worry if you don&rsquot hear anything from me too often,&rdquo she wrote on Nov. 24, 1967. &ldquoIt&rsquos going to be a trying time up here.&rdquo

Six days later, Alexander and Hedwig Diane Orlowski, a 23-year-old Army first lieutenant, were killed when their plane crashed into a mountainside on their return flight.

The telegram Orlowski&rsquos parents received erroneously notified them of their son&rsquos death, something Evans says deeply upset the family. Orlowski&rsquos friend Penny Kettlewell, who spent late nights talking with Orlowski about their patients, told the New York Times she tried to hold a remembrance for Orlowski, but her efforts were brushed aside by her supervisor. “She said women don’t die in Vietnam,” Kettlewell told the Times in 1993.

For most of the women who disproved that statement, Vietnam was their first wartime assignment, but Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham, highest-ranking among them, was a seasoned veteran who had served during World War II and the Korea War. She was planning to retire after more than two decades of service, much of it spent far away from her large, close-knit family in North Carolina. On her final assignment, Graham suffered a stroke and later died at the age of 51 in August of 1968.

In a sad coda to the war, Operation Babylift began to evacuate hundreds of South Vietnamese children in the spring of 1975, before the fall of Saigon. Among those on board an overcrowded cargo plane that crashed into a rice paddy shortly after takeoff on April 4, was Captain Mary Therese Klinker, 27, of the Air Force. A posthumous citation says she tended to a passenger with a decompression injury before the impact that took her life.

Their purpose in going to Vietnam was to heal, but nurses also had to cope with the losses they could not prevent. Evans vividly remembers one mortally wounded man, heavily bandaged and unable to speak, who squeezed her hand to indicate he that could hear her. Evans sat with and comforted him until he passed away. Young nurses cared for young soldiers&mdashand the perils of the war did not discriminate between them.

The decision to be placed in harm&rsquos way, made by each of these eight women who did not come home, meant that others could. In a testament to Carol Ann Drazba&rsquos care, Johnny Williams, whom she treated after an ambush left him severely injured, sent flowers to her mother every year until he passed away.


How Many Vietnam Women Veterans are There?

The number of Vietnam women veterans is believed to be almost 7,500 but this number may not be entirely accurate. The draft was initiated on January 1, 1970. Women were excluded from having to register, yet many volunteered even though they did not have to. During the Vietnam War, many women were classified as volunteers.

In addition to the U.S. military women who served in Vietnam, an unknown number of female civilians willingly gave their services on Vietnamese soil during the conflict.

Many of the women who served in the Vietnam War did so as nurses and medical personnel. More than 80 percent of the female veterans from this war were nurses, although these women often faced the same situations and risks as male military members. When men were wounded, it was often the women who tended to them and provided the necessary care.


The US wants a massive strike, but Russia won’t make it easy

Syrian government forces present a more difficult target than most recent US foes. Unlike Islamic State fighters or Taliban militants, the Syrian government is backed by heavy Russian air defenses. Experts on these defenses have told Business Insider the US would struggle to overcome them, even with its arsenal of stealth jets.

It was US Navy ships that fired the missiles in the April 7, 2017, strike. If Russia were to retaliate against a US Navy ship with its own heavy navy presence in the region, the escalation would most likely resemble war between the two countries.

Vladimir Shamanov, a retired general who heads the defense affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons in an escalation with the US over Syria, saying only that it was “unlikely,” the Associated Press reports.

The US has destroyer ships in the region, The New York Times reports, as well as heavy airpower at military bases around the region. While Russian air defenses seem credible on paper, they seem to have done nothing to stop repeated Israeli airstrikes all around Syria.


‘The Vietnam War’: How Vietnamese Women Saw Combat and Got Involved in Other Harrowing War Efforts

Women paramilitary volunteers at a military school graduation in Saigon, 1963

Women have been involved with war efforts throughout history, but the more accepted duties have mainly been civilian &mdash such as medical, supplies or domestic roles. The amount of combat seen by women depends on the country, and restrictions stemming from physical, social or cultural issues. The latest chapter of PBS’ &ldquoThe Vietnam War&rdquo explored the role of Vietnamese women in that war.

In an interview with IndieWire, Filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick elaborated on the story of the women seen in Episode 7, &ldquoThe Veneer of Civilization,&rdquo as they risked their lives driving trucks while American pilots dropped bombs.

&ldquoOne of the revelations of the project was how much women were on the [North Vietnamese] front lines,&rdquo said Novick. “We met a unit of women who drove trucks down the Ho Chi Minh trail. And, that was a combat job just like driving a truck in Iraq is a combat job, because they were under fire.

&ldquoThe military decided that they would recruit women who had been youth volunteers before to do this work as a way to inspire the men who were losing morale in this extraordinarily difficult combat situation,&rdquo she continued. &ldquoThey put women in the trucks to drive the men up and down the Ho Chi Minh trail, to basically show them that if women can do it, you can stick it out. These women were so proud of their service and so tough.&rdquo

Nguyen Nguyet Anh is one woman seen in the documentary who brought arms and supplies south and then shuttled wounded men back up north. The episode details some of the challenges the drivers faced, such as trying to evade enemy bombs from overhead. General Merrill McPeak, a now retired Air Force pilot, was one of the Americans who served a tour in Vietnam and actively dropped bombs on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

Burns said, &ldquoWhen [General McPeak] came into our editing room, he had no idea that he had been bombing some of the women that were repairing the trail.&rdquo

And in one of the rare, optimistic moments in the series, Nguyen is also involved with a wartime romance that ends happily.

&ldquoThere’s an article in the Saigon paper celebrating [the women&rsquos] story, and that’s how we ended up meeting her and the other women in their unit, and their husbands,&rdquo said Novick. &ldquoSo, there were actually a bunch of couples there but they were the one that seemed the most interesting.&rdquo

South Vietnamese women gather tin roofing from the ruins of homes in the village of Bui Chi

Women didn&rsquot need to be part of the army to risk their lives, however. Most women volunteered their services or took on duties in an unofficial capacity. One collection of short stories based on the experiences of a woman working on the Ho Chi Minh Trail give an idea of some of the other ways women contributed.

&ldquoShe describes the situation on young women working on the Ho Chi Minh trail, filling in the bomb craters, and seeing your friends get blown up, seeing soldiers get blown up, and the relentlessness of it day after day,&rdquo said Novick. &ldquoIt’s fiction, but her descriptions of that helped us really understand because the official narratives of the war don’t include the real deprivations or the horrors of that experience. These were young women, 15, 16, 17 [years old]. They were not in the military so they did not wear a uniform, they did not have the benefits of military retirement after the war. This was an extremely difficult and painful part of the women’s experience from the North Vietnamese side.&rdquo

Mai Elliott is a civilian seen throughout the series who sided with the South. In Episode 4, she detailed how she worked with Rand for a Rand Report study in which she had to interview a member of the Viet Cong. Her memories of the war are particularly poignant because she a close family member had sided with the North.

Ken Burns, Mai Elliott, General Merrill McPeak and Lynn Novick, TCA panel for “The Vietnam War”

At the Television Critics Association press tour panel for &ldquoThe Vietnam War&rdquo this past July, Elliott told reporters, &ldquoMy family’s story is captured in the film. What it captures is the nature of the civil war in Vietnam, because the Vietnam War, of course, was a civil war between two groups of Vietnamese with opposite views of what Vietnam should be as a country.

&ldquoAnd during the war against the French, my parents were reluctantly supporting the French because they were more afraid of the Communists than they disliked the French, &ldquoshe continued. &ldquoBut my oldest sister had no such qualms. For her, liberating Vietnam from foreign domination was the right thing to do, so she left a very comfortable life in Hanoi and went into the mountain to join the forces of Ho Chi Minh. So it’s a civil war that divided families like the American Civil War divided American families. And it followed this story until the very end when her side triumphed and our side lost.&rdquo

Although the blood bond never really broke under such divisive sentiments, the war still took a toll on the family. &ldquoDuring all this time, 40-some years of separation with her on the opposite side, my family never held it against her, and she never held it against us that we chose the wrong side, in her view,&rdquo she said. &ldquoAt the end, there was a chance of my parents being reunited with her in 1975 when the Communists won, but the fear of Communism was stronger than the desire to see her again. My mother was persuaded to leave with the rest of the family. They were lifted out of Saigon at the last moment. They never saw her again.&rdquo

Elliott added, &ldquoI didn’t see her again until 1993 when I went back to do research for my family’s story. That meant that 43 years had passed before I saw her again, but that’s the kind of story that this film captures. It’s more than a war. It’s what war does to families and to people.&rdquo

&rdquoThe Vietnam War&rdquo airs nightly at 8 p.m. through Thursday, Sept. 28 on PBS.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, PBS, The Vietnam War


Women and the US War in Vietnam

Women on all sides of the US war in Vietnam pushed for an end to the conflict. At a time of renewed feminist fervor, women stepped outside conventional gender roles by publicly speaking out, traveling to a war zone, and entering the male-dominated realm of foreign affairs. Even so, some claimed to stand squarely within the boundaries of womanhood as they undertook such unusual activities. Some American women argued that, as mothers or sisters of soldiers and draft-age men, they held special insight into the war. They spoke of their duty to their families, communities, and nation to act in untraditional, but nevertheless feminine, ways. But women did not act uniformly. Some joined the military as nurses or service personnel to help in the war effort, while others protested the war and served as draft counselors. By the end of the war, some anti-war protestors developed feminist critiques of US involvement in Vietnam that pointed to the war as a symptom of an unjust society that prioritized military dominance over social welfare. As in wars past, the US war in Vietnam created upheavals in gender roles, and as nurses, mothers, lovers, officers, entertainers, and activists, women created new spaces in a changing society.

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