Dedication of the Memorial


Cindy Loose, “‘Our Place for the Healing: Vietnam Women’s Memorial Dedicated Amid Tears, Hugs” Washington Post, November 12, 1993, A1.

The unveiling of a bronze statue in a sun-dappled grove of beech and maple trees was the official occasion. But that was a fraction of the point for the 25,000 people who came from across the nation for the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s War Memorial.

They came to hug and laugh and cry; to remember and be remembered; to expose their pain and perhaps help it go away.

Dedicating The Memorial
Vietnam veterans and Glenda Goodacre (right) dedicate the memorial.

“I couldn’t afford to come here, but I just had to,” said Sue Rowe, of Phoenix, who in 1969 and 1970 served at Pleiku in the 71st Army Evacuation hospital. “I’m determined to cure myself today, to meet these women again, to come full circle and bring things to a close.”

Florence Johnson, of Massachusetts, dressed in the all-white Gold Star Mothers uniform that marked her as the parent of a soldier killed in battle, came to say thank you.

“They took care of our kids,” she said. “Maybe somebody here today took care of my boy before he died.”

Tim Davis, of California, a former Marine who lost both his legs in 1968 on Hill 55 about six miles south of Da Nang, complained that the memorial to the women was too far – 300 feet – from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The names of the more than 58,000 Americans killed in Vietnam are engraved on the black reflecting granite that has come to be known as the Wall.

“I felt the women’s monument should be closer to the Wall,” said Davis, 45, “because these women were the last people those guys saw or talked to before they died.”

The dedication of the statue of three tending a wounded soldier – the first national memorial to female veterans – was the centerpiece of dozens of activities in the area yesterday, including a women’s march down Constitution Avenue and a wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington Cemetery. But every event was really about finding old friends.

Two decades and more had sketched lines on many faces, making reunions difficult.

“Sue. Sue Rowe,” Rowe said to Virginia Willard, of Florida. “We worked together in the OR in ’69.”

Willard screeched and wrapped her arms around Rowe. They laughed aloud for only a second, then both began to cry.

“One of the OR scenes we worked on together flashed in my mind,” Willard said later. “It was one of the guys, hurt pretty bad. He had a lot of abdominal injuries. We just couldn’t save him. He was 18 years old.” Willard was only four years older.

Their moment of recognition had triggered a scene in Rowe’s mind too.

“Probably it was the same one Virginia remembered,” she said, although it wasn’t. “He was fresh out of the bush; he must have stepped on a mine. He lost a leg and had a lot of facial wounds. He was a young kid, blond hair, really young.”

The blond soldier died too. But why, of the thousands and thousands of patients she treated in Vietnam, did Rowe think of this one?

“He’s in my dreams all of the time,” she answered.

But her worst memory, she said, is of triage, in which patients were sorted according to those needing immediate care, those who could wait and the “expectants” – those who had no chance and were put off to the side to die.

“The hardest were the kids we had to put in the expectant room,” Rowe said. “Those are the ones I always remember, the ones I can never forget.”

An estimated 11,500 American women served in Vietnam, about 90 percent of them as medical personnel. They saw and touched the awful wounds suffered by 300,000 American boys, excluding those who were killed. Of the dead they saw, 29,000 were 17 or 18 years old.

The effect of so much exposure to so much pain was little understood for a long time. Like their male counterparts, these women returned in late 1960s and early 1970s to a sometimes hostile and, at best, uncaring reception.

They took years to realize that, like the men who fought, they could suffer post traumatic stress disorders and they too would have to come to grips with what they saw and felt.

“There is nothing more intimate than sharing someone’s dying with them,” a Vietnam-era nurse named Dusty wrote in a collection of poems, “Visions of War, Dreams of Peace.”

“It is more intimate than sex, it is more intimate than childbirth, and once you do it, you can never be ordinary again.”

Vietnam Women’s Memorial Dedicated in Washington, D.C.
by Marti Pecukonis, RN. Reprinted by permission from Montana Nurses Association

“Were you my nurse?” asked a Vietnam vet I had never seen before.

I was in Washington, D.C. for the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project’s Celebration of Patriotism and Courage. I served as an army nurse at the 67th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon, South Vietnam in 1967 and 1968. I was an operating nurse then. Twenty five years later, I was in Washington, D.C. for the dedication of a memorial for women Vietnam veterans. The dedication of the Memorial was part of a project who objectives are to identify the women who served our country during a difficult time in our history; to educate our nation about the contributions of these women during the Vietnam war; and to place a realistic representation of women veterans at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

“I have no idea if I was your nurse, but welcome home,” I replied

“I don’t care if you were my nurse or not. Thank you. Welcome
home, sister.”

He gave me a hug; we both had tears in our eyes. This exchange with a brother vet seemed to set the tone for the events that followed.

Roxanne Roberts, “Honoring the Women: New Vietnam Memorial Readied on Mall,” Washington Post, November 2, 1993, A1.

Washington’s first memorial honoring women in the military was hoisted into place on a granite foundation near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial yesterday morning with a handful of curious joggers and dutiful reports in attendance.

The official unveiling of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial is set for Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

After 10 years of planning and controversy — and a three-week tour across the country — the 2,000-pound bronze statue was lifted by crane from a truck bed and positioned at its permanent site in a grove of trees about 300 feet in front of the Wall.

“Female medical workers in Vietnam also bore the intensity and carnage of the war,” the memorial’s spokeswoman, Mary Beth Newkumet, said. “Three hundred fifty thousand wounded soldiers went through their hospitals, airplanes and ships. Thousands died with a nurse beside them – she was the last person many of them saw. Many thousands more were saved because of quick, effective medical care.”

The 6-foot-8-inch-high statue, covered in canvas until next week, depicts four figures: a nurse holding a wounded male soldier, a woman looking skyward is if in anticipation of a rescue helicopter, and another on her knees holding a helmet and looking at the ground in despair. While all the figures are wearing fatigues, sculptor Glenna Goodacre deliberately included no identifying insignia, to symbolically include all the women – military, medical and even civilian volunteers – who served in Vietnam.

“When the veterans see it, they can say, ‘That was me,’ said Goodacre, 54, who has been sculpting for 20 years. “They can see themselves in any of the three women.”

The memorial was funded by private donations — $4 million has been raised since it was first proposed in 1983. Project organizers are not releasing the cost of the sculpture itself.

Although the Vietnam Veterans Memorial includes the names of the eight military women who died during that conflict, Diane Carlson Evans, the founder of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project Inc., felt there should be recognition for the surviving women. Although there are no exact records by sex, an estimated 11,000 female military, medical and other workers served in Vietnam.

A second memorial, honoring all women who have ever served in the U.S. military, is being planned for the entrance of Arlington Cemetery.

Evans, an Army nurse stationed in Vietnam in 1968-69, first got the idea when she saw the realistic statue of the three servicemen by Frederick Hart that was added to Maya Lin’s original memorial design in 1984.

That statue was erected amid protest by Lin and others who believed it spoiled the original design of the Wall. The call to add yet another statue to the site set off a debate about how many separate groups should be honored with memorials.

“I think the Wall itself is a brilliant design,” said Goodacre. “When they added the figures of the servicemen, but left the women out, it left a gap.”

While veterans groups and officials argued the merits of additional memorials, the first proposed design for the women’s’ memorial was rejected by the Fine Arts Commission.

In 1988 Congress passed legislation that approved a women’s memorial, and a nationwide design competition was held. Two years later, two entries were selected as winners, with the idea to combine them into one finished statue. That plan proved unworkable, and ultimately the design submitted by Goodacre, who got an honorable mention in the competition, was selected.

Yesterday, Evans and Goodacre were on hand to see it finally placed in its permanent home. The statue left Goodacre’s Sante Fe, N.M., studio in August and traveled across the country on a three-week, 21-city tour that ended in Crystal City on Sept. 20. The memorial was stored until yesterday.

“For the women veterans and volunteers who have been involved in this,” said Newkumet, “it’s been a long, hard 10 years. This was a very exciting moment.”

Photo by: Patrick J. Hughes
Photo by: Patrick J. Hughes
Photo by: Patrick J. Hughes