Patricia A. McGarvey
Patti served in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969 as a surgical and triage nurse with the 2nd Surgical Hospital at Phu Bai, at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital at Long Binh, and, finally, with the 2nd Surgical Hospital again at Lai Khe, the base camp of the US First Infantry Division, the Big Red One.
Patti's first husband, Russell Reinel, was a Captain and an infantry company commander in the First of the 26th in the Big Red One. He was killed in combat action with North Vietnamese forces in February 1969. Patti escorted his body home for burial at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Memorial Day has a very special meaning for her.
As a Gold Star wife and a Vietnam veteran myself, I believe we Americans standing here today owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the 58,000-plus men and eight women who died in Vietnam. I know first hand what that war was all about and the price our young men and women paid in blood, sweat, and tears.
I, for one, will never forget their sacrifices. They remain in my heart and prayers today. I am certain that all who died there are in Heaven with our Creator.
The greatest love one can have is to lay down your life for your brothers and sisters, and that's exactly what all men and women killed in all our wars did for us, so that we might enjoy our freedoms today. Let us always honor them in our hearts.
I joined the Army while a student at Bellevue Nursing School in New York precisely 30 years ago as I neared graduation in the Class of 1967.
I had grown up in a home filled with stories about the war in the Pacific which is where my father had served in the artillery during WWII. We had an Army cot which my three siblings and I fought over to sleep on when guests stayed the night and green wool blankets that scratched my skin and were raised to value the ideals of "duty, honor, country."
The Army offered me opportunities to continue my nursing education, and I was eager to see the world. I asked to be stationed in California, Hawaii, or Japan. I got Fort Ord, California, for the first ten months of my military career after completing officer basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Then as most nurses and doctors, Vietnam.
In the past month, I have been pondering what to say here today. One positive idea that comes to my mind is the remarkable advances in medicine made during the war.
The use of the helicopter revolutionized field military medicine. Wounded arrived at our hospitals within thirty minutes of their injury on the average. Many of these wounds were massive and traumatic from gunfire, booby traps, land mines, and artillery or mortar fire.
We were able to take care of these sorts of wounds as never before. Many of those who sustained massive injuries like a sucking chest wound or traumatic head injury or radical limb amputations reached a hospital in time for lifesaving measures to be taken.
Advances in the field of triage nursing were nothing short of phenomenal. I can't watch an episode of "E.R." today without identifying countless emergency treatment procedures developed by the military in Vietnam that are today routine.
On this Memorial Day, I want to offer a full and heartfelt "hand salute" to the medics who humped the boondocks with the troops. They were the first ones to treat the patient and get the Medevacs called in to transport the wounded to the nearest hospital.
They did this while under gunfire themselves. They were unarmed angels of mercy. Their field work saved precious minutes when choppers full of wounded arrived at our hospital.
They also worked in the hospitals and helped me to orient myself to the new way of working that I was unaccustomed to. In the beginning of my tour while I was still "green," the experienced medics would guide me as to what to do first.
The dedication of the medical people I served with impressed me deeply. We worked around the clock on countless days.
And, we didn't stop until all of the wounded had been diagnosed, moved into the emergency and operating rooms, and later emerged in post-op care units. When they were stable, they were transported back to the States or Europe, Japan or the Philippines.
During times of stand-down, when our troops were in their base camp between operations, we went on Medcap missions where we visited nearby Vietnamese villages and set up clinics to treat children with common eye infections, intestinal diseases found in the tropics, and skin diseases from the ever-present tropical bacteria.
We taught hygiene and first aid to adults. We also assisted in the birth of many infants, a joyful duty for us all in the midst of all that chaos of war.
The average age of our troops was 19 years old; I turned 22 while in Phu Bai. They were so young; we were so young. In 1994, I had a reunion with four of the seven nurses who were stationed together at the 2nd Surg. in Lai Khe. We shared pictures, and I can't get it out of my head how young everyone was--we all looked like babies.
You can imagine how many memories that reunion brought back and the stories we told each other--some funny, some very sad. I had forgotten how the guys used to tell us how nice it was to see a "round eyed" women again; they had been so used to seeing Vietnamese. They would just stare. It was like they felt safe just being in our company because being with us was a piece of home.
We often helped the guys write letters to their girlfriends or parents. The ones that didn't make it were never left alone. One of us would make sure they were as comfortable as possible and just sit next to them and hold their hand as they died. To the best of our ability, none of our guys died alone.
I believe that over 10,000 women served in the Vietnam war. Their jobs were varied and not all military; some were civilian nurses with A.I.D. and Red Cross. Some were "donut dollies." Some were clerical personnel. Some were therapists or dietitians. Most were nurses, though.
It was very difficult being in an unpopular war. I was a nurse doing the job I had been trained to do. The guys were soldiers doing what they had been trained to do. The rightness or wrongness of the war wasn't for us to decide.
But some of our American people blamed the war on the warrior, and we weren't given much of a welcome when we came home. Plus we didn't win the war, a first for the great U.S. of A. So it has been a difficult time for many of us. Veterans are still dying today from the effects of Agent Orange, drugs and alcohol, loneliness and dispair. Many are disabled from physical as well as psychological injuries. So please remember us all in your prayers.
In closing, I pray for an outbreak of peace all over this world of ours. I pray that the hearts of all world leaders be opened so that they may embrace the risks involved in making peace rather than the consequences of making war.
Thank you all, and may God Bless America.