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November/December Issue

red star bulletThe Veteran Departments : Featured Stories / Letters / President's Message / VVAF Report / Government Relations / Veterans Benefits Update / PTSD Substance Abuse Committee Report / AVVA Report / SHAD/Project 112 Task Force Report / Veterans Against Drugs Task Force Report / Constitution Committee Report / Convention Resolution Report / Healthcare Budget Reform / NamJam / South Korean Veterans / Arts of War / Book Review / Books / Membership Notes / Locator / Reunions / 4 Chaplains /

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By Marc Leepson

The bad news is that we missed seeing the sterling documentary Vietnam Nurses with Dana Delany when it played on the WE cable TV network in August. The good news is that we did see the documentary on DVD and that said DVD is now available with a portion of the sales proceeds going to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Fund.

Put together by Steve Katzenberger and Dave Smith of Creative Street Entertainment in Indianapolis, the film provides an enlightening look at the experiences of military nurses in the Vietnam War through the first-person testimony of eight articulate women who put in time at surgical and evacuation hospitals in Phu Bai, Chu Lai, Cu Chi, Vung Tau, Pleiku, and Long Binh: Maureen Aduci, Diane Carlson Evans, Judy Harrington, Dorothy Harris, Susan O’Neill, Candice Sullivan, Donna White, and Sharon Zimpher. As all Vietnam veterans know, the nurses in those hospitals saw more of the horrors of war than most.

“This is a war story but not a traditional one,” the actress Dana Delany says in the film’s introduction. “I am honored to have played a Vietnam War nurse on the television series China Beach. This is about the women who battled to save the wounded and comfort the dying.”

Delany, who received VVA’s President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 1991 for her outstanding work playing Nurse McMurtry in China Beach, properly then gets out of the way and lets the former nurses tell the story of what it was like to be a woman in the overwhelmingly male war zone, doing a job that involved nearly constant immersion in the worst that the war had to offer. The film’s producers augment the former nurses’ often-moving words with evocative in-country photos of the women themselves, along with Vietnam war footage and film of evac hospital scenes.

Some of it is not pretty. As one former nurse notes: When casualties came in, there “was a never-ending line of bodies out the door. There was blood everywhere.”
The film ends with tales of the women’s often-rocky homecomings and concludes with the story of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. The film is an extremely well-told homage to the nurses who served in the war. For more info on the film and the DVD, go to www.vietnamnursesDVD.com

DUSTY EXPOSED

The women veterans’ community was stunned to learn early in October that Dana Shuster, the poet who called herself “Dusty” and who wrote the much-admired poem “Hello, David—My name is Dusty” based on her service as a nurse in the Vietnam War, is neither a nurse nor a Vietnam veteran. “I share in the sense of betrayal and hurt of the many women veterans who have called her sister,” said Diane Carlson Evans of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project.

“That said,” Evans said, “on behalf of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation Board, I encourage a compassionate response. I hope for the author’s own personal healing, as perhaps deep down, she had somehow hoped for ours.” Evans’ comments were in a letter posted on the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation web site (www.vietnamwomensmemorial.org), which also contained a letter from Laura Palmer, who included Dusty in Shrapnel in the Heart, her seminal book on Vietnam War nurses.

Shuster issued a letter of apology through Marilyn Litt, who runs the womeninvietnam.com web site. “I am a fraud who never served in Vietnam,” Shuster said. She went on to say that she felt “a deep sense of sorrow, embarrassment, anguish, guilt, and shame” because of the hurt that her outing as a wannabe caused. “I hope by candidly voicing my humiliation and enduring the indignity of fully disclosing my emotional brokenness, I can give you some sense of understanding and closure.”

Shuster said that she suffered from “a dissociative disorder,” from PTSD, and from “an incompletely developed self” that caused her to believe she actually had served in Vietnam as a nurse. “I know that I have done more harm than I could possibly make amends for,” she said. “I will always remain shattered and shamed. But for those of you who once found some measure of solace in my words and my sincere sisterly embraces, I hope that some day you may again come to see that those poems were written for you, on your behalf, and in your voice by someone who loved you very much, someone who felt your every tear and heartbeat during the tragedy called Vietnam.”

OFF WE GO

Nearly 60 years after the founding of the U.S. Air Force, official Washington came out on October 14 to dedicate the United States Air Force Memorial. The memorial is located across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., on a promontory near the Naval Annex, Arlington National Cemetery, and the Pentagon. The late James Ingo Freed designed the $30 million memorial, which honors the millions of men and women who have served in the U.S. Air Force and its predecessor organizations. It is like no other in the National Capital area.

Three stainless steel spires soar 200, 230, and 270 feet into the air, truly evoking the feeling of flight—specifically the signature “bomb burst” aerial maneuver of the

Air Force’s Thunderbird Demonstration Team. Each spire is made of three-quarter-inch-thick stainless steel surrounding reinforced concrete. The Air Force star is embedded in granite beneath the spires. The memorial also contains a paved “Runway to Glory” at its entrance; a bronze four-figure Honor Guard statue; two 56-foot-long granite inscription walls; and a ten-foot-tall, glass Contemplation Wall depicting the Air Force’s missing man formation, paying tribute to fallen airmen.
Ground was broken for the memorial in September 2004. It was built with funds raised by the Air Force Memorial Foundation, which was created in 1992. Ross Perot, Jr., chairs the foundation’s board of trustees. For a virtual tour and more info, go to www.airforcememorial.org

ARTS IN BRIEF

The Deadly Writer’s Patrol is a literary magazine put together by Vietnam veterans who conceived the idea at the Madison, Wisconsin, Vet Center. The magazine’s mission, the editors tell us, “is to provide a forum for writings that originate from the Vietnam experience and to encourage greater awareness of the changes wrought by the Vietnam era.”

Although the editors are particularly interested in writing by Vietnam veterans, the publication’s pages are open to anyone. The first issue of the publication contains an excellent array of poetry, short stories, and essays. To learn more or to order a copy (for $6.45, including shipping) write to: Steve Piotrowski, 1621 Adams St., Madison, WI 53711. If you do, mention that you read about the magazine in these pages.

The multimedia exhibit Soul Soldiers and the Vietnam Era opened on Veterans Day at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, Pennsylvania’s largest history museum, which is located near downtown in Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District. The wide-ranging exhibit, which includes art by Vietnam veterans, tells the story of the impact of the Vietnam War on African-American life and culture. It also includes photographs, letters, artifacts, uniforms, medals, works of art, and personal stories contributed by Vietnam veterans, as well as an original documentary film featuring interviews done with Vietnam veterans in 1969-71. A companion book, Soul Soldiers, containing essays, poetry, art, and photos, was published to accompany the exhibit.

Soul Soldiers and the Vietnam Era runs through October of next year. For info, go to www.pghhistory.org/Veterans_Exhibit.asp or call 412-454-6391.

Among the events marking the Women In Military Service For America Memorial’s ninth anniversary of its dedication was “Women: Back to the Future,” a one-woman theatrical production honoring women veterans, presented by Washington, D.C., actress Kate Campbell Stevenson on October 15 at the memorial, which is located at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery.

The U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center, located at the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks in south-central Pennsylvania, offers a steady stream of educational programs and other activities. They include a monthly public lecture series called “Perspectives in Military History,” a quarterly series of readings of new books on military history, and the weekly living history program, “Life of the Soldier.” The center also presents two big public historical programs every year. The next one takes place on Armed Forces Day, May 17, 2007, and will look at the history of the Army through living history impressions and programs.

The center also has educational programming for middle schools through the collegiate level. To find out more about these and other programs, go to, contact Michael Lynch at Michael.lynch@carlisle. army.mil, or call 717-245-3803.

Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau, the winner of the 2006 VVA President’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, paid a visit to Kansas City in September, accepting an invitation from Chapter 317 to meet with chapter members and tour the VA Medical Center. Trudeau signed gratis copies of his latest book of cartoons and a Doonesbury strip for chapter members.

Trudeau was the subject of “Doonesbury’s War,” a long profile in the October 22 issue of The Washington Post Magazine in which reporter Gene Weingarten included his take on the cartoonist’s experiences in Tucson in July at the VVA National Leadership Conference. Here’s how Weingarten, who accompanied Trudeau to Tucson to see him accept the President’s Award, described the conferees: “These are fifty- and sixty- something guys, many with ponytails, tattoos, ample guts, and an attitude. They weren’t treated right; they want better for new vets, returning home scarred.” Weingarten, by the way, writes a humor column in the WP magazine.

The web site “Kids Love a Vet” is looking for photos of individual VVA members and VVA chapters to add to its on-line pages. The site exists to thank veterans for their service and to give schoolchildren an opportunity to contact veterans for school projects and learn about patriotic subjects. If you’d like to participate, go to the web site www.kidsthankavet for instructions on how to send scanned photos.

QUERIES

Ron Osgood is looking for subjects to interview for his documentary, My Vietnam, My Iraq. The film will tell the story of Vietnam veterans whose children either have served, or are serving, in Iraq. Osgood, a Vietnam veteran, tells us that he is looking “for a diverse cross-section of opinions” and “for women who served in either war.” You can contact him at 812-855-5096 or by e-mail, osgoodr@ indiana.edu.
A student at King’s College in the U.K. working on a B.A. in War Studies is looking for help from Vietnam veterans for her dissertation, which will examine the role of physical and moral courage on the battlefield. If you would like to answer questions on “what importance soldiers place on both sorts of courage, as well as how the role, and perhaps character of, the soldier has changed over time,” e-mail alice.barling_gasson@kcl.ac.uk and mention you read about the project here.

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