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november/december 2008

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TEXT & PHOTOS BY MARK JURY

With temperatures barely above freezing in the early morning of November 11, Janet Gorman King read her poem about nurses in Vietnam, “Hers Was the Last Face He Saw.” King read in front of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. The crowd attending the reading had come to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the dedication of the Memorial.

As the temperature rose and the warmth of the day spread over the thousands of Vietnam veterans and their supporters, the spirit of the motto of the Memorial—“A Legacy of Healing and Hope”—also spread over the crowd. A day of storytelling, speakers, and camaraderie culminated with the Color Guard Pass in Review that was developed and organized by VVA.

“Fifteen years ago we talked about leaving a legacy,” said Diane Carlson Evans, an Army nurse in Vietnam, founder and president of the board of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation. “But what is that legacy: remembering, honoring, and connecting with a new generation. I hear women say, ‘If it wasn’t for the Memorial, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’”

Throughout the day, every visitor to the Women’s Memorial was given a single rose to place on the statue. Sue Miller, a Navy nurse in Vietnam who retired after 34 years in the military, came up with the idea. “It’s just a beautiful way to give people something they can take to the statue and feel they’re a part of such a special group,” she said. “You can lay a rose on the Memorial and say a prayer.”

Jim and Mattie Laviana of VVA Chapter 12 in East Hartford, Connecticut, have been coming to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial every year since the dedication. Jim, who was with the 1st Aviation Battalion, said: “All the women veterans I knew are not here now,” as he remembered a friend who was a nurse in Cu Chi. Looking toward the rose-covered Memorial, he mused: “There have been a lot of tears, but now there’s rejoicing. Finally.”

Marsha Four, an Army nurse in Vietnam and the long-time chair of the VVA Women Veterans Committee, summed up the feelings of many who visited Washington, D.C., on Veterans Day 2008. “When I think about ‘the good old days’ as far as the military is concerned,” she said, “I think about that one year of my life I spent with people who were also part of a very dramatic experience, one that will stay with me until the day I die.”

 

 

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