The last thing I said to anyone
I served with when I left Vietnam was that this place will
never be anywhere but just over my shoulder for the rest of my
life. That's been the case with a lot of people I've talked to
since. We don't always want to look over our shoulder and see
it, but it's right there. --Marsha Four, U.S. Army,
Some 265,000 women served in the military in the Vietnam era;
about 11,000 served in Vietnam. Eight women died there. Close
to 90 percent of the women who served in-country were nurses.
Others were physicians, physical therapists, personnel in the
Medical Service Corps, air traffic controllers, communications
specialists, intelligence officers, and clerks. Nearly all who
served in-country volunteered.
On November 11, 1993, after 10 years of effort, the Vietnam
Women's Memorial was dedicated as part of the Vietnam Veterans
Memorial. Created by renowned sculptor Glenna Goodacre, the
memorial, depicting three nurses caring for a wounded soldier,
stands 6 feet 8 inches high and weighs one ton.
The tenth anniversary of the memorial will be celebrated
November 10-11 in Washington with many events, including an
appearance at the memorial by Goodacre.
"I'm often asked what is my favorite piece and I always say
the Vietnam Women's Memorial because of how much it means to
so many people,'' Goodacre said.
Long before the memorial began to be shaped in Goodacre's
Santa Fe, N.M., studio, it caused Marsha Four to look back at
her Vietnam War experience. In 1987, she ran into a frienD who
was a local newspaper reporter. The reporter told Four she was
going to a meeting of a Vietnam Veterans of America chapter to
hear a woman speak about the effort under way to build a
memorial dedicated to the women who served in Vietnam. Four
"I listened to the presentation and I found myself almost to
the point where I couldn't talk,'' she said. "Some of it was
upsetting, some of it was a sense of pride listening to
someone say that what I did was important. It was an important
meeting for me.''
The members of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, Chapter 67
encouraged her to join. She did and has been a member ever
since, going on to serve on the VVA Board of Directors three
times and as current chair of the Women Veterans Committee.
Four believes that evening was the first time she considered
the significance of her year in Vietnam.
"I began to realize that what I did was important to people
and their lives, people I will never know,'' she said. "The
memorial is a place I go where I can just sit. Sometimes it
takes you back and sometimes it's painful. We all want to
believe that we keep those experiences in the right box in the
closet. Sometimes sitting there at the memorial, when you
close your eyes, you can't help but see those things that were
She said that for many women, coming home meant little or no
conversation about where they had been. Like so many of their
male counterparts, they tucked Vietnam away in a private
"We came home, went to school, got married, had kids,'' she
said. "There wasn't a lot of talk about our being in the
military. We didn't have a GI haircut when we came home.
Nobody looked at us and said, 'Ah, military.' Unless we
decided to say it, no one knew it.''
Ten years ago, Vietnam veteran David Chung, then an employee
of Federal Express, drove a specially outfitted FedEx truck
from Santa Fe to Washington, D.C. He carried a cargo that
touched the hearts of those who came to see it along the way.
Ten years later, it has touched the hearts of hundreds of
Chung vividly remembers a woman in Dallas. She was upset. She
stared at the statue of three women and a wounded soldier for
a long time, saying nothing. Chung and others went to see if
she was all right. They asked if she had lost a loved one in
Vietnam. Chung will never forget the woman's reply.
"She said she lost herself,'' he said. "She lost herself in
She had been a Navy X-ray technician. When she came home, she
flew on a plane loaded with critically wounded men. In the
years after the war, she tried to put the war behind her,
choosing to tell no one of her service. She went to college,
married, raised a family, became a grandmother.
No one knew she served in Vietnam.
"When we were leaving, she said she was going home to do
something she didn't think she would ever do,'' Chung said.
"She was going to tell her husband and her family that she was
a Vietnam veteran.''
Sculptor Glenna Goodacre, who knew no one involved in the
Vietnam War before taking on the memorial project, said she
had no idea how widespread the impact of the work would be,
including the impact on her own career.
"To be on the Washington Mall and to represent those young
women who worked so hard to take care of soldiers is something
that can't be duplicated in any other way,'' Goodacre said.
"I've heard from all kinds of people over the past 10
years--veterans and parents, husbands and mothers, all those
whose loved ones were saved by those women. They want to give
me a hug and that always leads to tears. It has so much
meaning. I truly had no idea of what it would mean to other
people and me.''
She draws a distinction between the Women's Memorial and
"I like to say The Wall is for those who died. This
Women's Memorial is for those who
lived. Something like 350,000 were wounded and lived. I
covered his face [the memorial's wounded soldier] so he would
be anonymous. She's holding a pressure bandage on him. He's
terribly wounded, but he's going to live. It's uplifting in my
Sandra Spatz-Wiszneauckas, a former Marine, was scheduled for
discharge in the late 1960s. She had not been to Vietnam. She
was not a nurse, but had been working with wounded Marines at
Bethesda Naval Hospital. As the time neared for her to leave
the Marine Corps, an inquiry was made.
"I was asked to extend for another year to serve in Vietnam,''
she said. "That's how I ended up over there. I was inspired by
the Marines who were coming back to Bethesda. I felt compelled
to serve in Vietnam after seeing them.''
In Vietnam, she worked in the Naval Forces office under the
command of Adm. Elmo Zumwalt.
A founding member of VVA Chapter 641, Spatz-Wiszneauckas also
is the vice president of Vietnam Women Veterans, a group of
non-nurse women veterans formed five years ago. Having located
350 women who served in various capacities in Vietnam, the
group is holding a reunion November 10-11 in Washington.
"What came from these women speaking to one another about
Vietnam was a valuing of themselves and their service,'' she
said. "I think people came away feeling an appreciation for
the service they provided. They validated each other.''
Spatz-Wiszneauckas said she frequently visits The Wall
and the Women's Memorial, her chapter having worked for
several years with the Park Service.
"Of the three women depicted in the memorial, it's the woman
in the back, kneeling, her head down, almost prayerfully, that
strikes me the most,'' she said. "The memorial does a good job
of symbolizing the service of women. It captures that feeling
of service and a reliance on something beyond them.''
David Chung, now working in minority affairs with the VA, said
of his experience transporting the statue 10 years ago: "The
statue took on a life of its own and in turn gave me back my
life. It's the only way I can describe it.''
Chung, who brought the statue to the attention of Fred Smith,
FedEx's founder and CEO, a Vietnam veteran, was apprehensive
about making the trip with the statue. He had not been
involved with veterans groups at all until 1986, when he
participated in the Welcome Home parade in Chicago. At the
urging of his wife, who served in Vietnam as a nurse, he
became involved in the memorial project.
"The journey changed me'' he said. "The nurses said how great
it was for something like this to happen because they finally
were being recognized. Families of veterans who were wounded
or didn't make it home came out to see the statue everywhere
we stopped because they wanted somehow to find a way to thank
the nurses who tried to save their sons or comforted their
sons before they died.''
In Junction City, Kansas, Chung arrived late at night in a
driving rainstorm that had slowed him for hours. More than
three thousand people waited for the statue's arrival. State
troopers who had escorted the truck shined their spotlights on
the statue. A buddy working with Chung told him to look into
"It was amazing," Chung said. "If you looked into the
individual faces, even in the rain and the dim light, you
could see tears running down faces of the people. The statue
still carries that kind of power. Look at the people who come
today. They stare, they leave notes. Veterans almost always
touch it. You can see why in their faces: 'You took care of
me, you took care of my son.' It's very powerful. They want to
touch it. They want to connect. They want to come full
Marsha Four underscores the point.
"It's a great vehicle for women to open up to one another,''
she said. "It identified who we were. It brought women
together in groups and that fostered interaction. For some, it
was the first time they vocalized to others what happened to
them. It was a great catharsis for many women. We could be
painfully blunt with each other and know that we weren't going