Veterans' Voices: Telling The Story Of Servicewomen In Vietnam
This story originally aired on February 19, 2020.
On the Washington mall, just south of the black granite Vietnam Wall, there’s a statute of a wounded soldier surrounded by three nurses. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial tells the story of some 11,000 uniformed women who served in Vietnam. In this encore edition of Veterans' Voices, we hear from Army veteran Susan Wambach of Washington Township as she talks to her wife Renee Clevenger.
Susan Wambach (SW): When I joined the military, I was a nursing student at, and this is always funny, Lilly Jolly School of Nursing. So, we were known as The Jolly Dollies.
Renee Clevenger (RC): What made you join the military?
SW: After I finished one year of nursing school, there was a recruiter whose name was MAJ Edith Knox and she came to recruit. So, I joined it to see other people and to see the world.
RC: When you signed up, what was your age at that time?
SW: I was twenty. My parents had to sign because I wasn't twenty-one. What's interesting is men could sign when they were eighteen without their parent’s approval. So, inequality was always part of the military and, unfortunately, continues to be.
RC: Tell me about some of your memorable experiences, like most difficult.
SW: When I was in the ER, there was one particular morning when the casualties, for some reason, they had body bags instead of casualties, that came to the hospital…
RC: The soldiers were in the body bags?
SW: They were dead. They were already dead, which normally didn't come to the hospital.
SW: They normally went to Graves Registration, which was a different place. But they needed that helicopter, so they then took the body bags and put them in what we call the library, which was a room that had a few medical books, hardly any, but a few. It was a line of cement on the ground and it was very slick. And I remember going through the library between the ER and Pre-Op and having to jump over those body bags. That was a recurring dream, or nightmare, that I had for a very long time.
RC: When you came home, what was society's reaction to your participation in the war?
SW: At that time, the United States had not figured out not to blame the soldier, but to blame the government for being in an unnecessary war. We've kind of figured that out now better, I think. I went to the 1994 dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, and it was really the first time that I really felt thanked for my service.
Army veteran Susan Wambach and her wife Renee Clevenger spoke at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Kateri Kosta and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.