Women in Vietnam

American Nurses

During the Vietnam War, women served on active duty doing a variety of jobs.  Early in 1963, the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) launched Operation Nightingale, an intensive effort to recruit nurses to serve in Vietnam.  Most nurses who volunteered to serve in Vietnam came from predominantly working or middle class families with histories of military service.  The majority of these women were white Catholics and Protestants.  Because the need for medical aid was great, many nurses underwent a concentrated four-month training program before being deployed to Vietnam in the ANC.  Due to the shortage of staff, nurses usually worked twelve-hour shifts, six days per week and often suffered from exhaustion.  First Lieutenant Sharon Lane was the only female military nurse to be killed by enemy gunfire during the war on June 8, 1969.

At the start of the Vietnam War, it was commonly thought that American women had no place in the military.  Their traditional place had been in the domestic sphere, but with the war came opportunity for the expansion of gender roles.  In Vietnam, women held a variety of jobs which included operating complex data processing equipment and serving as stenographers.  Although a small number of women were assigned to combat zones, they were never allowed directly in the field of battle.  The women who served in the military were solely volunteers.  They faced a plethora of challenges, one of which was the relatively small number of female soldiers.  Living in a male-dominated environment created tensions between the sexes.  While this high male to female ratio was often uncomfortable for women, many men reported that having women in the field with them boosted their morale.  Although this was not the women’s purpose, it was one positive result of their service.  By 1973, approximately 7,500 women had served in Vietnam in the Southeast Asian theater.  In that same year, the military lifted the prohibition on women entering the armed forces.

American women serving in Vietnam were subject to societal stereotypes.  Many Americans either considered female in Vietnam mannish for living under the army discipline, or judged them to be women of questionable moral character who enlisted for the sole purpose of seducing men.  To address this problem, the ANC released advertisements portraying women in the ANC as “proper, professional and well protected.”  This effort to highlight the positive aspects of a nursing career reflected the ideas of second-wave feminism that occurred during the 1960s-1970s in the United States.  Although female military nurses lived in a heavily male environment, very few cases of sexual harassment were ever reported.  In 2008, by contrast, approximately one-third of women in the military felt that they had been sexually harassed compared with one-third of men.

Though relatively little official data exists about female Vietnam War veterans, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation estimates that approximately 11,000 military women were stationed in Vietnam during the conflict.  Nearly all of them were volunteers, and 90 percent served as military nurses, though women also worked as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and other positions in the U.S. Women’s Army Corps, U.S. Navy, Air Force and Marines and the Army Medical Specialist Corps. In addition to women in the armed forces, an unknown number of civilian women served in Vietnam on behalf of the Red Cross, United Service Organizations (USO), Catholic Relief Services and other humanitarian organizations, or as foreign correspondents for various news organizations.

Women, the Unknown Soldiers

Vietnamese Women

Unlike the American women who went to Vietnam, Vietnamese women fought in the combat zone as well as provided manual labor to keep the Ho Chi Minh Trail open; they also worked in the rice fields to provide food for their families and the war effort.  Women were enlisted in both the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the VietCong guerrilla force in South Vietnam.

Nguyen Thi Dinh was an example of a woman who had fought most of her adult life against foreign forces in her country. She was a member of the Vietminh fighting against the French and was imprisoned in the 1940s but on her release continued to fight and led a revolt in 1945 in Ben Tre and also in 1960 against Diems government.  In the mid 1960s, she became a deputy commander of the Viet Cong, the highest ranking combat position held by a woman during the war.

Nguyen Thi Duc Hoan, who would later go on to be an actress-director, also joined the fight at a young age and would later become a guerrilla fighter against the Americans, at the time her own daughter was training in the militia.

What is a Firebase?

The nonsoldier doesn’t know what a firebase is and to explain it I went to the internet to get some information.  So here is the story:

A fire support base (FSB, firebase or FB) is a military encampment designed to provide indirect fire artillery fire support to infantry operating in areas beyond the normal range of direct fire support from their own base camps.

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An FSB was normally a permanent encampment, though many were dismantled when the units that they supported moved. Their main components varied by size: small bases usually had a battery of six 105 millimeter or 155mm howitzers, a platoon of engineers permanently on station, a Landing Zone (LZ), a Tactical Operations Center (TOC), an aid station staffed with medics, a communications bunker, and a company of infantry. Large FSBs might also have two artillery batteries, and an infantry battalion.

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A major innovation of the Vietnam War was the fire support base. Because there were no well-defined battle lines, fire support of maneuver units could not always be accomplished from secure, behind the line positions or from major base areas. Often, positions had to be secured in enemy-dominated territory.

By late 1966 the usual procedure was to establish fire support bases containing headquarters elements, medical facilities, and other support activities, as well as supporting light, medium, and sometimes heavy artillery. Setting up such bases became the routine opening phase of search operations. For example, the beginning of Operation JUNCTION CITY, 22 February-14 May 1967, included a drive by the 1st Infantry Division to open a road northward through War Zone C for the purpose of establishing fire support bases from which the maneuver battalions would operate and receive their artillery support.

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These early bases were often attacked by North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces, as they made ideal targets for enemy offensive actions. Eventually, because of the enemy’s inclination to attack such installations, fire support bases were established for the express purpose of decoying the enemy. In these instances, sophisticated target detection means including radar, sensor devices, and infrared night sighting devices were used to give warning of the enemy’s approach.

This combination proved to be eminently successful, and large numbers of attacking enemy forces were destroyed in several such battles at little cost in friendly casualties. The decoy concept was further expanded to include the deployment of fire support bases to facilitate screening of suspected major enemy avenues of approach.

MONTAGNARDS

The term Montagnard means “mountain people” in French and is a carryover from the French colonial period in Vietnam. The term is preferable to the derogatory Vietnamese term moi, meaning “savage.” Montagnard is the term, typically shortened to Yard, used by U.S. military personnel in the Central Highlands during the Vietnam War. The Montagnards, who are made up of different tribes, with many overlapping customs, social interactions, and language patterns, typically refer to themselves by their tribal names such as Jarai, Koho, Manong, and Rhade. Since Montagnard is still the most commonly recognized term for these people, it is the term used in this profile.

Many of the first group of Montagnard refugees in the United States adopted the term Dega as their name instead of Montagnard because of the latter’s colonial associations. Dega comes from the Rhade language and refers to a creation myth in which the first two Montagnards were named De and Ga. One was of Mon-Khmer heritage and the other of Malayo-Polynesian heritage, and all Montagnards are descendants of these first people of the Highlands, according to the myth. In fact, Montagnard languages are traceable to the Mon-Khmer and Malayo-Polynesian groups.

A Rhade term was chosen because among the first group of Montagnard refugees in the United States the Rhade were in the majority, and their language had been the lingua franca among the resistance fighters. The initial Montagnard organization formed in the United States in 1987 selected the name Montagnard Dega Association in an effort to establish an identity that was inclusive, independent, and recognizable to the community at large. Some Montagnards in the United States, though certainly not all, continue to identify strongly with the term Dega.

The literature on hilltribes in northern Vietnam and Laos that relies on traditional French sources sometimes refers to these peoples as Montagnard. However, the Montagnards from the Central Highlands of Vietnam should not be confused with hilltribe groups in other regions. The Montagnards from the Central Highlands are ethnically distinct from the Hmong and other hilltribe groups from Laos and from hilltribes from northern Vietnam even though they have similar histories of involvement with the U.S. military during the war in Vietnam and Laos. The Montagnards are also distinct from other ethnic minorities in Vietnam, including the Cham, a Muslim minority, who populate parts of Vietnam and Cambodia, and the Nung, as well as other tribal groups from northern Vietnam. A couple hundred Nung have been resettled as refugees in North Carolina and are developing an association with the Montagnards there though the traditions between the two vary significantly. Some Montagnard tribes have also resided in the jungles of Cambodia near the border of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, the border having been drawn by the French during their occupation.

Before the Vietnam War, the population of the Central Highlands, estimated at between 1 and 1.5 million, was almost exclusively Montagnard. Today, the population is approximately 4 million, of whom about 1 million are Montagnard. Of these, between 229,000 to 400,000 are thought to follow evangelical Protestantism. An additional 150,000 to 200,000 are Roman Catholic. The 30 or so Montagnard tribes in the Central Highlands comprise more than six different ethnic groups drawn primarily from the Malayo-Polynesian and Mon Khmer language families. The main tribes, in order of size, are the Jarai (320,000), Rhade (258,000), Bahnar (181,000), Koho (122,000), Mnong (89,000), and Stieng (66,000). The Rhade and Mnong are also known as the Ed and the Bunong.

As the indigenous peoples of the Central Highlands, the Montagnards are completely different in their culture and language from the mainstream Vietnamese. The Vietnamese arrived much later into what is now Vietnam and came primarily from China in different migratory waves. Primarily lowland rice farmers in the south, the Vietnamese have been much more influenced by outsiders, trade, the French colonization, and industrialization than have the Montagnards. Most Vietnamese are Buddhists, belonging to varying strains of Mahayana Buddhism, although Roman Catholicism and a native religion known as Cao Dai also have large followings. Part of the Vietnamese population, especially in larger towns and cities, maintain Chinese traditions and language. The ethnic Chinese constitute the largest minority in Vietnam.

Physically, the Montagnards are darker skinned than the mainstream Vietnamese and do not have epicanthic folds around their eyes. In general, they are about the same size as the mainstream Vietnamese.

PTSD Overview

This overview is from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone goes through a traumatic event like combat, assault, or disaster. Below find information and a PTSD 101 online course that provide a basic understanding of PTSD. For additional materials, also see the PTSD Overview in the Public section of our website.

  • What is PTSD?
    This PTSD 101 online course provides an overview of PTSD including diagnosis history, diagnostic criteria and symptoms, prevalence, course, comorbidities, and risk factors for civilian and Veteran populations.
  • DSM Criteria for PTSD
    Information about the current DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for PTSD.
  • PTSD History and Overview
    Describes in detail the history of PTSD, the PTSD diagnosis, and the criteria needed to meet a diagnosis of PTSD.
  • Epidemiology of PTSD
    Explains epidemiology and important findings about PTSD including prevalence rates for different demographic or Veteran groups.
  • Overview of Psychotherapy for PTSD
    Reviews clinical practice guidelines for PTSD treatment. Includes discussion of research underlying unanimous support of cognitive behavioral therapies.
  • Clinician’s Guide to Medications for PTSD
    Discusses specific groups of medications used for treating PTSD, medications and psychotherapy, common barriers to effective medication treatment, excessive medications, and other considerations.

Click to see more

The Tet Offensive – Brief Overview

While the American people had been told repeatedly that there was a light at the end of the tunnel in Vietnam, the deployment of some 525,000 troops had brought the United States no closer to achieving its limited political goals, and there would soon be a call for major new increases in troop deployments. In effect, the United States faced a stalemate in Vietnam because the enemy controlled the strategic initiative. During the early morning hours of 31 January 1968, the Vietnamese New Year, known as Tet, approximately 80,000 North Vietnamese regulars and NLF guerrillas attacked more than one hundred cities in South Vietnam. The military goal was to spark a popular uprising and, as captured documents revealed, “move forward to achieve final victory.” This final victory was not achieved, but psychological and political gains were made. The front page of the 1 February New York Times showed a picture of the U.S. embassy in Saigon under assault. Guerrillas had blasted their way into the embassy and held part of the embassy grounds for nearly six hours. All nineteen guerrillas were killed, as were four MPs, a marine guard, and a South Vietnamese embassy employee.

The enemy sustained major losses at Tet, from which it would take years to recover. But Tet also demonstrated the enemy’s great skill in planning, coordination, and courage. North Vietnamese regulars and NLF forces had successfully infiltrated previously secure population centers and discredited Saigon’s claims of security from attack.

On 27 February, Johnson received JCS chairman Earle Wheeler’s report on military requirements in South Vietnam. The document contained a request for 206,000 additional troops. To some, this was proof of the bankruptcy of the army’s strategy in Vietnam. Despite the large enemy losses during Tet, the United States was no closer to achieving its goal in Vietnam than it had been in 1965. There appeared to be no breaking point in the enemy’s will to continue the struggle indefinitely. The new reinforcements would bring the total American military commitment to three-quarters of a million troops. It was becoming increasingly evident that no amount of military power would bring North Vietnam to the conference table for negotiations.

That same evening CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite told the nation that the war was destined to remain deadlocked:

We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds…. For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate. To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory, conclusion.