Kathryn Tracy Rizzi: This begins an oral history interview with Mary Jo Rice-Mahoney on June 20, 2019, in Westfield, New Jersey, with Kate Rizzi. Thank you so much for meeting again to do this oral history.
Mary Jo Rice-Mahoney: You're welcome.
KR: For the record, we are in the Local History Room in the Westfield Memorial Library. We left off at the end of the first session and you talked about being assigned to the 67th Evacuation Hospital at Qui Nhon. You were there from March of 1969 to March of 1970. What were your duties as a nurse in the intensive care unit and recovery room at Qui Nhon? [Editor's Note: During the Vietnam War, Qui Nhon Airfield, located on the coast in Central Vietnam, housed U.S. Army and Air Force units, including the 67th Evacuation Hospital.]
MRM: The intensive care unit was a rectangular, very large rectangular room, and it was a twenty-seven bed ICU. We had, off of that, a ten or twelve-bed recovery room, and we were responsible for both. The recovery room patients were post-anesthesia, coming out of their anesthesia that they had for their surgeries, and there could be up to ten or twelve of them at a time. Then, we could have up to twenty-seven beds [and] patients in the ICU. We would have all kinds of patients. We would have American GIs. We would have any of the allies, the Koreans or New Zealanders. We would have all kinds of Vietnamese civilians, all ages. In their culture, I would think it was cultural, or maybe because it was a warzone, when one of the family members was in the ICU, the entire family came and they would just sleep under the bed and sit around the bed. We also had, occasionally, North Vietnamese prisoners of war. That was very rare. I think we maybe had three or four during my duration there.
We were scheduled six days a week, twelve hours a day, seven A to seven P, seven P to seven A, and the responsibilities included everything of an intensive-care-level patient. That could be from combat injuries. It could be from a heart attack. It could be from diseases endemic to the country, like malaria. It was that kind of a mix of a population. Our nursing responsibilities would follow whatever the patient's diagnoses were, and we had responsibilities for medications, preparing medications and administering the medications, which was a huge, immense responsibility, now that I look back on what we did and how much we did and how often we had to do it and administering the blood transfusions. We had dressing changes. We had patients who had airways, we would have to do the suctioning, the routine suctioning, to keep them cleared of mucus, so they wouldn't develop pneumonia, et cetera. We would have to do CPR, obviously, if there was a cardiac arrest. We were trained in basic training, we did have the experience of performing a tracheotomy on goats. So, we had that training, but I never had to perform that. I came very close to it once, but I never had to do that.
Working with us, we had medics. Some were at the entry level, and some were the much, much more experienced, higher experience level medic. We did have some South Vietnamese nationals that helped with things like the meal trays, which were always like clear liquids, Jell-O, or broth, for those that were stable enough to eat. We did have those South Vietnamese civilians who would help with those kind of tasks, the lower-level tasks.
In the recovery room, we would manage the patient's vital signs, airway, checking the dressing, so that there wouldn't be any hemorrhaging or bleeding, et cetera, until such time as the patient was completely responsive and in control of his reflexes, his breathing reflexes, his swallow reflexes. Once they were stable, if they had the order to be transferred to ICU, we would bring them into the ICU and get them all hooked up to their tubes and their breathing machines, if they were on a breathing machine, because we would frequently have unstable patients, unstable to breathe on their own, so they were being managed on a ventilator until they could be weaned off of the ventilator and breathe successfully, stably on their own. We had those kinds of responsibilities.
It sounds kind of mundane and routine, but it was so voluminous with twenty-seven patients, oh, my god, because it wasn't just a small dressing change. We had immense-sized combat injuries, belly, head wounds, extremities, amputations. It wasn't just like, "Let's do a little dressing change." It would take a lot of time, and sometimes the wounds had to be irrigated or it had to be packed with a medicated gauze, and so it was much more than just taking the old dressing off and putting a new one on. There was a lot more that went into it. We also, as the patients stabilized, we had to then get them ambulating, first, in a wheelchair, and then, we'd ambulate them, if they were stable enough. We also had the responsibility, if they stabilized successfully enough and rapidly enough, we would actually get them onto the evac plane. We coordinated with the Air Force and their Air Force ambulances or buses, medevac buses, would come. So, we had that responsibility as well. When and if a patient was that stable from the ICU, usually they would be transferred from the ICU to the surgical ward, and then, they'd go through the evacuation system.
KR: To Japan?
MRM: Yes, we evacuated to Japan, yes, which is funny because [laughter] at one of our college reunions, we had--I don't know if I ever told you this—[five] of us that went into the Army Nurses Corps and I think there were three or four that went into the Navy Nurse Corps, and the experiences were much different. The Navy was very strict, very serious, and ours was kind of laid back. I mean, basic training was like a party. [laughter] We had maid service every day. One of my college classmates was in Japan and was taking care of a patient that I had had in the ICU and read my nurse's notes. It was amazing, amazing, a small world.
KR: When did you realize that? Were you writing letters to each other?
MRM: When we were at the college reunion, she said, Sue Romanowsky, "Mary Jo, I took care of one of your …" We didn't remember the name or anything. She said, "You wrote wonderful nurse's notes." I said, "That's because I'm Irish and I write like I talk, a lot." [laughter] That was kind of interesting. I guess that was it for the responsibilities, but they were much more voluminous than it sounds verbally, forty-some years later. It was amazing.
KR: What was the process like being new to combat nursing and being in this new situation in the ICU? Was there some sort of training process by the medics and the nurses who had been there a while?
MRM: We had a very wonderful--Joanne Houle was the head nurse of the ICU. I was panicked. I think I mentioned that the last time, when the chief nurse told Phyllis, my roommate, and I that we were going to be working in ICU, I was apoplectic, and then, we started working on the day shift. Joanne Houle would have us new nurses shadowing one of the very experienced nurses, who was probably in the process of getting ready to go home, and those nurses were phenomenal. They had a phenomenal knowledge base, number one. Number two, they were the most effective mentors that I have ever had in my entire career. The reason I was so impressed with that was because we didn't have a whole lot of time for OJT [on-the-job] orientation or any of that. It was just shadowing them with whoever their population assignment was that day, on the day shift, and we would learn from what that patient needed and what that nurse did with that patient, but it was a very rapid process. The nurses were wonderful. The older nurses, as teachers, I said their knowledge base was just, it was like they were junior physicians, because they had been dealing with all this for a year. None of them had extended at all. They were just doing their one-year assignment. We were all female, except there was one male nurse. He was an Air Force nurse, as a matter-of-fact. He was not assigned to our hospital, but he would come over very often, like when we were doing a medevac transfer or something. There was no formal orientation, "Okay, we have a six-week orientation for the new nurses." It wasn't anything like that at all. You just shadowed this nurse on the day shift, and then, you would be introduced to the night shift the same way, in which case there were many fewer staff on duty. There would be enough staff to take care of the patient population at that given time, but there was no extra staffing unless we had a mass casualty.
When mass casualties happened, everybody came in and everybody stayed until it was time that you could go home or go back to your room. Sometimes, that was many, many more than twelve hours because you just had to make sure the patients were stable and some staff had had enough rest that they could come back into take care of the patients, after the mass cal had started, I mean, our patient part of it had started. I would look back and say they were just marvelously quick orientations, and they were very, very effective. Every new nurse got right into the groove. Nobody ever got unassigned from the ICU. Everybody kind of learned right away. They felt comfortable and secure enough and reassured enough that it worked. It worked and [was] an amazing experience. It was probably the most thorough orientation I've ever had in my nursing career at any level.
Then, after you had been there long enough--and I don't know how she would judge this, Joanne Houle, the head nurse--but you would be then the nurse-in-charge on the night shift for however-many patients and the medics and the junior nurses who were under you. I don't know that that went by your rank and seniority that way. I think it went by seniority of how long you'd been working in the ICU and how well you had done and were doing, being able to practice independently with the patient population, plus supervise others if you were going to be made the charge nurse of the night shift or the day shift. So, that's kind of how that went. [laughter] If I think of anything, I'll bring it up.
KR: What was it like working with the medics?
MRM: It was absolutely fantastic. They were the most dedicated; they, again, were so knowledgeable. I have to say this about every nurse and every medic and the doctors, depending on basic personalities of course, but everybody had the most wonderful, appropriate sense of humor and the same almost ferocious dedication to our patients, to a fault. The medics, they had gone through different levels of medic training stateside, and some of them had stateside experience, some did not. They were completely green, just like some of us nurses, and they were phenomenal in terms of being able to practice, at their level, independently of you being right there to help them with everything. Anytime anything needed to be done, it was done. There was never any quibbling, or, "I did that on the day shift yesterday, I'm not going to do it." There was none of that. It was just a seamless, invisible, wonderful teamwork, doctors, nurses, medics, the South Vietnamese staff. It just flowed, and it flowed so successfully.
I wish I had kept names and addresses of the patients. [laughter] I am trying to find another patient. This is interesting. His father was a general, and I remember, I didn't wonder about it ahead of time, but I observed it as the days went on. I think he had belly wounds. He was not going to die, but he was sick enough that he was in the ICU. Of course, his bed had to be right next to the nurse's station. They installed a phone, so that his father could call him every day, or he could call, whatever. Other than that, I don't remember any perks. He didn't get any perks, extra special clinical care. Everybody received exactly what they needed and even above that, if it was available and time allowed for it.
The medics, I can't say enough about them. They were the backbone really. I mean, if we had to be there by ourselves, it would be sink or swim, because they were, I think, the backbone of the ICU.
KR: I am curious about fraternization. I am curious because as a nurse, you were an officer, the other nurses were officers, and the medics were enlisted. Were there ever issues of fraternization that came up?
MRM: Absolutely. We all knew from basic training, it was not allowed, and there were indeed situations and I'll give you an example. [Editor's Note: Mary Jo is looking at a map of the complex around the 67th Evacuation Hospital at Qui Nhon.] We lived in this quadrangle right here, and these two buildings were the enlisted fellows. One might have been officers; one was enlisted. One of my best friends, Pam, was in ICU with us, and Max was in ICU. He was a medic. We knew that Max liked Pam, and we were telling Pam that Max liked her and she was poo-pooing the whole thing. Well, sure enough, the sparks did fly, and they fraternized. Max, who lived in one of these, would low crawl--Pam lived in the end room--would low crawl around on his belly to get into the quadrangle area, and then, slip right into her room. There was fraternization that would occur. They got married when they came home. We all went to their wedding. They live in South Jersey during the summer. She and I get together for lunch three or four times a year. Then, they snowbird to Florida, and it's just amazing. It's wonderful to have our lunches and talk over the old funny times, and we still laugh, "You didn't even realize, you didn't believe us about Max having a crush on you." [laughter] So, married with three children and however-many grandchildren, five grandchildren now, I think.
Yes, there was fraternization, and I would have to say when and where it occurred with whom it occurred was always very discreet, very discreet, and it happened among the higher-ranking officers as well. There was a colonel who lived in his room, and he and the head nurse of the OR [operating room] were an item. You would see them coming out of their room [laughter] to go to work; you would see her coming out of his room or him coming out of her room, and, "Okay." [laughter] Yes, it did happen.
KR: What consequences were there, if any, for fraternization?
MRM: I remember none. I don't know if it was ever reported or if it was reported and everybody turned a blind eye to it. I don't know of anything that was ever reported, and I certainly don't remember anything ever being done because the relationships went on successfully, yes.
KR: What patients stick out in your mind?
MRM: The patients that I look back now and I realize were probably the most difficult, emotionally, for me, to work with were the burn patients. The burn patients would be severely burned, and the treatment was IV [intravenous] fluid replacement, dramatic amounts, to keep their output, their urine, at the level that it needed to be because they would be losing so much fluid. There was an actual formula, and it still is used with burn patients. The reason that it was so difficult for me is the treatment was a thick cream called Sulfamylon, and we would lather the cream all over every burn area. Now, that would hurt just thinking about it. It was every four hours or every six hours, we would have to remove the old Sulfamylon that was by now filled with all the serous drainage from their burn wounds, so you couldn't just go lightly. You would have to get all the old off and rinse with sterile saline, and then, put the new Sulfamylon on. The pain was indescribable, and that's with IV morphine on board. You can imagine the pain. So, those patients were, I think emotionally, very difficult for me to take care of because I knew they were in so much pain.
There were other patients that were emotional. I took care of one or two patients that were "Do Not Resuscitates," and I sat with them. Those were difficult because you knew the outcome and I knew, from nursing school, and taking care of patients before I went to Vietnam, that the last sense to go is hearing. So, no matter the unconscious level of your patient, you always talked to your patient, always. Those patients were emotionally difficult to take care of.
I remember a fellow that was a patient, he was a double amputee. He lost both legs. A big strapping football [player], and he received a letter from his wife and she announced she was divorcing him. She filed for divorce, and he was distraught. What do you say?
Then, there was a patient that actually shocked me. I was almost physically sick. He was not wounded that critically, but he was bad enough he was in the ICU. We would do morning care, like we'd shave them. I was taking care of him, and we're talking. I'd make small talk and talk about home, and when each patient came, the Red Cross gave them a ditty bag, we called it, a drawstring bag, like this, and they could put their toiletries in it or their wallet or whatever. I was talking to this gentleman, and I guess I must have asked him something at home or, "Do you have any pictures of your family?" and he said, "Oh, hand me that ditty bag there." So, he gets his wallet out of his ditty bag, and he's flipping through the photo things, remember in the old wallets? Well, you're young. So, he stops, and I couldn't tell what was in these. I couldn't even figure out what we were looking at. He said, "You see that picture right there?" I said, "Yes." He said, "That's my first kill." He said, "You see the other?" He said, "That's his ear." To this day, Kate, I just, I remember that kid's face. I thought, "What are these guys going through out there?" That was the first time it probably struck me that this was just not physical wounds we were seeing coming through our hospital. I didn't know about PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] then, but I thought, "How sickening is this? How bizarre is this? What do these two things mean to this nineteen-year-old kid? How long is he going to keep them? What's he going to do with these when he gets home?" That will always stick out in my head, always, forever.
I remember one prisoner-of-war patient. When we had a prisoner of war, we had an MP, military police, guard around the clock. This was comical. [laughter] The prisoner of war was on one side, and across from his bed was--it'll come to me. They were the Chiêu Hồi. These were South Vietnamese men, who were I think in the North Vietnamese Army, and then, converted over to the ARVNs, the [Army of the] Republic of South Vietnam. Those guys were so dedicated and so fiercely loyal to the Allies now that they were on the good side. [Editor's Note: The Chiêu Hồi program, or Open Arms program, encouraged members of the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army to defect, mostly through extensive propaganda campaigns. Sometimes, they went on to serve in the South Vietnamese Army (ARVN).]
Well, [laughter] this Chiêu Hồi fellow woke up well enough that he realized with the MP guard that this was a POW. This fellow stands upright and [goes] over the end of his bed, with all of his tubes pulling out. I mean, he was not desperately ill. He tried to get at that guy to kill him, and thank god the MP guy was there and the medics, everybody. So, that sticks out in my head very clearly. That was on the night shift that happened because I remember thinking, "Wow, these Chiêu Hồis really …" because sometimes I would think, "How can you trust them? You'd better be really careful of them." That was a lesson learned for me.
We had the chief of a village. I think there was--what do you call it? Not a culture. They weren't a nationality. They were in Vietnam or Cambodia. Now, I just lost it.
KR: Oh, the Montagnards? [Editor's Note: The Montagnard, or Degar, are an indigenous group of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. Montagnard is French for "mountain people." During the Vietnam War, Montagnards allied themselves with the South Vietnamese and Americans.]
MRM: Montagnards. We had the chief of a Montagnard village, and it was like having a six-star general on your ward, seriously, not just from the American brass, but from his people. He was very ill. He didn't have any combat injuries. He had had a heart attack, I think, and he did wind up passing away. So, that was a very big event just with all that was attached to it, and I remember being markedly impressed by that.
Oh, we had a patient--not come into the ICU--I don't even know if he made it through triage. This patient had a live round in his belly, I think. The staff, the surgical staff, processed this and processed this, and they had him out on, it wasn't the chopper pad. It was somewhere away from the hospital, and it was all sandbagged. I don't know who volunteered, which surgeon volunteered. As I recall, they successfully removed that round from that fellow. It was not an American GI, I don't think, but I remember that happening.
Another case I remember is we had a gentleman who had been dragged through the jungle by a tiger, and I don't think he had been attacked as much as he had just been grabbed and pulled. I think it had something to do with his head. That's why he was staying overnight with us just for observation, and he was fine. However, the UPI [United Press International] or the AP [Associated Press] or somebody, they were there by the droves interviewing him and taking his picture. I remember that. He was fine. He did fine.
KR: He was an American.
MRM: Yes, he did fine, but he has a war story to tell that nobody else has. [laughter] We had Vietnamese children, and I only remember the little girl that I put in Kevin's lap. I don't remember the others.
We were taught, when we were being oriented, that if we were ever to be under attack, our responsibilities were to get all the patients off the bed and under their bed and covered by the mattress, and I often would walk around on the night shift thinking, "How are we going to do this, with all these patients, all these tubes? How are we going to do it and do it successfully?" We never had to, thank god. In the year I was there, our compound was the only compound, hospital compound that had a hospital on it, ours was the only one that was not attacked. They were called sappers, and they would come up to your compound and they would clip the fence, the wire, and they would get in. They had satchel charges. One or two nurses were killed, I think, from that kind of an attack, but we were the only one, blessed, that we were not attacked while I was there. [Editor's Note: Sappers are combat engineers. On June 8, 1969, Army Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane died from shrapnel wounds after the 312th Evacuation Hospital was attacked by rockets.]
What other patients do I remember? I don't remember anything like maternity or any of that kind of stuff. I can tell you a case I remember. This was disgusting, and I don't remember her being in ICU. I took care of her in the recovery room, but she was probably twelve or thirteen. She had been shot up the vagina by an American GI. I didn't speak Vietnamese. I mean, we learned certain words for pain. She was an adorable young woman, twelve or thirteen, a young lady. She survived, and I don't know how she would have gotten on with the rest of her life, or the bastard that did that to her. So, I remember her in the recovery room. [Editor's Note: GI (government issue) refers to an American military service member.]
The other amazing thing about the recovery room--and I think this was typical of all the hospitals that were surgically equipped--we had ten or twelve beds, so let's say there're six beds on the side. As these guys were coming out of their anesthesia, general anesthesia, most of them, they were back in the firefight in their head, and the first thing they were doing, the first thing they would recognize was you, [as you] would bend over to take their blood pressure and check their vital signs. As they were able to focus on your face, they would [laughter] literally say, "You have round eyes, a round eye." Then, the second thing was, back in the firefight, "Where's Joe? Where's Bill? Where's Smitty?" They were wondering, where are their buddies? Sometimes, if it was a mass cal or a single firefight, their buddies, if they were sick enough, would be there and they'd start talking to each other if they were stable enough. I remember that, and that happened very often because that's where they left off was out in that firefight, wherever it was. I'm trying to remember. I think that's all I can think of at the moment in terms of patients. I mean, significant things that are in the depths of my memory, etched forever probably at this point.
KR: How did you feel about treating North Vietnamese Army soldiers?
MRM: I did not feel any different emotion at all other than I was a nurse and I was there to take care of patients, whatever they needed, and if a human was there and needed the help, that's what I was there to do. There were Army nurses that refused to take care of a POW, and I don't think they got away with it. You can't refuse an order, but I do remember they had those kinds of attitudes and those kinds of feelings. I remember thinking, "My God, how can you be that way? You're a nurse." As naïve as I was, I thought, "You're supposed to be taking care of everybody here, you know." They didn't ask for the war. I know that all these years later and I knew that at that time. Nobody asks for a war and you can't help it if you're the one that gets injured or you're the one that has the heart attack or you have the severe malaria. I know it existed, the feeling, the difference in feelings. I'm sure it did.
KR: The American soldiers that you were treating, what were they telling you about the war and the progress about the war?
MRM: I don't think I ever talked to a GI about that ever. We would talk about, I remember explaining to them what had happened to them and what their status was, that "You're stable," or, "You'll be stable pretty soon," [or] when they were well enough talking about home or the medevac process or what they wanted to do when they got home. I never talked to them or any of my peers, I never talked about the status of the war. I never even thought about it. I know the two units that our hospital was assigned to support, the 173rd Airborne and the 101st Airborne, we would automatically know when they were involved in firefights or whatever. They would be coming through our doors. Other than hearing about a firefight or a mass cal, I never knew anything about strategies or who was winning and who was losing. Back home, they were having the body count on the evening news. I didn't know any of this, didn't think about it. I was so naïve, I mean, Kate, stupid. I was there to be a nurse, [laughter] and I was learning. It was amazing. I never had those kind of conversations. Even that night on the roof, whoever the other guys and gals were that were talking, and they obviously had a knowledge base and an opinion and felt strongly about wherever we were going in this, and I remember nothing. I knew nothing. It meant nothing to me, except that we had American soldiers who were there and who were being hurt badly and they needed health care and that's what we were there to do. They were going to get the best that we could provide, and we did. When they were even stable enough in the ICU, the physical therapist would come and do bedside physical therapy. The Red Cross staff would come and write letters home for them. I never even remember talking about the war.
I didn't know anything about it until the '80s when I discovered a program on the History Channel, and talk about eye opening and things I've learned. That gal's book, the statistics are disgusting and angering and so reflective of what the soldiers knew at the base level and the difference in the statistics of AWOLs and desertions. I'm reading this. I'm still reading it, and I'm thinking, "Where did she go to find out all this stuff?" Because I know she didn't know that as a nurse over there. She really researched this stuff, but her information is astounding and angering, even more than what I learned on the History Channel. I didn't know about the war then, but I'm learning about it now, boy. [laughter] [Editor's Note: Vietnam: A Television History is a thirteen-episode documentary that first aired on PBS in 1983. Mary Jo is referring to Mary Reynolds Powell's book entitled A World of Hurt: Between Innocence and Arrogance in Vietnam. AWOL means absent without leave.]
I think I told you, last time, in our hospital at Fort Dix, I was on an orthopedic ward, and every nurse, in the chief nurse's office, every nurse, there was a file cabinet, every nurse had a manila file, and you checked it for mail, memos, whatever. One evening shift, I came in and I pulled papers out and it said, "Information for officers reporting to Southeast Asia." I said, "Sarge, what is Southeast Asia?" He looked at me like I had two heads and he said, "That's Vietnam, ma'am. You have orders to go to Vietnam." I said, "What's Vietnam?" So, he starts giving me this little Vietnam 101 course.
When I talked to my father, he called me all the time, when I told him I had orders to Vietnam, he became furious. He was the one that was so pro-military nurse, "You've got to be a Navy nurse." That didn't work out, but he was thrilled that I was an Army nurse. I remember that he was, I read it, I interpreted it as furious, but I think he was afraid because I remember thinking, and I said to him, "Dad, I can't not go. You go when you get orders." I remember thinking, "That's odd,", but even then, I didn't look into the war. I didn't know beans about it. I wonder if other nurses and medics and staff knew about it ahead of time or monitored it while they were there because we didn't get newspapers and stuff or radio. We got the Stars and Stripes. That was it. I'm going to have to ask some of the ones I'm in touch with still. Now, I'm going to have to start making notes. [laughter]
KR: You mentioned the Red Cross on base. What Red Cross were there, and what was your interaction like with them?
MRM: I never really interacted with them other than just social, and they would come on to the ward. I never saw them other than on the ward. I think all I knew they did for our patients was I saw them, and I knew they wrote letters home. I think they did other kinds of notifications, but other than that, I don't know what they did. Do you know what? I don't even know where they lived on the compound or how many there were. I know about it now from Ann Kelsey. She was not Red Cross, but I know through her and what her work was of the Red Cross and what they did. They took choppers, actually, out to LZs, landing zones, I mean, where the combat was going on, and they would bring recreational stuff out and crazy, funny games that the guys would play. I've seen it on these documentaries; that's where I've seen it. They played an amazing role, and they were affectionately called the "Donut Dollies." Their higher up hated that and still does to this day, but it was very affectionate back then that they were the Donut Dollies and a soldier would lay down his life for a Donut Dolly. Other than seeing them writing the letters, I don't know quite what else they did for our patients or where they were. They may have had a much more active role on the wards, the medical ward or the surgical ward, where the patients were mobile and they could join in a group game or a word game or something, but our patients were not well enough to do that kind of thing. That's all I know about the Red Cross. [laughter] [Editor's Note: Ann Kelsey served in the U.S. Army Special Services in Vietnam as a civilian librarian. Donut Dollies refers to Red Cross volunteers who went to Vietnam as a part of the Supplemental Recreational Activities Oversees program. American military personnel nicknamed them Donut Dollies because part of their duties included serving coffee and donuts as a part of their efforts focused on boosting the morale of troops.]
KR: What did you do when you were off duty? What did you do for fun, for relaxation?
MRM: Well, I did not do a lot of sleeping when I was off duty. I mean, I would sleep an average amount of time, but we gals would plan ahead maybe to go to the PX [post exchange]. There was a PX on our compound, somewhere, not huge, but it was a PX and it was a shopping trip. We would do that. We would go to the leprosarium sometimes. We would just go to the beach to have fun [with] the guys. We'd bring food; we'd bring beer. We'd stay for eight, ten hours.
What else did we do? We sunbathed, burned ourselves to a crisp. I fell asleep. I was on night shift [laughter], and I got off duty. I put my bathing suit on. My housekeeper's name was Anh, A-N-H, and nice as can be. She had three children. I don't know if her husband was off fighting or he was dead, but Anh and I became very close, very close and very quickly. I put my bathing suit on to go sunbathe. She would get furious and she'd put her arms together like this and she'd point to her dark skin and she'd say, "Number ten, number ten, number ten, number ten." She'd point to my skin--well, better then--and she'd say, "Number one, number one, number, no." Off I'd go with my baby oil and my sun tanning. I fell asleep out there, and I burned myself to a crisp, I mean, terrible. I was working the night shift when it got better, but it was peeling and itching. I would do, do, do, do, do, and I'd have a five-minute break. I'd run in with a towel, and I'd take my top off and just towel my back like crazy. [laughter] It itched so much. Anh was not a happy camper with me when I would sunbathe.
[Speaking of] Anh, I was dating a chopper pilot, Tony, delightful fellow, delightful fellow, and Anh invited me down to her home. I told Tony that I was going to be going downtown with Anh. He said, "You're not going downtown by yourself." I was so stupid, naïve. "I'm coming with you." Tony comes over. He knew Anh, and Anh knew Tony. Off we go to her home. Tony must have driven us in a jeep, I guess. We could not have walked it, because it was way downtown. It was just where the hovels were, and they were well kept. They were their kingdoms and castles, but they were the tiny little streets and they were made out of whatever they could find to make a home for themselves. We got to her street. I don't know how we did all this. Tony must've figured it out. We got to her street, and we made the turn. We were walking at that point. Well, Anh was like the queen of the neighborhood because she had her American lady coming with an American guy. The people clustered around us. They were not rude. I wasn't frightened, but, I'm telling you, Anh was the bee's knees. We went down to her home, and we sat down. As best we could, we conversed, and I was holding one of her children. I have a picture of it. I was holding one of her children. I have thought about her for forty-five years. I don't know how I could even track her down or if I could or if she'd be alive now. She was probably in her thirties then. I think she had three children. That, I did off duty.
Also off duty, I was able to have two R&Rs [rest and relaxation], so I went to Bangkok and I went to Hong Kong. Those were big escapades. That was more than just regular off duty though. [laughter] I think that's about all we did. Oh, I would do MEDCAPs. We would go out to little villages, not big, like the leprosarium was, but we would do that occasionally. I forget who would organize those or who would plan those, because they would have to have been planned. We'd have to have had clearance and security and be sure that it was a secure area that we were going into. [Editor's Note: The Medical Civil Action Program (MEDCAP) was a program in which American medical personnel treated Vietnamese civilians.]
We knew the chopper pilots. All the guys loved the American gals and I mean in a nice way. I was never treated rudely or inappropriately, and I don't know if any of my friends were. I'll have to ask them. One time--several times chopper pilots took us on rides on the choppers--well, Janice is another friend of mine from Vietnam. She was Pam's roommate, funnier than the day is long. Janice and I were invited to go up on a resupply mission in a, it was not a Huey, it was, it'll come to me. It was the big chopper that had the big opening in the bottom of it and could lower cans of oil or water or food supplies, Chinook. [Editor's Note: "Huey" was the Bell UH-1 Iroquois. The Boeing CH-47 Chinook was a twin-engine, tandem-rotor cargo helicopter.]
We get into this chopper, and off we go for the day. We didn't tell anybody. We didn't tell the chief nurse. We didn't ask permission. We are flying around, and the countryside was gorgeous. We were carrying, down that hole, on these big cables, barrels; I think it was water. Janice became so motion sick. She is lying on her abdomen, throwing up right into these barrels of water. [laughter] Of course, we're flying, so everything liquid from her is going every which way. The fellows decided it was time to take us home. We go to go home, and they could not descend because my ears weren't clearing and the pain was so bad. I was screaming. We did this, thank God, they had fuel. We circled and we circled. I forget how long it took, but it was a long time before they could finally get down. They got down and got me and Janice off. We got ourselves over to sick bay. She got whatever the medications were, Compazine probably for her nausea. I had ruptured my eardrums. We did crazy stuff like that. That was kind of different for a day's activity. [laughter]
Oh, another time, on our off-duty time, it was myself and another Army nurse. Did I tell you about my support system there from college?
KR: No, you did not talk about that.
MRM: Oh, remind me to do that. Anyway, Mo was one of my college classmates. She and I were invited to go with one our docs, who was wonderful. He had a friend who was a pilot of a fixed-wing plane. They were going, I think it was in Vietnam, and I knew this name as well as I knew my own. We were flying to an Army clinic in this town, and I think it was right next to the Cambodian border. Off we go. We get there, and they show us around their clinic. How many cases of VD they're treating an hour was astronomical, venereal disease. I forget how long we stayed there. I think we were there for a long time though that day, and I don't remember if we had lunch. Then, they flew us back to Qui Nhon. That was another kind of an outing, and I think that's all that's coming to my head right now as far as in Vietnam when I was off duty. Bangkok and Hong Kong were whole other stories. [laughter]
KR: What were your R&Rs like?
MRM: Well, you never were assured of them. It was always if time allowed and if the patient load allowed, and it might have been even based on seniority, I don't know, I mean, seniority in country. I went with another nurse, a very good friend of mine, we went to Hong Kong together. Well, you get so excited. We hadn't seen a bathtub in so many months. We hadn't seen a nail salon or a hair stylist, a beauty salon. We had to go down to the military airfield, the operations center, and we had to check in and it was always as space available, it was called. As space would allow you, you'd get the ride. We got a ride, sure enough, to Hong Kong. Well, sure enough, don't we meet these three or four guys from New Zealand, nicer than the day was long, polite gentlemen, funny, great time all the way there. We get to our hotel, stayed in a beautiful hotel, and don't you know each had a huge flower arrangement from these guys. They had asked us to go out that night to dinner, and we all went out and had a wonderful dinner. I have pictures of--I had my hair done. I have a picture of the bathtub in the hotel room. [laughter] I didn't take pictures of the guys. I took pictures of the flowers.
In Hong Kong, we knew of things to do ahead of time. You learned all this from everybody else that had already been. They'd give you the restaurants to go to, and in Hong Kong you could go to this place, this place, this place. It was only five days. I had a tailor-made suede dress. It was beautiful, different colors of brown--I don't even know how I got this idea in my, I'm not creative--tailor-made shoes and handbag to match. I had probably two or three of those outfits made. I had pantsuits made. Oh, jewelry, Mikimoto pearls. I love pearls to begin with, so this Mikimoto place, I fell in love with. I wanted to just stay there the whole time. I also found Irish-knit sweaters that were beautiful. I think I bought one for everybody in my family and paid to have boxed and shipped home, and none of them ever arrived. [laughter] I was taken, scammed. That was really a fun trip. [Editor's Note: Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954) founded the company Mikimoto, one of the leading companies in the pearl industry.]
Then, I put in for an R&R to Bangkok, all by myself, and that was very interesting. I stayed in an elegant hotel, the Erawan Hotel, I'll never forget it. Just think of the best you've ever seen or thought of. I'm in my room, and my phone rings, and this voice says, "Mary Jo, it's Dick Coast Guard." Well, Dick was in the Coast Guard. He wasn't assigned to our hospital, but he came to our officer's club all the time. I don't even know what the hell he was doing there as a Coast Guard officer. What were they doing there? We all knew him like a brother. He said, "This is Dick Coast Guard. How you doing?" I said, "What are you doing here?" He said, "I'm on R&R." He said, "And I heard that you were coming on R&R." I don't know how he found me, but anyway, long story short, we went sightseeing and we go have dinner on the floating restaurant. Off we go, and I remember it was a floating thing. It was on the water, and I don't remember what it looked like inside.
I don't remember what I had to eat, but I became so violently ill for, I think, at least three days. I couldn't move out of the bathroom, literally. Well, Dick was a wreck, and he would call and I would say, "I can't even talk. I can't talk." He comes flying over to the hotel. He comes up to my floor, and he's talking to the concierge. I don't think the concierge spoke English. I know that Dick did not speak Thai, and whatever he got across to this guy, this guy realized I was very sick and it was an emergency and I don't know if he thought I was having a baby or what.
The sequence of events was, he called a cab. I don't know what he told the cab driver. Dick comes down to my room. He halfway carries me down to the lobby. The concierge comes with us. Dick and I get into this cab. It was the craziest drive I've ever been on, fearing for my life, sick to my stomach. I didn't care if I lived or died. There was a U.S. military clinic, little clinic. I don't know how Dick found this thing. I got there sicker than you could imagine. They give me a shot of Compazine, which is a wonderful medication, anti-nausea medication. I was lying down, and they waited and, "How you feeling?" I was feeling better by the time it started to take effect. I went and sat up on the table, and I went to stand up and I passed out. They collapsed me back onto the table, and they give the ammonia under my nose. I sat up. Then, I was fine. I guess we took a cab back to the hotel, but that was crazy. I have never been so sick in my life, and to be in a foreign country, thank God Dick was there. I don't know what I would've done. I don't remember shopping there. I don't remember having anything specific from Bangkok other than pictures.
Oh, in Hong Kong, I bought myself a wig, a short brown wig. I have a picture of that. That was funny, and we did a lot. She and I did really a lot of stuff in Hong Kong, but I did nothing I was so sick in Bangkok. I remember that hotel, elegant, first class. I remember going from back to Vietnam back from Hong Kong with my hair all down and my nails all done. [laughter] There was a guy on one of the legs of the trip, and he says, "How long do you think that's going to last?" I said, "Probably five minutes." [laughter] It was so funny, and I was right. It was about five minutes it lasted. Boy, just luxurious, just to soak in the bathtub or your hair shampooed and primped. It was so great. It was wonderful, a wonderful time. That was that off-duty experience. [laughter]
We never kept track of Dickie Coast Guard I don't think. I don't think I have any information on him. Remind me to tell you about a reunion, a couple of the reunions in D.C. though, of the 67th Evac Hospital. Now that I'm thinking of that, I wonder if he was in that at all because we marched in a parade. Somebody made a big sign, "67th Evac." Everybody, thousands of us Vietnam vets, congregated on the mall to organize, and then, we did the big parade. We were marching, and I had the presence of mind to bring a steno book, and it was being passed around. I'll have to look through that, because my goal was to start a newsletter. That never materialized, but I still have that stuff and I still think to this day that I want to send something out to all those people. I'll have to check on Dickie Coast Guard.
KR: Well, maybe you can send your oral history.
MRM: Oh, yes, that's right.
KR: What year was the 67th Evacuation Hospital veterans marching in the parade, roughly?
MRM: I went to D.C., I've been probably five or six times. I went when the Wall was dedicated. I went when the women's statue was dedicated, but I think I went other than that for Veterans Day things. When they started organizing Veterans Day things and it was Vietnam focused, I was there. I don't know those years. I know the dedication years, but the other two, I'm not sure of. I'll have to look at the date, if I put the date in that steno book. Oh, see, now, I'm intrigued to do all this. I don't have the time or the energy, but I swear to God I'm going to get something out. [laughter] [Editor's Note: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., known as the Wall, was dedicated on November 13, 1982. The Vietnam Women's Memorial was dedicated on November 11, 1993. Sculpted by Glenna Goodacre, the bronze statue depicts three women attending to a wounded soldier, emphasizing the role of female nurses.]
KR: What do you remember about your MEDCAP-ing missions?
MRM: I remember being struck by the poverty and how little these people lived with, but they survived. They were able to be living in this little village in a jungle, and I remember it would always be women, children and old men and all the young men [had] gone to war or dead. That struck me. I remember thinking, "This really is kind of stupid because we're only doing band-aid stuff and there's no follow up," like if we were immunizing and it was something that required a series, what are we doing here? Some of it was good stuff, if a tooth needed to be pulled, that kind of thing. I didn't go on a lot of them, but I remember they were totally in awe, totally humble and thankful for what we did and that we came, we thought that much to come see them. I guess those were our basic impressions.
KR: How would you communicate with the Vietnamese?
MRM: Well, we just knew a few words, like dau was pain. Bác sĩ was doctor. Other than that, I think it was just sign language or maybe drawing pictures, stick figures. I don't remember how we communicated really, but we did. We did have a way. If it was a Vietnamese patient and the whole family was there, we could connect with somebody, and then, that person would communicate to all the family, so the conduit for information to get to the family members.
When you look back at the history of Vietnam, they've never been, until they kicked us out, thank God, they've never known peace, because it was the French--I forget who it was before the French--they finally got us the hell out of there, and I think they're living peacefully, I don't know. I learned, through that whole thing, one of the things I learned was democracy is not for every country. Not every country needs to be a democracy. Furthermore, not every country wants to be a democracy. I don't know how you know that when you're the diplomatic staff or the politicians. I know it's not the military that makes any of those kinds of decisions. I don't know how America makes those decisions to get into any of these things, even since Vietnam. What do we get out of it? What are we doing for them? What do we get out of it, and how important is it to us really? I don't know. I don't trust our government making these decisions at all. I don't know what we're doing in Afghanistan. I mean, I know, "We're getting rid of ISIS. We've gotten rid of ISIS. ISIS has popped their head up over here." Well, come on, it's how many years now is this? It's longer than Vietnam. Really? We need to be doing this. What's the end plan? What's the exit strategy? I never hear about that. You never hear about that talked. I never hear that talked about. I never read about it. Is this going to be another Korea? Or we're in Germany still? I don't know. I don't know how I got on that tangent. [Editor's Note: In 2001, U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan to defeat al-Qaeda and Taliban forces. As of 2019, the U.S. and Taliban are engaged in peace talks, and U.S. military forces remain in Afghanistan. In 2003, U.S. forces invaded Iraq and withdrew in 2011. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as ISIS or ISIL, is a terrorist group that took over territory in Iraq and Syria in 2015. Since losing its foothold in those nations, ISIL has been expanding in Afghanistan and recruiting members.]
KR: When you were MEDCAP-ing, would there be American soldiers with you? How secure were the places that you were visiting?
MRM: I have no recall of any security, any soldiers being there to protect us. I only have memories of us medics and nurses and docs. It would not be a lot of us at a time. We would not be a big group going into this little village or whatever. We'd all be so thrilled when there were children around. What's not to love about a child, right? You don't need to even speak the language then. I remember that.
I do remember this, I don't know how I did this either or who I did it with, but we went to downtown Qui Nhon. There was an orphanage, and for some reason, we went to the orphanage that day. Now, this is crazy now. I've never thought about this. We went to an orphanage, and it was the most sparse thing you could think of, kids, adults. I don't know what their illnesses or diseases or injuries were. I'm sure some of them were very sick. Some of them were able to be on the mend, and I don't know who ran that orphanage. You'll see on that list of women in Vietnam, there were quite a few orphanages and nurses, I think Australian or New Zealand, Americans, and I don't think they were necessarily with the Red Cross. I don't know how those people got organized, but I do remember going to that orphanage one day. I didn't do anything there. We just were kind of visiting.
KR: What was the level of danger when you were visiting downtown Qui Nhon?
MRM: I was naïve. I never sensed danger ever, except Mother's Day of 1970, no wait, it had to be Mother's Day of 1969, May. We nurses, at our hospital, somebody became friends with some Navy guys. The Navy guys had a base, and their base was a small island. They ran swift boats, I think it was called. No, it wasn't swift boats. I don't know what their boats were called. Well, anyway, they invited us to a party, so of course we said sure. I don't think we got permission. I know we didn't tell the chief nurse. The Navy guys came and took one group of nurses, but a mass cal happened, so some of us couldn't go until later, I think many hours later. The Navy guys came and got us, and we're going over in this boat. They pull up to the island. It was their base area, and then, there was a mountain.
It was Mother's Day. There may have been three or four or five of us nurses, and then, the Navy guys. They pull the boat up to the dock, and they dock the boat. We get off the boat, and then, we had to walk up the beach. There was not a mountain, I mean, there was like a big hill, and the club was up on top of that, where the party was. We're off the boat, and we're kind of ambling along. All of a sudden, I felt them, I felt the sand. They were like zings, and the sand would sting my leg. Well, we had only taken one minute's worth of steps, and I remember [thinking] just, "What the hell is that?" The guys got crazy screaming, "Everybody turn around and get back on the boat, immediately, get, now, now." I mean, screaming. The last guy would say, "We are under attack." Well, we all took one giant step, and we were back on these, I think, one or two boats.
We go out into the harbor, and they had big, huge illumination lights. Once we're out in the harbor settled, they anchored, and they turn on these big--I mean, they were immense--and they are not illuminating the base at the bottom, but the mountainside. We're watching the firefight, the Vietcong running around and firing down and the Americans firing up. They had a freezer on that boat, and they had--I don't know if you're old enough to remember or if it even comes this way now--but sometimes you could get ice cream in little blocks like this and it'd be wrapped in paper and you just peel the paper and eat the ice cream, not a Dixie cup. We sat there providing that illumination to this firefight for hours, eating ice cream and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and chitchatting and talking, like it was no big deal. I didn't even feel afraid, except when I felt that sand and I thought, "Oh, my God, those were bullets going in the sand." They screamed, and then, I was afraid, but soon, I was on the boat and we were eating peanut butter sandwiches.
I know we were on the day shift the next day. [laughter] I guess the firefight came to an end obviously, and the Navy guys took us back to our base. I don't know if we had to go report--somebody found out we had to go report to the chief nurse, but we were up all night. We had no sleep. We had to go to work for twelve hours. I think we were kind of hoping she'd say, "Oh, why don't you go sleep for four or five hours." Well, [no], and she had found out. She was not mean or upset or anything, but we were not supposed to have done what we did and, "How stupid that was and get your uniform on and put a clean uniform on and go to work." We were exhausted.
Just that one moment with the sand I remember being afraid, and other than that, I wasn't afraid in downtown Qui Nhon. I remember vaguely one night we went to this, like I don't know if it was a private club or gentleman's club, it was an upscale kind of place and I have a vague memory of that, but I was never afraid at all, not on the planes going over and the planes coming home, planes to Hong Kong. In the chopper rides, I never felt vulnerable at all, and I think because I was so young. I just didn't even know how stupid I was being. [laughter] I remember thinking, on that Mother's Day, I remember thinking, "Oh, my God, if my mother ever knew what I did on Mother's Day, she'd have me fired out of the Army." [laughter] I never was afraid, never in our [base].
One night, I remember, far away from our compound--they would always be far away from anything--was the ammunition depot, and I remember that was bombed. That was an immense [explosion]. You could see that for days on fire. It was the ammo depot, and I think it might have been a fuel depot. Even at that, I wasn't afraid of that. It was just, "Wow," kind of thing. "Where would you ever see that happen again?" [laughter] I should've kept a diary or journal; that would've been the best thing to do. I wonder if anybody ever did. I don't know.
I didn't even write home that often or send tapes home that often. I think my mother called the Red Cross; I think I was called by the Red Cross and told to write home. They told the chief nurse, and the chief nurse told me, "You need to write to your mother." Isn't that funny? I just remembered that, but nobody in the family has any letters or anything, if I sent them anything. I don't even know if I did.
KR: When you sent tapes, would you do recordings on the reel-to-reel?
MRM: Yes. Oh, that was the big deal. I forget what they're called. That name is emblazoned in your brain, but they were the big reel-to-reel. You could do tapes to send home or record music, that kind of thing, yes. I don't know if I did that. I did that when I was stationed in Iran. I did a lot of tapes home. I was way more afraid in Iran than I was Vietnam, way more afraid, every day. I think because in Vietnam I was just so young, trusted implicitly in my government. I would never question their decisions or their protection, so ignorance is bliss. [laughter]
KR: You wanted me to remind you about the support system.
MRM: Oh, [five] of us. In fact, it might've been five, myself and three of my classmates and one of my classmates had a sister a year younger and Mary came into the Army Nurse Corps as well. There was me, Jackie, Nancy, Mary, and Mo--Maureen. The deal was we were all going in on the buddy system and go through this together. Depending upon where you lived was your nursing licensing board and the exam dates and all that, and as soon as you got your exam results and you passed and you were an RN [registered nurse], the Army would send you down to Fort Sam Houston basic training. Well, I got my results first, so I was the only one going. I thought, "This is not how this [was supposed to happen]." I was scared out of my mind because we had heard from our friends up at the Navy basic training, and it was so strict. They were like apoplectic up there. Here I am going to Fort Sam Houston all by myself, and I thought, "Well, so much for that." I go to Fort Sam. Then, I go to Fort Dix, and then, I go to Vietnam. We're writing and staying in touch with each other, vaguely, not a lot. [Editor's Note: Located in San Antonio, Texas, Fort Sam Houston has served as the Army's primary medical training facility since World War II. In 2010, it merged with Lackland Air Force Base and Randolph Air Force Base to form Joint Base San Antonio.]
In Vietnam, one day, I'm sitting at lunch in the mess hall. The officers were in the back of the mess hall. In comes my college classmate Jackie with her tray of food and, "Do you mind if I sit here?" Well, [I said], "Jackie!" Long story short, all of them, unbeknownst to me, put in for the 67th Evac and wandered in at different times over a period of probably three months. So, we were all there by then. I have a wonderful picture of us around our hospital sign, and then, at the women's dedication [of the Vietnam Women's Memorial]. We were all there, and I have a picture. I framed them side by side, and I sent one to each of the five of us.
That was a support system that most people, if any, did not have in Vietnam, in country. To have four of your friends so close, they're like your sisters, and so that was very unique that I was blessed with, I know for sure, to have shared that kind of an experience in our youth and trade the memories back and forth through the years since then. It was quite a unique situation. People were amazed when we started telling them. "How do you know each other?" "Well, not only did we go through four years of craziness in college, but now we're doing it in Vietnam." [laughter]
KR: Were there any other nurses there at the 67th Evacuation Hospital that had gone in on the buddy system?
MRM: Not that I know of, no. There may have, but I didn't know them or know of them being on the buddy plan. I don't even know if the Army Nurse Corps had a buddy plan, to tell you the truth, or if we just imagined that we were going to do this.
KR: It did. I have interviewed someone who also went to Vietnam on the buddy system.
MRM: Okay, so it was real.
MRM: Well, I lost out, I mean, until they finally got over there. [laughter]
KR: Did they all go to basic together?
MRM: I have to ask. I don't think they did, but I have to ask now. When did everybody go to basic and when did you get to the 67th compared to March of '69 when I got there? I'm sure they were there within three or four or five months of March of '69 because they would've all had their results by then and gone to basic. I'm going to ask all them. This is really intriguing now. [laughter] How the hell did that happen? Does anybody remember? That's why these oral histories are so important.
KR: You also wanted me to remind you about the Air Force club.
MRM: Yes. Somewhere on our big compound was an Air Force unit or maybe even several Air Force units, and it makes sense because we had the big air strip, the big airfield. Well, [laughter] we had our hospital here, and I think I remember, if we came out this road, this way, like down here was a snack bar first of all, and if we planned our hours the right way and if there was a free time, one of the medics usually would run down and get hamburgers and French [fries], whatever. Also down there was I guess an Air Force unit, and they had a Quonset hut, a little Quonset hut, that was their club. I was invited one day, and they had, it makes sense, they fly the planes, they have the most amazing contacts of course and everybody wants to fly on their planes, so you know you can get stuff from the people you're flying on your planes, the trading, bartering system. I go to this club. Well, they had lobster. They had steak. It was the first time in my life, which I have since become addicted to, that I ever had guacamole. I thought, "My God, this is to die for." You tell me who got avocados in Vietnam. [laughter] That was the little Air Force club that I went to a few times.
Off of our area, somewhere there was the 85th Officer's Club, and I'm going to have to research that. There was an 85th Hospital near our hospital, at one point. It was closed by the time we were at the 67th, but this 85th, it was not just an officer's club, I think everybody could go there. Their food was, oh, the steaks. [Editor's Note: Mary Jo makes a hooting sound.] So, we had that. We went to several parties there. We'd have going away parties there at the 85th, yes. There had been either that or it was a different named--I think it was a POW hospital at one point. I'm not sure. I'm going to have to ask everybody now. I've got to start writing these questions down. [laughter] [Editor's Note: From 1965 to 1968, the 85th Evacuation Hospital was located at Qui Nhon. In 1968, the 85th Evac was relocated to Phu Bai, where it remained until it closed in 1971. According to the U.S. Army Medical Department's Office of Medical History, the 311th Field Hospital at Phu Thanh, located near Qui Nhon, provided treatment for prisoners of war.]
KR: Sure, I have paper.
MRM: [laughter] God bless you. I will write these down because I'm going to be talking to Jackie real soon. I have a pen. If you have the paper, I have the pen.
KR: Sure, yes.
MRM: At this rate, Kate, if I keep coming up with all these questions, we're going to be interviewing for two years. [laughter] [Editor's Note: Mary Jo begins writing on a piece of paper.] I want to know, "Was there an 85th Hospital? Was it a POW at one point? When did they pass exam, and when did they arrive at the 67th?" Okay, I'm on a roll. Oh, and Dickie Coast Guard, "Whatever happened to Dick Coast Guard?" Isn't that terrible? I don't even remember his last name. I don't even know if I ever knew it. Dickie Coast Guard, nicest guy. He's like the big brother to everybody, nice guy.
KR: You told me off the record the story of reuniting with a soldier from Vietnam. Can you tell that on the record?
MRM: Yes, I can. I was at a reunion at Washington, D.C., one of the veterans reunions. I was in my hotel room, and the phone rang. It was a young woman, and she said, "Is this Mary Jo Rice?" I said, "Yes." She said, "Well." She said, "You don't know me, but you know my brother-in-law. Were you a lieutenant in Vietnam, a lieutenant nurse in Vietnam?" I said, "Yes." Of course, the minute you start having this kind of conversation, your hairs stand on end and you're getting excited. She said, "Well, you don't know me, but you know my brother-in-law, Kevin. You took care of him in your intensive care unit in Vietnam." By this time, I'm like, "Whoa." She said, "He's been looking for you for thirty-five," whatever it was then, thirty-five years. I guess it was probably about that. I forget her first name. [I said], "How on Earth did you find me?" She said, "Well." She said, "I work for the computer company." They had big huge tents up. It was so well organized, these [veterans reunions], and they still are. One of them or a couple of them were computer systems, and you could put your information into the database and it could connect with anybody else that might look up that kind of data, 67th Evac Hospital with the year I was there. She said, "My company put that program together and that's all of our equipment that we have volunteered to have here for the veterans." I said, "Oh, for heaven's sake." She said, "That's how I found you." I said, "Oh, my goodness." I said, "This is unbelievable." She said, "It really is." Then, I [said], "Well, how is Kevin?" "He's fine." I said, "Do you think he'd mind if I called him?" "Mind? He's been looking for you for thirty-some years. Of course, he'd love to talk to you." She gave me his number.
I called him right away, and Kevin and I must have talked for a good hour at least. He reminded me of what his injury was. Dr. Schiller was his surgeon, who was just a wonderful surgeon, wonderful person, wonderful surgeon, Bill Schiller. We talked about Bill Schiller. I asked him all about how he's been doing and what did he do when he got home, that he's had a complete career with the utility company and he's married and he has a young son, Kevin, Jr., and Mom and Dad and they live--what the heck is the town? I can't find my old address book either; that's what's irritating the heck out of me about finding Kevin. Anyway, so we talked forever and a day. I still have those notes. I was scribbling on an envelope or something when I was talking to her, and I know I have that at home. I've come across it.
Somehow, Kevin and I just stayed in touch, and we agreed that we would meet each other at the dedication of the women's memorial. That's how that came to be. I think we agreed to meet at a hotel or restaurant and have coffee or something, before the dedication day, so we could just have quiet time and meet each other and talk. I have a picture of that, having our coffee. I remember his wife just was so horrendously ill, she could not come and how terrible she felt because she was so excited that Kevin had found me and she wanted to meet me and his parents wanted to meet me.
Somewhere after that is when he invited me up, and so I went to Massachusetts and met his parents and we all went out to dinner, lunch or dinner. I think it was dinner. I met his wife and his young son. I gave his young son something military he was very impressed with because I have the little thank you note that he sent me in his little kid's handwriting.
I remember being struck going through that when Kevin told me how depressed he was and he was suicidal and that putting that little girl in his lap turned his life around. I remember thinking to myself, "My God, how basic a thing was that that I did." I learned from that, and I always mention this when I speak to different groups that I learned from that--and from Hank--you never know in your everyday life, whether it's your job or volunteer work or a social group, you never know how you might say or do something that is going to touch somebody and perhaps alter an outcome of theirs or for them in ways that you would never, never have envisioned, ever. It was just a very humbling feeling. It's like having, I've often said it this way, because people now are very used to satisfaction surveys, it's like having a patient satisfaction survey forty-three years, forty-five years later in great detail, thinking, "Oh, my God," because with both of those fellows, it was something so basic, so mundane. I did it fifty times a day, never thought a second thing about it, and what the hell a difference it made in their lives, I mean, a positive difference. I always relate that as my lesson learned, I mean a lot of things, just the joy to see them--I'm going to start crying--just the joy to hear from them, and then, see them--and I eventually will go see Hank--stateside and so many years later and that they've had a happy life and they did come home to enjoy a life here in the States.
When I was in the ICU, I don't think ever really thought about, "Oh, I wonder how So-and-So, is doing?" It was just when they were safe enough and stable enough, they would get on that medevac plane and go home and their families would be thrilled. I always thought the soldiers would be thrilled, but now I know enough about PTSD that a lot of them aren't thrilled. They weren't thrilled at the time, and forty-five years later they're not thrilled. Some of them have had miserable lives. Some have had good lives and successful and happiness, but there's a lot that haven't enjoyed that kind of aftermath of Vietnam. Both of those experiences were such learning experiences and, "Wow, just that one little thing made that big a difference in your life." You never know. I mean, it could be the guy at your gas station that you're just giving a smile to or saying hi or thank you.
KR: When you just told the story, you just told it from the point of view when the reunion took place and what Kevin told you. What do you remember about Kevin?
MRM: Nothing. I don't remember him in the ICU. I don't remember his clinical situation at all. I think I vaguely remember picking the little girl up and putting her in his lap, but that could be just from him relating that, because those kids were so cute and they were running all over the hospital. I mean, they had the run of the hospital. [laughter] I don't even know where they slept at night. Isn't that crazy? Who took care of them? One of our nurses adopted [and] brought one of the little children home. I remember that happening, but I don't remember anything about Kevin or Hank being in the ICU, other than what they've described to me. I do remember that Bill Schiller was a superb surgeon and that he knew state-of-the-art stuff that some of the other docs weren't as familiar with or weren't familiar with at all. He was a fantastic surgeon.
Our neurosurgeon, Bill Bridges. First of all, they were phenomenal people, but phenomenal clinicians, surgeons, and we had a patient come into our ICU with a massive head injury, massive head injury. When we had patients who had head injuries, we had them in the two beds right across from the nurse's station desk or the two beds right next to the nurse's station. This gentleman was in the bed across from us. He was unconscious. I don't know if clinically he was in a coma, but he was very, very, very seriously damaged. We did all the care that we would usually do, and the physical therapist would come and do range of motion exercises. I don't think any of our patients were with us any longer than three weeks. I'm not sure on that part, but I remember the day that that patient was scheduled for his medevac flight. There were two or three of us nurses standing there, maybe a couple of the medics, and we had gotten to know the guy. I mean, he was waking up from his coma well enough he was going on the medevac flight. He had gotten himself up and washed and all that stuff and he was in the medevac pajamas that you fly in, and he said goodbye to all of us and shook our hands and walked out the door to get on the bus to go over to the medevac flight place, flight line. Dr. Bridges stood there as the fellow was walking--I mean, it's right imprinted in my head--and he said, "Ladies, you are witnessing a miracle." He said, "There is no way that that young man should be getting on a medevac flight at all." I thought, "Wow." I often think about that fellow, all through the years, when it comes to my mind. Prayer works, prayer, faith or whatever higher power you believe in. It also spoke to Bill Bridge's ability as a neurosurgeon, that he could do whatever he did to that young man's brain to salvage it that he was totally functioning. Amazing. To your other question, I don't remember the details of Hank or Kevin, other than what they reminded me of and recounted to me.
KR: What was your reunion like with Hank, for the record?
MRM: Our reunion has been telephonic so far. Dennis, my husband, and I had gone to a wedding. I hate these kind of weddings where they have the ceremony, and then, you have a six-hour wait until the reception or a five-hour wait. We went to the ceremony, and then, we came home. We're all dressed up and I don't want to muss myself and I don't want to get undressed because then I've got to get dressed again and the dogs will be jumping on me. Dennis had brought the mail in on the kitchen counter. Oh, Dennis is in the TV room. I'm in the kitchen looking through the mail, and one of my dear, dear friends from the Army Nurse Corps--we were in Vietnam at the same time, but we didn't know each other--we got to know each other when we came home from Vietnam, Marilyn, we have been lifelong friends. Marilyn lives in Texas, so I had just a note from Marilyn. I thought, "Oh, my God, I haven't heard from her in a hundred years." We never do communicate except for certain times and it's always like we haven't missed a beat. We just pick right up.
I open the letter, and I unfolded this journal thing. I mean, it was from a magazine, and Marilyn had put a post-it on it and she says, "Jo Jo, is this you?" I looked over to the arrow she had, and there was a letter to the editor and the title above the letter was, "Looking for Mary Jo." I'm thinking, "What the hell?" So, I read this. Hank had thought about me for forty-some years, remembered my name, remembered his surgeon's name, remembered the 67th Evac. Something a month or two earlier made him go online and Google me. I had been interviewed by a brand-new nursing journal, their debut issue, that journal, and they wanted to do a one-page article on a nurse who had served in Vietnam. That's what popped up. Hank called the journal. They said either they didn't have the information anymore or they couldn't give it out, but, "You could write a letter to our editor about who you're looking for and some details because our journal is read by thousands and thousands and somebody might know. It could be a snowball thing." That was Hank's letter, and I'm reading this and I'm getting more and more hairs standing on end and I thought, "Oh, my God, this was me." It's all the right details. Then, I got to the end and his name, and I'm screaming to Dennis in the TV room, "Honey, you're not going to believe this." I go flying in there, and I'm telling him. He's reading it and he said, "Well, why don't you call him?" I said, "How am I going to call him? I don't even know where he lives." He says, "His town is right here. Call information." I called information. I thought, "What's the likelihood of this." Well, sure enough, they had his phone number.
I call the phone number. The answering machine comes on, and I just start rambling, "Hank, this is Mary Jo Rice-Mahoney. I was an Army nurse." I'm rambling. It felt like ten minutes. All of a sudden, the phone picks up, and Hank screams, "Mary Jo, is that you?" I said, "Yes, Hank, is that you?" He said, "Yes, I apologize. We're having my son's twenty-first birthday party. That's why I didn't pick up." Well, we talked for forty-five minutes and went over all his information, and I told him all about the hospital. I didn't remember his particular situation, but I told him all about the ICU. That's how we met, and we've talked once since then. He has sent me a couple of letters and the whole big packet of the newspaper article that was written. He's probably another person that should not have made it home when you read about his injuries, and he was triaged for the non-surviving group and his buddy screamed, "That guy's alive. Get him over here on this chopper. Get him on this chopper." He stayed with Hank through everything that needed to be done to make sure that Hank was not written off. It's amazing when you read that story and his injuries.
KR: What were his injuries?
MRM: He was in a vehicle behind another vehicle; the vehicle in front got hit. They were ambushed. [Hank] got his M-16 and started returning fire, and Hank was hit by a RPG, which is a rocket-propelled grenade. Now, I don't know if he was hit directly. There's a three or four-hundred-pound metal shield in either the front of his vehicle I think, and the RPG either hit that or hit him, I forget which. This thing goes flying and took unbelievable parts of his head off and his mouth. His two buddies on either side were killed instantly. I know he has his hand, but I think he's lost use of it. Then, there may have been one other injury. You hear how his buddy recounts it, and there's no reason he should've made it home.
We've only met telephonically, but Dennis keeps saying and I keep saying and Hank keeps saying, "We've got to get together." I think we will do a road trip eventually, but life gets in the way. [laughter] Who knew we'd have a fourteen year-old grandson as our little protégé in the house and that breast cancer comes to visit? We will. If we all keep our health together long enough, I am going to get to see Hank, yes, for sure. We've only met telephonically. That's just as exciting, just to [hear that], "My God, somebody made it home, had a wonderful life." I'm not saying it was pleasant. He was two years in Walter Reed Army Hospital, I think. I think it was two years, and I think he may have been married to [his wife] three months before he left. That's kind of a unique part of it too. Not all the young guys were married when they were sent over there. That's another thing, remind me to tell you that part about Vietnam spouses, which was very interesting. Not just Hank went through two years of Walter Reed, his wife went through that and the whole family probably. The whole family is always usually involved when a life-threatening something happens, but he did well. He did well. I know he's got his demons; everybody does.
I don't think you can go through that kind of experience and not go home with some kind of something. The help wasn't available back then. Nobody welcomed them home. The VA didn't have any avenues of care specific to psychological effects of combat. They were all going through it. They'd either get through it on their own or they'd go to alcohol or they'd go to drugs or they'd have a miserable life until the VA finally got their act together and figured these things out. You look at suicide. I am shocked by the suicide rates these days. I think it's twenty a day. Then, I wonder, that's what we know about now because they're keeping the statistics I guess, but what was it when we came home from war, or in the years since then, what's it's been? Shame on the government. You have to have something like the Wounded Warrior Project. Our government couldn't do this. You have to have civilians put programs together for this. Shame on you. Anyway, you get me on my soapbox. [laughter] [Editor's Note: The Wounded Warrior Project is a non-profit organization that assists wounded veterans who served in the post-9/11 era.]
KR: What is the story with the nurse who adopted one of the orphans?
MRM: Oh, I forget who she was. I know I knew her. She may have worked in ICU at one point, but I don't remember knowing her really well or working with her all the time. She was a senior nurse. She was more senior than us, and she fell in love with this child. I don't know if she cared for the child or just got to know the child, but she did adopt the child and brought the child home and that's all I ever heard. I didn't know anybody that knew her or knew the outcome.
My sister and brother-in-law adopted. They had two boys of their own and wanted more children and couldn't have them, and so my sister, Betty Ann, and her first husband, Dave, adopted my niece Michelle from a Vietnamese orphanage in--now, I've got to write that down. Oh, I know. I don't know when they first started to apply, but I was stationed at Colorado Springs, and my sister and her husband lived up in Boulder. We were all at the airport the night Michelle arrived. It would've been between '71 and '74. I think it might have been like '73. I've got to ask my sister that tonight.
The interesting thing to me that my sister did--I forget when they started and I forget how she found out about the nursery, the orphanage rather, and the process, but there were families. I know that she knew of this organization; she knew of families that had adopted the Vietnamese war orphans. From the time my sister and brother-in-law made the decision, my sister kept an album, and she has everything, every piece of paper. It was not nuns; [it was run by] civilian American women and they would send Betty Ann a photograph of Michelle and whatever, a little, "She did this today," or, "She's doing this today." When you see these pictures on television of these children who are malnourished and they have the potbelly, that's exactly what Michelle looked like. Betty Ann had bone studies done to determine how old she was. They guesstimated that she was about two, but very malnourished. I was amazed with the album. It fascinated me. Betty Ann finally gave it to Michelle, and Michelle is in her forties. She's married. They have two children. The children are in college now.
Betty Ann, several times, has offered to Michelle to go back to Vietnam to her orphanage, and Michelle wants none of it. She's Amerasian. Her father probably was a GI, an American man, Caucasian man. Betty Ann also offered Michelle to do the DNA testing that you can do now, and Michelle wants none of it. She said, "You're my mom. I know who my mom is." I think her orphanage is still there, To Am. I think it was T-O, and then, A-M. I forget which city it was in. I might have been in Saigon or near Saigon. That was another connection in my own family. Cute as could be. Oh, my God, when we found out it was a for-sure thing, I forget what the department store is, like Nordstrom, it's a very upscale department store in Colorado Springs or maybe Denver, and I went into the babies department. I was so excited to shop for little girl stuff after two boys, two nephews, I bought every frilly thing they had. I bought every dress they had, all the colors. Betty Ann said, "What are you crazy?" I said, "This is so much fun." [laughter] She's just a wonderful young woman, brilliant young woman. She's had a wonderful life, and we've had a wonderful life with her contributing to us. I have to ask, "Was it To Am, and the city?"
KR: You wanted me to remind you about the Vietnam spouses.
MRM: Oh, this took me by such surprise. I was at one of the reunions, and the reunions got more sophisticated. In the beginning, they'd have hospitality suites and they'd have speaker programs, and I don't think this was a speaker program. Oh, I know, there were two or three books, and the authors were there. The room was filled with women, and the whole subject was spouses of Vietnam veterans. "What the hell? Spouses of Vietnam veterans? So, you're a wife." Well, so eye opening, and then, children of Vietnam veterans, so eye opening, whether they were married before their husband went to Vietnam or after he got home from Vietnam, what the whole experience has been like for the wife, what the whole experience has been like for the children. I was flabbergasted with what some of these experiences were and probably still are for some families, and I just never thought about that, wow. God, some of those fellows, like the fellow I told you about, the double amputee, who got the letter from his wife, "I filed for divorce." That was in reverse. That was very eye opening to me too about a spouse or a family of a returning Vietnam vet and what that must have been like. I didn't read any of the books. I never bought the books, but sitting there and talking with these ladies and them recounting their experiences and the children's experience.
Then, compound all of that with what they then and still probably are finding about Agent Orange and not just the effects on the vet, but the children of the vet, unbelievable. Unbelievable. Nobody in the company or in the government would've thought, "Wait a minute, what's in Agent Orange? Is it going to hurt anybody?" Well, we know it hurt the Vietnamese, I'm sure. Well, first of all, you think about your own troops; nobody even thought to question that. We're just going to blanket the countryside in this defoliant. Unbelievable, it just boggles the brain and has been life changing for the people that it's affected in some of the serious ways. I forget now how many diseases are on the approved Agent Orange list. It might be up to ten or fifteen, maybe more, I don't know. Give me a break. I don't know what it's like now, but I know, years ago, the hoops that the vet had to jump through to get something proven or something cleared or something approved or the care for such and such related to Agent Orange paid for by the government, thank you very much. It's like a whole domino effect. It makes me wonder, "What are they using in Afghanistan these days? What are they using in Iraq these days that might not be healthy for humans?" whether it's us or the enemy. That was my experience at that reunion, very eye opening, very eye opening. [Editor's Note: The United States government used the chemical defoliant Agent Orange to clear jungles in Vietnam. It consisted of a mixture of herbicides, including the chemical contaminant dioxin. Agent Orange is linked to a number of serious health problems in humans, including cancer, diabetes and birth defects.]
I've seen it and witnessed it because I'm a member of our VVA chapter, our Vietnam Veterans of America chapter. We're all like brothers and sisters and the wives and the guys and closer than a band of thieves. You can see what this stuff has done to people, or you can hear it from the vet or from the spouse, amazing. It makes me not trust our government, between that and Iran, I don't think they have our interest at heart, it's just for the greater honor and glory of politicians or maybe sometimes generals, I'm sure, generals, yes. I know that for a fact.
From reading that gal's book [Mary Reynolds Powell's A World of Hurt], unbelievable, astounding, what people did at the end of that war in Vietnam, generals, how they manipulated their assignments so they'd get a promotion, or the underlings, they'd give them this award or put them in for this award, and then, they'd be in line to get this promotion. All of it was manipulated when you read her book, unbelievable. I really do want to get in touch with her. I want to find out how she did all her research and where she went to do it and how she found it because you know the government isn't going to give up a lot of this up freely. I'm sure you'd have to be told no, and then, you have to do a FOIA request, and then, you have to go fight after this FOIA, fight after this FOIA. [Editor's Note: The Freedom of Information Act went into effect in 1967, which gives the public access to government information.] She has done her homework, and it doesn't put our government or our military in a good light at all, for that whole part of the war that she experienced, that they experienced, she and her friends, and that she researched about that timeframe. It's embarrassing and angering.
I did just think of two other, I'm having these flight of ideas--it could be the chemo brain though [laughter]--I am remembering two other patients and it's not funny, but it was just an odd situation. We had a fellow come in who was a paraplegic. He dove off a big rock or something and into shallow water and broke his neck. There's something called a Stryker frame, and a Stryker frame is like a sandwich. It's like a canvas, metal frame, canvas that the patient lies on, and then, it's got a top that goes on that and it gets screwed on and you can flip them. [Editor's Note: A cell phone rings.] I forgot to turn this thing off. Do I know how to turn it off? We had this fellow come in, and he's on the Stryker frame. It's a very tragic case. This kid's life is a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and so we were taking care of him and dealing with him. He obviously knew, dealing with the psychological part of this. Well, don't you know? Hours later, his friend comes in, does the exact same thing. He's a quadriplegic on a Stryker frame. We put them next to each other, because they were buddies. I don't know what they were talking about. The first guy probably asked the second guy, "What the hell were you thinking of?" Insane, both of them.
I've thought about them through the years too. When I went into the Reserves and went to work at the East Orange VA, the East Orange VA has a stellar spinal cord unit and I mean they never want for anything in terms of funding, the best of this, the best of that. I learned about that in the '80s, but I wonder about those two fellows who came in 1970, maybe '69. I don't know what the care was back then as opposed to how sophisticated it was when I experienced the spinal cord unit at the East Orange VA. So, that was a unique clinical situation that we had, pretty unique.
KR: What other medical innovations were there?
MRM: Innovations. I don't remember any innovations coming out of our hospital, and forever, as I look back on it now, it was so archaic, so archaic. When you were assigned to meds, every patient was put on--oh, God, I'm going to forget this too, penicillin. There were three antibiotics. Nowadays, it's all done under a sterile hood down at the pharmacy. They send it up to the unit. It's administered to the patient. In Vietnam, the nurse's desk was here, and we had a long counter, and then, the wall with the medicine cabinet, and then, a long counter over here, and on these shelves we had all the IV fluid bottles. It wasn't in plastic bags like now; it was the old-fashioned bottles. You were assigned to the IV meds, and you would figure out what you needed, how many bottles of saline, how many bottles of dextrose, how many patients needed penicillin [and the other antibiotics]? Anyway, then you'd get a fifty-cc [cubic centimeter] syringe, which is a big syringe, and you'd mix up the penicillin. You'd know that the patient dose was so many cc's out of your fifty-cc syringe. So, you'd mix the penicillin first and you'd have all your IV bottles lined up here and you put the fifty-cc syringe in here and push in five cc's, take it out, put it in the next bottle--we didn't even change needles--push in five cc's. This is how we mixed the IV meds. I choke to think of that now.
The other thing that drives me crazy now is we had patients who could not breathe on their own. Nowadays, there are very sophisticated ventilators. We had two, one of which was always on the fritz. They were called Bourne, B-O-U-R-N-E. I want to Google that. Bourne ventilators. I don't think they were even called ventilators. We'd have a patient on that, and it was gargantuan. It was this big. It was huge, with a bellows machine inside and bellows on the top, unbelievably archaic. Because we only had one or two of those, the other patients would be--you know you have in hospitals respiratory therapy departments and they come around and they give respiratory therapy treatments to patients. They have breathing machines and you put the medication in the little bottle and the air goes through that and they can inhale it. Well, in Vietnam, we may have had ten or fifteen of these. They were called Bird respirators. I'll tell you, these were basic, like out of a five-and-dime store, clipped to an IV pole, and with the tubing and everything and on the patient's breathing tube, his esophageal, I mean, his tracheal tube, and that's how we supported these patients' breathing. They did fine. I can't believe it. People would turn over in their medical schools if they knew what these things were like. [laughter]
We were a sophisticated hospital. If you go north of us, it was nothing, but tents. I don't think they had any machinery of any type. Unbelievable, unbelievable. The patients did fine. It must have been the guardian angels flapping their wings around. [laughter] I don't know of any innovations. I know that many of our surgeons brought innovative procedures, surgical procedures, like Bill Schiller and that vascular procedure that he did to save Kevin's leg. I don't think our doctors invented any innovative procedures, but they sure as hell practiced what they had learned probably two minutes before they got on the flight to Vietnam. God bless their patients because they came home well, I mean, to do well, physically.
KR: How well supplied was the 67th Evac?
MRM: I think we're always very well supplied in the ICU. I don't remember ever hearing of anybody running out of anything because we and the medics and the sergeant--every ward had a sergeant in charge and they walked on water. You had more respect for that sergeant than the good Lord almost. They had always their inventories were going on, and the resupply was very sophisticated. We never ran out of anything that I recall, ever. I know for a fact that guys in the field ran out of ammo. They ran out of food. You read this gal's book. I know from talking to the vets that I know, "Oh, well, we just didn't get resupplied." "Oh, well, we're going out on a night patrol." "Oh, yes, you go out on patrol, but do the best you can. Keep down low." Unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable.
KR: What lessons did you learn in terms of leadership?
MRM: In terms of leadership, the first thing I would say, to be a leader, you need to be an expert in your knowledge base of the field you're in to become a leader. I think you need to have a ton of people skills. I think I know for a fact that when you are the leader, you are responsible for mentoring and bringing up the next generation and the generation to follow that, and that has to be done besides whatever else is going on, patient care, conferences. We, as leaders, are responsible for, I always laugh, they would say, "I'm going to go to nursing school." I said, "Great, because I can retire as soon as you pass your licensing exam." That's important, I think. It's important to those that want to enter the profession, but it's an important for the sustenance of the profession. I think you need to be a subject-matter expert. I think you need to have the people skills. You need to have vision for the staff you are [leading] and for your chosen profession. You have to be able to make hard decisions, it's not easy, and you have to recognize that right from the get-go. I remember my father telling me, early on in my career, "Always take very good care of the people that are working with you. Always take care of your people," and he was right. Another thing I learned, when I first became a head nurse and as I continued being a head nurse is there's two things you don't mess with. You don't mess with people's time schedule, and you never mess with their paycheck. Those were the golden rules, at that level. They're important; they were important my whole career. What else would I say about leadership?
I have had some wonderful spectacular leaders to mentor me, and I have had some real jerks. I have been relieved of duty because of idiotic leadership, when I was in the Reserves, and that was very frightening. I was the chief nurse of the exercise, and we went in an advanced party. You had an advanced party that goes first and gets everything set up and organized and ready to go, and then, when you have the green light, then you can start the exercise drill, the training drill. I was the chief nurse, and I was on the advanced increment. We had everything getting set up and getting set up. We had no oxygen source. We had requested it five hundred times a day every day. Every morning, the commanding officer would have the staff briefing, and every morning I would brief, "We have no oxygen available, and it's critical. This is critical and we're asking for a nightmare. We're asking for a big disaster." I did it diplomatically. I was never rude.
It was an officer. I forget what he was doing. I don't know if he was in a tree or climbing something; he fractured his femur. You can bleed out in minutes from a fractured femur if it lacerates any of your vessels, and we had no oxygen. We go through this whole crisis, and I did the briefing the next day and I didn't say, "I told you so." I was very polite, and I was relieved of duty and sent back to the base. I thought, "You sons of bitches. You didn't even care about that guy's life. You cared about your own skin." I've had the best and I've had the worst, and the best is always better by a long shot.
In my profession, you can't afford to have bad leaders. You can't afford to. If you read this gal's book, you can't afford to have bad leaders in the infantry. You can't afford to have bad leaders in the artillery. You're going to have them call in friendly fire on our guys and they're going to die or be maimed. Leadership is critical. It is critical. It doesn't have to be at the highest level. There's leadership positions at every level probably, and you have to have those skills. You have to learn what's required, and you have to learn how to develop them pretty quickly depending upon your career or your chosen avenue that you're going down in your life.
I think I learned leadership qualities my entire career, probably up until I retired. It's funny because I still have nurses that I was with in the Army, junior nurses, who will say to me, "Colonel Rice, remember when you did such and such for me?" Or, "You made me go do such and such and I didn't want to do it?" I don't remember these things at all. They all blossomed. They all got promoted, and they all have beautiful careers. It's little stuff, like Hank and Kevin. [laughter] It's just common sense sometimes, the leadership things that you do. They motivate people when they might be not so comfortable getting out of their comfort zone. I learned all the way until I retired, I think.
KR: How do you think you were treated as a woman serving in Vietnam?
MRM: Wonderfully. I can tell you, I was respected. I never had any untoward sexual advances, misconduct, nothing of the kind. The GIs would bend over backwards for you and respected the ground you walked on, that I went, my experience. Now, I know some women have lived some holy hell experiences, but I never experienced that at all. I know for a fact it exists; that I know. I don't know if it was the vibes I gave out, my Irish temper, don't come near me. [laughter] They were all very respectful in Vietnam.
KR: At Qui Nhon, did you ever hear about crimes against women happening on the base?
MRM: I don't know how to phrase this experience. I think it would be described as a crime against a woman, one of our nurses. She became pregnant by one of the surgeons. Let me get this story straight now. I remember who they were. I knew them. I don't know if he tried to perform an abortion and it went bad and he was trying to transfuse her in her room, in her hooch. This happened after I left. She survived, and she was stabilized and sent home emergently to the States. This guy was a bastard from the word go. Nobody liked him. Nobody could stand him. I was shocked when I heard about that, shocked.
KR: How did you hear about that?
MRM: Probably after I left. I stayed in touch. I wanted to come home terribly, but I was so sad to leave all of my friends, and when I came home, I made it a point to write to everybody. I made it a point to send care packages. I would send, I mean, a meal care package, like a breakfast care package. There would be pancake mix and the syrup, everything, but the butter. I mean, you couldn't send butter. So, I did all of these kinds of funny, crazy things, and so it was from the nurses who were still there and they found out about it. That was a big deal. It was a very big deal. I would define that as a crime against a woman, for sure, in my book.
I'm just having a flight of ideas here in terms of tragedies. I can't remember if I told you these things or not yet, but we had our XO, our executive officer, who lived in a hooch. He lived right here. He committed suicide in his room. He shot himself in the head, and I did not know him that well. I never had any interaction with him, and I remember our chief of psychiatry because everybody was sad and we were all sitting around somewhere, and the chief of psychiatry, I never had much regard for him anyway. I don't know why because I never had any interaction with him, but his comment in the group was, "I knew he was going to do that." Now, I'm not a psych nurse. I can't even spell psych, but I remember thinking to myself, "You knew he was going to do it? What did you do about it?" I've learned since then that when someone is suicidal and they have a plan, they're going to execute their plan and nobody can stop them usually. [It is] very rarely that you can stop a suicidal person who really is suicidal and has a plan. That surprised me. We had one of our ICU medics, his last name was Washington, big guy, and he overdosed. He was on life support in the ICU, and he died in our ICU. That was really hard for everybody. That was very hard for everybody.
KR: What did he overdose on?
MRM: I don't remember, but they had everything over there. You could get anything you wanted, and you could get it for like five cents. They had marijuana. I'm sure they had cocaine. I don't know if they had crack. I don't even know the difference between these things, but you could just get the stuff and people got the stuff. We had surgeons who got the stuff and you could tell when they were on it and they would be on it sometimes when they were on call, infuriated us. I mean, thank God nothing happened that they needed to be called in for. We had those two things happen that were really sad.
We had happy things. My college classmate's younger sister, Mary, fell in love with a chopper pilot--oh, what's the name of that town? Anyway, they arranged to get married, Da Lat. Not Da Lat; it'll come to me. It's a beautiful town, and apparently it just has grand and glorious flowers. Apparently, their wedding was just spectacular with the flowers. Mary, and I forget her husband's name, they didn't stay married.
KR: Was the town in Vietnam?
MRM: Oh, yes, yes.
KR: Oh, I will find that map.
MRM: Oh, where's that map? I was going to say. Not Da Lat. It is crazy.
KR: Da Nang?
MRM: No. It was a little town. It was a big vacation place. People would go on an in-country R&R there. Something makes me think it would be down south, that it would be a safe place. Da Lat, I wonder if that was it. I'm going to have to ask, "[Where did] Mary Fuller get married?" I think it may have been Da Lat because that's what I thought of right off the bat. I think it was Da Lat, not Vung Tau. That was a big in-country R&R place. It was a beautiful beach. They said that was a great place to go, but I think it was Da Lat. I'm going to ask and find out, funny.
KR: What are some of the other happy memories that you have?
MRM: Oh, my God, we had such happy times. Christmas has always been a big deal in our family. We had a little tiny Quonset hut, right here, tiny. That was the officer's club. When you walked in the officer's club, they had a couple of sofas and at the end was a bar. I decided, "Well, we're going to have a Christmas living room or whatever in the officer's club." We always shopped out of the Sears catalog. I got the Sears catalog, and I ordered an artificial fireplace, decorations, a tree, just like you'd have at home. [laughter] Everything arrives. Well, we must have had ten guys with master's degrees trying to put this fireplace together, cursing for hours and they finally did it. We had a beautiful little Christmas area. At Christmastime, there was a whole bunch of us that decided to go through the hospital Christmas caroling. I mean, not the ICU, I mean the regular wards. We did. I never knew anything about Judaism ever. The guys, the male officers, it was the top floor of either of these buildings; they put together a Christmas tree and a Hanukkah bush. I said, "What's a Hanukkah bush?" "Oh, that's a Jewish Christmas tree." [laughter] I believed this for years. For years, I believed this. They had decorated the Hanukkah bush and the Christmas tree.
Then, we decided to have a New Year's Eve party, and we decided it was going to be the Roaring '20s. You would not believe how creative people got. Back then, maybe even now, the needles for syringes came in color-coded caps, green, purple, blue. Well, we saved those for months. When you used the little medicine cups, there would be a stack of lids, like you know the ice cream cup lids. We saved those for months and months and months. We made flapper necklaces with the colored syringe things, and the gals, some of the gals, they decorated the paper caps and they sewed them around the end of their very short skirts, like the flappers would do. The guys, the orthopods, the orthopedic guys, I don't know where they got straw hats, but they did. They figured out that they could put--when they used the sterilizing machine, what the hell was that called?--the sterilizer I guess. When you did packs, sterile packs, you'd put this tape on, and after it had been sterilized, there would be brown lines that showed up or something like that. Somehow, these guys got this tape on these hats, like straw hats. Maybe they did put it through the sterilizer and so the brown lines showed up, so it looked really flapper-ish. I can't even tell you. We had more fun at that party. The outfits were hysterical. I have pictures of that. What else did we do?
Now, these things are going to come to me when I get home. We always had fun, I mean, when it was appropriate. You couldn't always be having fun. The mess hall, always, oh, my God, Christmas and Thanksgiving, forget it. It was like something out of Martha Stewart. The way the mess hall sergeants and staff would [prepare]; first of all, they'd have this whole display done like a mosaic with the fruit and the vegetables and the nuts, and then, what they cooked was, you would die for it. That was always big, big fun.
[laughter] Sometimes, rarely, but sometimes when it was very, very quiet in the ICU, the charge nurse would say, "Why don't you go back and take a couple hours nap in the recovery room?" when there was nothing going on. There were no patients back there and nothing going on in the OR [operating room]. The new ones, the new nurses or medics, would go back. They'd be so thankful; they're tired. They'd go back and they'd take off their combat boots. We had blanket warmers for the patients, warm blankets in that recovery room. It was freezing with air conditioning, and you cuddle up and you fall asleep for two hours. Well, us old timers would take the shaving cream and fill your boots. [laughter] Then, somebody would call whoever was asleep and say, "Hurry up, we've got an emergency out here." They'd jump off the bed into their boots, and we would roar. That was another funny thing. What else?
Somebody I knew, some guy I knew, he had a jeep somehow and asked me if I'd like to drive the jeep. I said, "Sure, I'd love to drive the jeep." In five seconds flat, I had us in a ditch, the front wheels in a ditch, and I don't remember how we got out of it or what happened to him. I was a pretty good driver in that time in my life. What's so hard about driving a jeep? That was funny. What else? They'll come to me tonight at midnight. I'm going call or text you with the right phone number. They'll come to me.
KR: You mentioned this one doctor who was under the influence. How much do you think drugs or alcohol impacted medical treatment?
MRM: I don't think it did because I don't think a peer physician or the nurses or the medics would let it go that far. I know at our hospital it wouldn't have happened. Between triage, OR, recovery room or the ICU staff, any of those staffs, somebody would have called him on it in early enough time that somebody else would intervene that had their act together. It would never have been tolerated by peers. The patients came first and nothing was going to interfere with them, especially somebody else's stupidity.
I never saw anybody overdose. I never knew anybody that overdosed. I never knew about overdosing until Washington, and I remember just being so confused by what it was or what he did and why, and then, he died and I was heartbroken. The guy was so nice, give you the shirt off his back, great medic. He was a senior medic. He wasn't a new kid, and then, how his family must've felt. That was very confusing to me, but it happened.
I had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis from '57-'58, and it went into remission, except there was a time in Vietnam I had a flare up and, I mean, it was a big flare up. I couldn't work in the ICU with the pain, so you had to be admitted. You couldn't be on quarters there. On quarters meant you were on sick time in your own room, on your own, taking care of yourself. Well, that couldn't happen in Vietnam; nobody could bring you your meals. You couldn't go to the mess hall. So, they would admit you. I've got to ask them this now. It was the ICU nurses. I don't think it was any medics or doctors, and I forget how many, but it was a marked number, like two, three, four, five came down with hepatitis. Now, we didn't have the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] over there then. They were admitted to the hospital. They had to be admitted. They were fine; they got better. Whatever investigation was done, it was a connection of the water faucet in the sink in the utility room off the ICU that we used all the time. All of us used it all the time, and there was something wrong with that and that's how they contracted it. Isn't that crazy? I haven't thought about that in forever, too.
KR: Was Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B?
MRM: I don't know. I didn't know anything about Hepatitis. I was barely learning nursing in the ICU. [laughter] I'm going to have to ask them about that. This is generating work for me, I'll tell you that. Who else ever got admitted? I can't think of anybody else that was admitted. I'm sure, after I left, that nurse that had the abortion, I'll bet they had to admit her. I'll bet once he realized he was about to kill her, he probably tried to save his ass, big time, and had her admitted, yes.
Staff gets sick just like patients get sick. I was fine. After three or four days of high doses of aspirin, I was just all better ready to go. It was so crazy because you had to be on a regular patient ward, so you feel awkward about that. Here's all these guys, and you're a woman. They'd pick the farthest bed, and they'd put those curtains around you. It was bizarre.
We had a chapel. That was nice. We'd wind up at a church service together, not planned or unplanned. I think this was the church. It's right near the officer's club; I know that. God knows why that was planned. We had wonderful chaplains, wonderful dieticians. I remember them being there. We had a physical therapist. She could work miracles, oh, my God. She was a twin, and she taught me so much about muscles and nerves and muscle recovery, like flexing, range of motion. She worked miracles with some of our patients, amazing.
KR: For the staff, for the medics and for the nurses, what type of toll, mental toll, was taken in terms of treating wounded soldiers and wounded people day after day on twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week? What kind of toll was taken?
MRM: I was very naïve about that as well. I remember going home from work to my room, maybe three, four, five, six times and crying about something that happened. I have since learned--I don't know if it was reunions down in D.C.; that had to have been because that was the only time I was around any of us--but there were several nurses that suffered greatly. They had a lot of anger. They must have known about the war I guess because they couldn't be angry at the patients. There were and probably still are several that suffered very negative emotions or psychological experiences, et cetera, and I don't know about the number of staff from our hospital that may have put in for PTSD. That would be an interesting thing to know, I mean, not to violate their privacy, but because it certainly is documented that trauma, oncology, you can get burned out real quick. You need a change of scenery. You need a timeout. For the most part, it was pretty relentless in terms of no break, no end in sight. That part was very real. I'll ask my friends that I'm still in touch with, like Pam and Max.
Max, I could tell you about Max. I never knew this about Max. He was a medic in our ICU, a senior medic, brilliant and funny. He had the funniest sense of humor, and I never knew this. I was involved in the VVA up here and I've done a ton of speaking about my experience in Vietnam. I was invited to give my oral history to the project or program at Kean. Joe C. is the one who got me involved in that. They're interested in finding as many [veterans as possible]. I said, "Oh, Pam and Max." I called Pam and Max. I was very surprised; they did come up and they did that. I've never asked them, but I've just had--like Pam and I will talk about the ICU and Jackie and Nancy. We talk about it all the time. I rarely have asked Max anything because I get a sense that that was a long time ago and a part of his life he could care less about. He became extremely wealthy businessman over the years. I never knew that in addition to being a medic in our ICU, Max, I know what it was, when a patient died in our ICU, you had to do the post-mortem care and Max was the one that did that. Max is the one--it came up one day with the three of us sitting down there after lunch, "Where did our dead bodies go?" Max said, "Oh, I took care of them. I did the post-mortem care, put them in the body bags and I put them in the morgue." I said, "We had a morgue?" He said, "Yes, we had a morgue." To this day, I can't remember where. He said, "The morgue was right off the ICU." He'd have to take the body out there, and I guess he would have to notify the graves registration office or whoever you would notify that somebody died. The commanding officer would have to come get the personal effects, the ditty bag, whatever. I never knew any of that part. We had patients die, and Max went through that. How do you do that and not have some kind of an imprint in your brain? Never knew that about Max until many years later. I never wondered where our dead patients went or any dead patient from the hospital.
I am sure that some of the staff have had very negative experiences, and I'd be curious to know what the rates were between the doctors, the nurses and the medics, how they might differ, if they differed at all. All these doctors, for the most part, not all, for the most part, the greater percentage of them were very young, so it had to be something for them to be trying to put these bodies back together in the operating room, who were just a few years younger, maybe ten years younger than the doctors were, and even closer to our age in the ICU there, as old as some of our medics. Knowing what I've learned about PTSD, I'm sure it has taken a toll on our hospital staff. Now, I would bet it's among the clinical staff as opposed to the commanding officer of the hospital. Well, the XO obviously had a problem. Or the pharmacy, their experiences were further removed from the ugliness over the death in the cases of the patients who died. I'm wondering if any research has been done on that. I haven't finished that gal's book. I wonder if she's going to mention that or when I find her. When I contact her, I'm going to ask her if she knows anything about that.
KR: How did you deal with the strain of the job?
MRM: When I was there, I think I dealt magnificently. I cried. I know, I remember I cried. However, when I discovered that documentary series on the History Channel, I was angry, and then, overwhelmingly sad, crying, sobbing. I have become very emotional about anything to do with the Vietnam War on the TV. Dennis loves all the war stuff, and I can watch the Civil War, World War I, World War II. All of that's intriguing to me. The Korean War, which I knew nothing about, I still know very little about, but Vietnam, I cannot watch on the TV. I can't watch that stuff. Holidays are very hard for me, some of them. Memorial Day is very difficult. Veterans Day is nice, but it's difficult. Those things have affected me since I've been home from Vietnam.
Just the other day I started crying. I'm going to start crying again. I know it was during D-Day, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and they were interviewing some of the vets. They were recounting what they went through, and they had some footage, actual footage. Then, I listened to a great deal of President Trump's speech, and there was one part of it--I forget exactly how he said it--but it struck me. I sobbed. He said something to the effect of, "Not the aged or the elderly, but the older veterans here in front of me and the veterans under the white crosses behind me who will never be older than they were the day they died." I thought, "Oh, my God, it's true." Well, you know what that does to parents. You know, as a parent, you just have thoughts or hopes or goals for your children, that you want to make avenues available or life experiences. It's things like that, and I reflect back to Vietnam and I'm thinking, "Well, the same thing happened in Vietnam." We have the Vietnam vets that are here today and we have the ones that are in Arlington Cemetery or their hometown cemetery who will never be older than twenty-one or eighteen. It's those kinds of thing, I'm very affected by now and very emotional.
Having my grandson Dylan early on, when he was, I don't know, four, whenever he learned I was a nurse, I was in the Army, I was in Vietnam. Well, he would ask all these questions and "Gara, what about this?" He'd be putting a battle together, and I would become very emotional, not in front of him, but I'm thinking, "What do we do with our children that they learn these avenues or they become aware of these avenues? Did he learn this from TV, and then, he made the association about Gara being in the war?" As he's gotten older, he knows I've done public speaking. He's been to a lot of my public speaking, and he's asked me stuff, but that has made me very emotional.
I may have cried when I was in Vietnam. I don't remember being depressed. I don't remember being overly sad, overwhelmingly sad, but I get very overwhelmingly sad now. It's nothing that drags on, but it's very situational. It can start at the drop of hat, and I can go through a box of Kleenex in an hour over some of the most inconsequential things. It is all because all of my experience in Vietnam, I think, because I look at military stuff, especially medical stuff, differently now, like that quote from Clara Barton, "There are no winners in war," ever. Why people make decisions to do it, other than something like Adolf Hitler, I'll never know. I'll never know. [Editor's Note: Clara Barton (1821-1912) served as a nurse during the Civil War and founded the American Red Cross. Barton famously said after the Civil War, "If I were to speak of war, it would not be to show you the glories of conquering armies, but the mischief and misery they strew in their tracks, and how, while they march on with tread of iron and plumes proudly tossing in the breeze, someone must follow closely in their steps, crouching to earth, toiling in the rain and darkness, shelterless like themselves, with no thought of pride or glory, fame or praise or reward, hearts breaking with pity, faces streaked with tears, and hands in blood. This is the side which history never shows."]
I had a very strong support system. My friends were there, my four friends, and I had a very strong support system at home. My sister sent me care packages every week. My mother and father were writing letters, and my brothers--my brothers write a letter--I have their letters. I think over there very little, but in the years since, I've had a lot, yes. I think you have that memory, such a memory, imprinted on your brain, and if anything pops up in your future years of your life, you can immediately relate it to that experience, and then, go, "Wow." Yes, I did okay over there, but I think it's rougher the older I get, too. I don't know if that's an aging thing or not. [laughter] I refuse to say it's an aging thing. [laughter]
KR: Was your family worried about your brothers getting drafted?
MRM: That's a very good question. I never asked my parents that. My brother, I was at the 67th. My brothers were twins. Mike was fifteen minutes older than Pat. He was always studious, got good grades. Pat was always getting in trouble. [They were] as different as night and day, personality wise. I'm at the 67th. I guess I got a letter from somebody, and Pat had joined the Marines. I got crazy. You had to make an appointment or something to make a phone call home. I don't know if I called home or I wrote several letters, but my brother Pat--it's all very weird to me now--he enlisted in the Marines. He didn't get through Parris Island or basic training because he came down with encephalitis, so he was in the hospital, and then, he was medically discharged. He doesn't like to talk about it. I was relieved as hell. I talk to him nowadays [about how] if you're on active duty for so many days or weeks or months, then you have veteran's status and veteran's benefits. I tried to ask Pat, "Do you have a DD 214? Did you get a DD 214? How long were you actually [in]?" He's either forgetful or he's evasive because I could swear he's a veteran and he's very humble. He doesn't see himself as a vet. He doesn't want anybody to look at him as a vet. He did nothing to deserve the status of vet. It's very bizarre. I don't know if my parents were worried because they're two years younger than I was, so they were of age, I guess. I have to ask them if they got draft notices. I've got a lot of work to do and what year? I'm going to start talking to my sister-in-law to find these things out from Pat. [Editor's Note: Since 1915, Marine Corps Depot Parris Island in South Carolina has been the primary location for Marine Corps basic training.]
KR: What were you thinking about as your time was coming closer to go home?
MRM: I was extremely [laughter] conflicted. I was extremely excited to go home, but my friends were such--I'm a very social person--when you're in a situation like that, I guess it's unique and you bond very tightly and you bond very quickly and you're going through an experience nobody else is going through except you and so I didn't want to leave them. I was worried about leaving them. What's going to happen? Who's going to take care of everything in the ICU? Are the younger nurses going to know enough to help the older nurses out? Which was stupid. The system would repeat, as when I was a new nurse there. So, it was very conflicted, but I was excited to get home. When I got home, I missed them terribly and that's why I did write so much and they wrote back to me. Then, they would, it would be their turn to DEROS [date estimated return from overseas] and come home. I sent those stupid care packages and god only knows, but I did. I worried about them and wondered about them until I knew they were all okay. When I found out about that one situation, I was horrified. I was furious, furious. I was furious at him because we knew he was horrible, and I thought, "What the hell was she using for sense besides nothing?" I was excited to come home. I was excited to see everybody.
You know what's funny? I have a vague flickering remembrance of being at the airport and my parents were divorced, but everybody was there that could've been there. Coming home, I think I flew through Colorado, so I saw my sister and my nephew who had been born while I was in Vietnam. I have a picture of that. I have a fleeting thing of the airport. I don't remember it for anything. I don't remember getting my luggage. I don't remember what we did. Did we go to dinner? I don't remember. I don't remember what I did, how long I was on leave. I know my duty station after Vietnam was Fort Devens, Massachusetts. I only had a short time there because it was a two-year payback because of the [Army] Student Nurse Program. Now, there was something else about coming home that I just thought of. I don't know. It fell out of my head. I'm going to have ask my siblings about that, MJ coming home.
Oh, I know what I was going to tell you. When I was home from Vietnam, I was on leave in Virginia, Arlington, Virginia, and my brothers were in college at my brother school, like an hour away from home. They were having a kegger and one of the guys that was my class stayed at the college. I think he went into the seminary there. He was going to go into the seminary. Anyway, they were having this kegger over a weekend, and they wanted me to come to their kegger and so I went. I remember Pat and Mike introducing me around I guess and, "Oh, this is my sister. She just came home from Vietnam." One of the guys was so angry and to me, "Why on earth was I there? What was I thinking? How ridiculous and stupid of you to be there doing that." I thought, "How weird is this guy?" That was the only time I ever had anybody behave that way towards me. Other vets had people spitting on them and I never had that, but that one guy, and my brothers about laid him out royally. I remember that when I was home on leave.
KR: I am going to pause for a second.
MRM: Yes, go right ahead.
KR: Okay, we are back on, and we are going to conclude the interview for today. We are going to meet for a third session in the near future. I want to thank you so much for being so generous with your time and for sharing your stories.
MRM: Oh, you're more than welcome. I think this is such an important project. It's literally living history for subsequent generations.
KR: Thank you.
MRM: You're welcome.
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Transcribed by Jesse Braddell 6/25/2019
Reviewed by Kate Rizzi 7/30/2019
Reviewed by Mary Jo Rice-Mahoney 11/5/2019
Reviewed by Zach Batista 12/1/2019
Reviewed by Kathryn Tracy Rizzi 12/18/2019