The women of Vietnam struggled overseas and when they returned home. A generation of Americans who couldn’t separate the war from the warrior tormented the men and women when they returned. The Vietnam Veterans fought a different war on their home soil.
For years the women veterans hid their experiences from an unworthy public until decades later it was finally safe to entrust their stories.
The millions who walk by The Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, DC probably have no idea how much fight it took for the sculpture to have its rightful place on the National Mall.
The Artist Honoring the Women of Vietnam
Sculptor Glenna Goodacre created this incredible fifteen-foot sculpture that shows three nurses caring for a wounded soldier. It’s not a piece of artwork you glance at. You walk around. Take in the details. And you thank the 265,000 women that served during the Vietnam War.
Goodacre captured the essence of these dedicated woman so well,
it’s as if these heroic women opened their tragedy-seared hearts and Goodacre
captured their raw emotion in bronze. In each detail you see their dedication and sacrifice.
Goodacre’s bronze captured the souls of the women of Vietnam.
There’s no glamour in war, especially for the nurses who dealt with putrefying flesh and dying young men on a daily basis. I wonder, do the women of Vietnam still hear the soldiers’ cries of torment? Does the stench of blood still permeate every memory?
Goodacre is a contemporary hero. She’s an award-winning artist and called “America’s sculptor.” Her work is featured in galleries, museums, parks, and businesses across America. You’ve already seen Goodacre’s work if you’ve seen a Sacajawea coin.
During the dedication ceremony Goodacre said, “That my hands can shape the clay which might touch the hearts and heal the wounds of those who served fills me with humility and deep satisfaction. I can only hope that future generations who view the sculpture will stand in tribute to these women who served during the Vietnam era.”
But Glenna Goodacre isn’t the only female hero in this story.
The Woman Behind the Women of Vietnam
The powerhouse behind this memorial is Diane Carlson Evans, the Founder and President of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation.
I had the privilege of meeting Evans and hearing her keynote at the 50th anniversary celebration of the return of Vietnam Vets to Montana. Evans was a surgical nurse at the 36th Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau. After only five months, she was promoted to head nurse and sent to the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku. The enemy had no honor and even the American hospitals were attacked.
Evans said, “President Lyndon B. Johnson said ‘We will win this war at all cost’ but we, the medical staff, paid the price in triage…ask the nurses, we saw it every day.”
Vietnam was horrifying, but so was returning to America after a year. Evans expressed gratitude to those gathered on the Montana State Capitol lawn. “Thank you for standing by our side. We went where we were needed and when we were needed. Although 97% of veterans were honorably discharged, upon returning home, we faced a minefield of contempt and disapproval for our service.”
Ten years after retiring as a captain in the Army, Evans attended the dedication of the 1982 Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. She joined the other vets who were “limping or proudly marching” down Constitutional Avenue. The Wall was the first step in righting the wrong of how Vietnam Veterans were treated upon their return. “Before the Wall of Names…we were stuff of bad stories and newspaper articles.”
But despite America’s better-late-than-never determination to honor Vietnam vets, Carlson only saw male faces. She had to change that.
Evans conquered jungle living in Vietnam and then she conquered the bureaucracy and fund-raising in America. It took Evans seven years just to get permission to build the monument. After years of severe opposition, it was this comment during Evan’s final appearance at a Congressional hearing that earned a unanimous decision to build the memorial.
The memorial was finally dedicated on November 11, 1993.
The Vietnam Veterans broke boundaries of gender and race by surviving both the war and their return together. Evans said, “Their common ground is supporting every man and every woman.” They coined this slogan.
Evans says the veterans “only ask for all generations to see us as we were.”
Vietnam Veterans were not welcomed home after the war, but there are two new words they love to hear.
Evans, along with the many women who worked with her, ensured the women of Vietnam have a voice. “We’ve always kept women invisible.” This is the opening line to a five-minute video created by Makers that highlights Evan’s journey in creating the memorial.
The women of Vietnam supported their country, and with the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, our country now supports the women of Vietnam.
Diane Carlson Evans published an amazing book about her journey to memorialize the women of Vietnam. I highly recommend you purchase this book!
Healing Wounds: A Vietnam War Combat Nurse’s 10-Year Fight to Win Women a Place of Honor in Washington, D.C.
Read about the Women of Vietnam:
Women Vietnam Vets – Loved and Not Forgotten (My first tribute to the women of Vietnam.)