It is the anniversary of the Vietnam veterans memorial, but don't forget about the Vietnam women veterans memorial

Jack Murphy
November 13, 2019 - 4:00 am
Vietnam women veterans memorial

DVIDs, Photo by Lisa Ferdinando

On the anniversary of the commemoration of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, it is worth noting an often overlooked aspect of the memorial itself, particularly the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

Most are familiar with the 246-foot long black granite wall with the names of over 58,000 American service members who died in Vietnam. The memorial was built using privately raised funds on government donated land in Washington D.C. The design, and designer were controversial. There was some racist push back against the architect but beyond that, many veterans felt ostracized by the black slab of rock finding nothing heroic or noteworthy about the design. Later, a more traditional statue of soldiers who fought in Vietnam was erected, depicting three male troops, one African-American, one caucasian, and one Hispanic. Over time, the hostility towards the design choices died down and many were happy to see both a statue and a memorial that listed each deceased service member by name.

Despite over 11,000 women serving in Vietnam, the women's memorial was not added until 1993. Just as Jan Scruggs had campaigned to establish the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial itself, Diane Evans created the Vietnam Women's Memorial Foundation after realizing that the service of women in the war was mostly overlooked. She had herself served as a combat nurse in Vietnam.

The Vietnam Women's Memorial is seen on Veterans Day, Washington, D.C., Nov. 11, 2013.
DOD photo by Lisa Ferdinando, Army News Service

Most of the female servicemembers in Vietnam were nurses but others served as air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, and clerks. Notably, all were volunteers as women were not eligible for the draft. Eight female service members died in Vietnam, one from hostile fire. It is believed that nearly half of the women who served in Vietnam suffer from post-traumatic stress.

The statue itself is cast in bronze, designed to be viewed in the round, inviting audience participation to interact with the memorial itself and view it from various angles. The statue depicts three female service members, one attending to a wounded male soldier. Another figure comforts a wounded soldier while a third looks up at the sky in search of hope or asking God for assistance. 

The sculptor, Glenna Goodacre had this to say of her work on the memorial, “the kneeling figure has been called 'the heart and soul' of the piece because so many vets see themselves in her. She stares at an empty helmet, her posture reflecting her despair, frustrations, and all the horrors of war. The soldier’s face is half-covered by a bandage, creating an anonymous figure with which veterans can identify. Even though he is wounded, he will live. I want this to be a monument for the living.”

The statue offers a moving tribute to the women who served in Vietnam, particularly those who attended to the medical care of wounded soldiers, an experience that left psychological scars just as deep as the physical ones left on front line soldiers.

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Reach Jack Murphy: jack@connectingvets.com or @JackMurphyRGR.