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BUT WHAT ABOUT WOMEN? Salado CTOBER 20, 1966 was a warm day, even for Ohio. The military induction building was large, noisy, of World War II vintage, but tucked into one corner was a different world, a solemn room draped in deep blue. Into this room, the inductees of the day were ushered to take the vows that would commit the next few years of their lives to serving in the armed forces. I was 18, and I walked into that room with no preconceptions about the step I was taking, except for my starry-eyed notions about patriotically defending my nation during a time of crisis. In a crowd of perhaps two dozen pairs of trousers, my lone skirt was conspicuous. An estimated 193,000 women served in the armed forces during the Vietnam era. Some of these women, usually nurses, actually served in combat areas, although most were prevented from serving in such areas due to the discriminatory rules set up to “protect” women from combat. The actual number of women sent to Vietnam is unknown. The Defense Department claims the figure is around 7500, but other government sources say 55,000 is more accurate. During the recent symposium on “Understanding Vietnam,” it was evident that the Vietnam War is still considered wholly a man’s experience and a man’s war. Yet, the anger belonging to veterans of that era may be seen in both sexes. Lynda VanDevanter, who served as a nurse in Vietnam and is now president of the women’s division, Vietnam Veterans of America, recalls the stress of dealing with thousands of young men who were dying or gruesomely injured. She is one of the few female veterans who has made efforts to draw attention to the problems her group faces. The non-combatant female veteran has even fewer advocates. Veteran’s Administration officials By Marcy Busick admit that the V.A. hospitals are usually not equipped to serve the female veteran. Basic care, such as OB/GYN, is not available, and often attention to psychological needs of a female veteran is not even considered. Three major studies on Vietnam veterans funded totally or in part by the V.A. did not include women. Although Vet Centers, counseling programs organized nationwide in 1979 to reach Vietnam-era veterans, are charged with identifying and serving female veterans, they are having trouble getting the woman veteran to come in. “They don’t want to talk about it, they say to leave them alone,” said one Vet Center counselor at the Salado symposium. The fact that many of the women veterans who have been located are not in their original career fields, have jumped from job to job, have broken marriages, and in some cases alcohol and drug problems, leads the counselors to suspect there are problems, but the women are still not being reached. Parade Magazine in August, 1981, discussed the forgotten woman veteran and quoted one V.A. bureaucrat as admitting there were no studies on the problem. “I wish I could tell you there are some . . . then we could shut up that little group of 50 women veterans who are always appearing on television and complaining about that,” he said. The military itself has never taken women seriously either. “We were tainment purposes,” recalls Pat, who served at SAC Headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska. The women in her office were made to line up for morning inspections, then leered at by the men under the guise of uniform checks. She says she felt this was degrading but still had to “stand at attention and let them leer.” At the whim of one of the men in her office, women were not allowed to wear “low-quarter” form. The reason given was that the man didn’t like the look of women’s legs in them. Pat had to walk the entire length of the base to get to work and on one icy day fell in her heeled shoes. Many women during that era were still children, 18-year-old girls overwhelmed by a stressful situation and pressured to become sexually active or accused of being lesbian if they didn’t. My starryeyed picture of military service somehow didn’t include that seedy bit of information. I was amazed at the time to encounter the distorted image of women in the service. Pat, who joined for similarly patriotic reasons, remembers the same shock at not only that attitude, but the attitude that we were crazy to be there at all. “I felt I was giving more because I had a choice [of joining]. Then you go in and are penalized . . .,” she said. “They [the men in her office] made me feel like an idiot for joining.” She said many of the older women in the service at that time expressed the same contempt and antagonism. Sometimes the pressure on women led to drastic attempts to get out of the service or away from the situation. Pat and I served at two bases together. In our basic-training flight company, a Mexican-American woman, tried to kill herself by running onto the freeway only yards from our barracks. We were later told never to have contact with the girl again; she was literally swept away into oblivion. In spite of this restriction imposed by our training instructor, Pat was called into the office one night to accept a phone call. As she realized in surprise it was the young woman who had been taken away, the very same training instructor snatched away the telephone and placed her on restriction. Since the instructor was the one who called her to the phone, Pat feels she was set up. The THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17