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IN THE COMBAT ZONE and Nurses in Vietnam are oral histories documenting the experiences of Ameri can women in Vietnam during the war years. The books are remarkably similar in purpose, tone and substance. Both set out to give voice to the women whose roles in, and perspectives on America’s involvement in Vietnam have been largely ignored by this country. Both collections focus on “ordinary lives made extraordinary,” as In the Combat Zone editor Kathryn Marshall puts it, rather than on political analysis or accusation. \(Marshall states in the first sentence of her introduction, “there is no single position on the Vietnam War in this collection”; Dan Freedman, who, with Vietnam veteran Jacqueline Navarra Rhoads, edited Nurses in Vietnam, writes, “I do not want this book to be viewed either as an anti-war statement or as an apology for the represent the experiences of all American women who worked in Vietnam, though Nurses. . . is admittedly much narrower in focus. Nurses. . . includes only the narratives of nine Army nurses, while Marshall interviewed nurses, nonmedical military personnel, Red Cross workers, and other civilians. The Marshall’s book are also more varied in their racial backgrounds. Whatever their differences, though, the two books feel the same. They reflect, with similar clarity and intensity, the two experiences most women perceived overwhelmingly in Vietnam: destruction of bodies, lives, landscapes, cultures and their own amazing competence and power. And both books mirror the shared fate of most women upon returning home to America: silence, dissonance, displacement, invisibility, and the slow, monstrously painful process of reclaiming their lives and histories, of accepting, then making sense of, the pain. The image, seems contradictory American women in Vietnam. America’s Vietnam the ‘Nam of wire service photographs, of Platoon and Martha Boethel is a freelance writer who lives in Austin. Apocalypse Now, of “the Wall” and VA rehab centers seems a male domain, a male tragedy. Yet perhaps as many as 55,000 American women worked “in country” during the war years. They were military and civilian; they were nurses, air traffic controllers, decoders, IN THE COMBAT ZONE: An Oral History of American Women in Vietnam Edited by Kathryn Marshall Boston: Little, Brown, & Company 270 pages, $17.95 NURSES IN VIETNAM: The Forgotten Veterans Edited by Dan Freedman and Jacqueline Rhoads Austin: Texas Monthly Press 164 pages, $16.95 cartographers, journalists, social workers, secretaries. Some of their names are on the Wall. Some of them have health problems or children with disabilities caused, in all probability, by Agent Orange. A few were captured by the North Vietnamese. Many still feel haunted by Vietnam. How do we consider the Vietnam experiences of American women? Do women have war stories, battle scars? Are they entitled to their pain \(and to the healing that comes with confronting the women interviewed in these two oral histories have asked themselves. Cherie Rankin, who worked with the Red Cross, tells Kathryn Marshall: “My pain didn’t make sense to me. I had always minimized my experience in Vietnam. I always told myself, ‘Hell, you weren’t a guy. You weren’t fighting. How can your experience have been so tough? You don’t have any right to feel that way!’ ” Such perceptions have been reflected in and reinforced by the government, many veterans groups, and society at large. Ann Powlas, an Army nurse, talks about the American Legion: The older vets have no respect for any women vets. What they don’t, understand about Vietnam, though, is that there was no rear the VC was everywhere, even in the hospitals. But a lot of people feel like, well, if you weren’t out in the bush fighting, you’re not a real veteran. And, for a long time, that was how I felt about myself. Women went to Vietnam with little knowledge about the country, the war, or the conditions they were to face, and with no training in survival skills. \(A former Red Cross worker remembers having a choice between Korea and Vietnam. “I really wanted to go to Vietnam Korea was cold, and after the long winters in Wisconsin I had no and the Red Cross sent women over dressed in tight skirts and high heels. Jacqueline Rhoads \(the Army nurse and co-editor of remembers arriving during a rocket attack: “So here I am with my dress uniform, stockings, shoes, and skirt, and suddenly I’m lying down on a cement pavement at Tan Son Nhut wondering, ‘My God, what did I get myself into?’ ” Another woman, riding from the Saigon airport to her first hospital assignment, looked out at a street corner and saw a Buddhist monk immolating himself: “He was just sitting there crosslegged, on fire.” Lily Adams was on a transport plane when all the male passengers suddenly dove to the floor. After a few minutes they got back up; one of the men explained to her that the plane had been hit, but everything was okay: And at that moment I realized that these men were trained to survive in a war zone but that I was not that I could get killed. And that if I died it was going to be the Army’s fault. The Army never taught me anything I mean anything; Nothing. Everything I learned about surviving I learned from the men. Women learned to live with the war, with the shelling, the sudden helicopter landings to avoid rocket attacks, the possibility that the barber, a cleaning woman, a group of small children, might be the enemy. “I was amazed at how routine war could become,” one Army nurse says, “the skirmishes, guns going off all the time, alerts, the Cobras working off in the distance.” Some stopped heading for the bunkers during night attacks; instead, they would “pull the mattress over us and get under the . bed. You just got used to sleeping that way, right through the rocket attacks.” What did women do during the war? About 80 percent of military women were nurses. They worked in field hospitals all over South Vietnam, all the way up to the Demilitarized Zone. They Women and War By Martha Boethel THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17