Newspaper article

Kim Heikkila Tells the Story of Minnesota's Vietnam War Nurses

Newspaper article

Kim Heikkila Tells the Story of Minnesota's Vietnam War Nurses

Article excerpt

To the thousands of women who have worked in Afghanistan and Iraq, the recent Pentagon decision to lift the ban on women serving in combat isn't life changing; ban or no ban, thousands of women have served in a wide range of roles in these wars, contributing the same efforts and taking on the same risks as men. One-hundred and fifty have died while doing so.

This isn't a recent development. In "Sisterhood of War: Minnesota Women in Vietnam" (Minnesota Historical Society Press), Kim Heikkila explores the significant role women played in that war. (The book is a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards.) She notes that more than 250,000 women were in the armed forces during the Vietnam War, and about 7,500 served in Vietnam. Eighty percent of them were nurses; 68 of them died.

This group played a significant role in that war zone, providing high levels of care under extremely difficult conditions. They also returned home to the same unfriendly reception male veterans famously suffered, and often with the same psychological trauma.

"It took us a while to realize even nurses were vulnerable to PTSD," Heikkila said in an interview. "They took on tremendous responsibility, suffered in much the same way and participated in the same kinds of heroic, patriotic acts other veterans did. Then they came home and felt so abused and misunderstood that many women simply never talked about their experiences, or were very cautious about talking to people about it."

Interviewed many veterans

Word is out in veteran circles that Heikkila can be trusted to tell their stories with respect. For this book and other projects, she has interviewed numerous veterans, and her reading events are filled with veterans of many wars as well as families of veterans, looking for insights into the silences with which their loved ones came home.

In "Sisterhood of War," Heikkila tells the stories of 15 Vietnam War nurses from Minnesota. She found that most of the nurses were young girls from modest backgrounds, often farm girls, looking for a way to serve their country and get nursing experience. Instead, they found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. …

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