The Status of Female Military Nurses in Vietnam
There is a maldistribution of the sexes in war. Combat and war are masculine experiences. No one is sure of the total number of nurses who served in Vietnam, but estimates indicate they were a small minority in the overall American effort.1 Their needs seemed inconsequential. Official emphasis was on combat, tactics, and men.
Military leaders knew women were serving in Vietnam.2 But they did little to provide them with the necessities. For example, the military PX stores located on the bases where the nurses lived carried soap and shampoo but not tampons. These same stores carried nylon stockings, but, as one nurse said, "we didn't have a great need for nylons with our fatigues. They were probably there for the soldiers to buy for their local girl friends." Military women were almost invisible, while women who filled traditional roles in war -- the barmaid, the prostitute -- were not.
The nurses learned in this overwhelmingly male environment and came to view the lack of planning for women with a mixture of disbelief and humor. Most of the oversights concerning women were merely embarrassing or uncomfortable.