During the Vietnam War, many gender roles stayed the same from World War 2. Men were still off fighting on the frontlines and women were mainly doing background work. The men continued fighting and enduring the worst of battle by themselves. In Vietnam they would trek through the jungles and have the constant fear of the Viet Cong attacking in the night. If there was an attack, women would help deal with the aftermath by giving necessary medical attention.
In the Vietnam war, most of the women involved were volunteers. In all there were approximately eleven thousand women who served during this war. 90% of these women were nurses, who were all volunteers. As the same in World War 2, women also held the jobs of air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and members of the WAC. Women were given more responsibility in this war where they were sent to train Vietnamese women in certain skills. In 1956, American nurses were sent to Vietnam to train women in medical care and in 1964 General William Westmoreland requested the presence of the WAC to train women for military needs. By 1970, there were 20 WAC officers and 130 enlisted women in Vietnam. This is something that had never happened up until this point.
The Vietnam war also contributed to many deaths of American women in Vietnam. This was never an issue because during most wars there were not women on the battlegrounds. The majority of women who died in this war happened during Operation Babylift. Operation Babylift was a plan set out by President Gerald Ford to retrieve children from Vietnam and adopt them out in the United States. There were thirty flights sending 2,700 children to the United States and 1,300 divided between Europe, Australia and Canada. Unfortunately, not all the planes used for transport were particularly safe. The first flight sent out crashed due to mechanical problems. This in turn took the lives of thirty-eight American women and approximately one hundred children.
A total of sixty-seven American women died in part to the war in Vietnam. Fifty-nine women were civilians and eight were military. Among these women were First Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane and Colonel Annie Ruth Graham. Lane was part of the 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai when rockets hit the area. She died of shrapnel wounds. Posthumously, she was awarded the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm, the Bronze Star for Heroism, and the Purple Heart. Lane was the first woman recognized in the Vietnam War. Graham, like Lane, was a volunteer nurse in Vietnam. She died in 1968 due to a stroke. Although this is not directly contributed to Vietnam, I believe the war did take part in her death. Colonel Graham was the Chief Nurse at the 91st Evacuation Hospital up until her death. She was a veteran of World War 2 and Korea.
During the Vietnam War, women made small steps into becoming essential parts of the military. Although they still are not allowed to fight on the front lines with the men, women have made great strides in the past decades in becoming part of the wartime effort. Coming from the Indian War where it’s not acceptable for women to work outside of the home into the Vietnam War where women are overseas working as Nurses and small jobs for the military is a huge difference. Throughout the wars, women are gaining more rights and more responsibilities.
History.com Staff. “Women in the Vietnam War.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2011. Web. 29 Mar 2014.
“American Women Who Died in the Vietnam War.” American Women Who Died in the Vietnam War. Vietnam’s Veteran Memorial, 1997. Web. 29 Mar 2014.
USA Today. Nurses in Vietnam. Digital Image. USA Today. Web. 2 Apr 2014.