In early 1980, Dan Fraley, a Lower Southampton, Pennsylvania United States Marine veteran who served in Vietnam during the war, initiated a campaign to place a Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Bucks County to honor military service members who died or went “Missing In Action”. My curiosity led me to wonder if there were any female military personnel who might be part of the Bucks County Memorial.
No Bucks County female would be on that list but I discovered there were eight military nurses who died in Vietnam during that war. It became my mission to find out who they were, where they lived, where they served and how they died. At that time I was married to a combat Veteran who had served in Vietnam during 1968. I became a voracious follower of any coverage of the war yet never recalled any news about women who served or died in Vietnam. Considering the unpopularity of the war, coverage of military women serving in-country rarely hit the news.
My goal then was to honor these eight women with brief biographies in a book titled “There are eight of them …”. Interviews began with family, friends and veterans. But I bumped up against a wall after completing first drafts of three nurses.
Women have been warriors in conflicts beginning with the Revolutionary War up through our present day. What disheartens me most are recent media reports describing the continued disrespect against women in uniform, much of it coming from their Brothers in Arms.
Since WWI the role of women in uniform and their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), limited them to tasks behind battle lines. When the MOS expanded with our Nation’s conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, opportunities for these women brought them close to or in some incidences, onto the battlefield.
The Afghanistan-Iraq wars took 139 American women warriors who served their country. Six of those women warriors died while performing duties on the battlefield. 800 additional women warriors were wounded, many still struggling with physical and/or emotional injuries.
During the Vietnam War, one statistic numbers 7,484 women as having served in-country. 6,250 of that total were in the Nurse Corps, a majority of them female nurses. The eight women I researched, all shared the common objective to join the military to serve their country. When I interviewed other women veterans, they too had clung to that motivation to Serve their country.
This Memorial Day I will place flowers at the foot of the Bucks County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Honor of the Eight:
U.S. Army Nurse Corps 2nd Lieutenant Carol Ann Drazba (December 11, 1945 – February 18, 1966). Home state Pennsylvania. Died in a helicopter crash outside of Saigon.
U.S. Army Nurse Corps 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Ann Jones (September 12, 1943 – February 18, 1966. Home state South Carolina. Died in a helicopter crash outside of Saigon.
U.S. Army Nurse Corps 1st Lieutenant Hedwig Diane Orlowski (April 13, 1944 – November 30, 1967). Became American citizen; home state Michigan. Died in airplane crash on TDY (Temporary Duty)
U.S. Army Nurse Corps Captain Eleanor Grace Alexander (9 September 18, 1940 – November 30, 1967). Home state New Jersey. Died in airplane crash on TDY (Temporary Duty).
U.S. Army Nurse Corps 2nd Lieutenant Pamela Dorothy Donovan (March 25, 1942 – July 8, 1968). Became American citizen; Home state Massachusetts. Died from in-country illness.
U.S. Army Nurse Corps Lieutenant Colonel Annie Ruth Graham (November 7, 1916 – August 14, 1968). Home state North Carolina, Colonel Graham served in 3 wars. Death was from natural causes.
U.S. Army Nurse Corps 1st Lieutenant Sharon Ann Lane (July 7 1942 – June 8, 1965). Home state Ohio. Died from enemy attack on hospital.
U.S. Air Force Nurse Captain Mary Therese Klinker (October 3, 1947 – April 9, 1975). Home state Indiana. Died in plane crash.
I can’t leave this post before including women who’d served in Vietnam with the Red Cross and other civilian and religious capacities. Some still Missing.
The Bucks County Vietnam Memorial was dedicated on June 16, 1984, now one of hundreds of other Vietnam WarMemorials that have been sited across America. This Memorial Day please remember to include in your thoughts the Women Warriors who gave their lives and those who continue to serve our country.