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1960s: In her own words...A Physical Therapist in Vietnam

  Major Aida Nancy Sanchez in Vietnam in 1971. She retired from the Army Medical Services in 1979 as a Lieutenant colonel. (Read excerpts from her letters and view photographs here.)  

Aida Nancy Sanchez joined the Army Medical Services in 1952, and in December 1970, she was posted to the 95th Evacuation Hospital in in DaNang, Vietnam.

Between 1966 and 1973, 43 Army physical therapists of the Army Medical Specialist Corps served in Vietnam. Thirty-three of them were women. They treated military personnel from the SEATO allied nations (Australia, Korea, New Zealand, Thailand, the Philippines, South Vietnam and the United States) and their patients also included civilians and prisoners of war. Their work advanced combat medicine, proving the importance of early intervention to reduce the extent of an injury, to shorten healing time and to improve the morale of the wounded.

Major Sanchez's first office was a storage room; her door key, a kitchen knife; her desk a wooden board; and her first equipment, a makeshift whirlpool housed in a latrine. During her 18 months in Vietnam, she built a physical therapy clinic and, besides treating wounded Americans and South Vietnamese, traveled to Cambodia to treat Prime Minister Lon Nol.

Major Sanchez wrote home regularly. In a long letter written in 1971, she talked about preparations for Tet—the Vietnamese lunar new year. Her letters described contrasts between celebrations among the Vietnamese and attitudes of tension and watchfulness among Americans who were alert for a repeat of the 1968 Tet offensive of North Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap. She wrote,

The Vietnamese are preparing to celebrate their New Year, Tet. As a result, they are decorating all of their villages and the city of Da Nang is looking very festive. But we Americans are worrying about the Tet offensive the enemy might have...We have already been given [bullet-proof] jackets and helmets. They are next to our beds always, as ordered. ...if we do leave [the compound] we must be escorted by four extra men: two carrying M-16 rifles and two, pistols.

These long letters, I guess, are ways to get rid of my tension, and I am grateful I can tell my experiences here . . .It helps. If you don't have any plans for my letters, will you keep them for me? I might like to have them as part of a diary I would like to write one of these fine days.

Her friend did save the letters and excerpts and photographs from her duty in Vietnam are available to researchers through the Office of History and Collections of the Women's Memorial. (Read excerpts from her letters and view photographs here.)

Women in the US Military - A Physical Therapist in Vietnam