1960s: In her own words...A Physical Therapist
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 Tetthe 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.)