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1960s: In Vietnam

  Air Force nurses wait out a rocket attack in the hallway of their quarters at Cam Ranh Bay in 1970.  

In 1965, US involvement in Vietnam accelerated as two battalions of combat-ready Marines landed in Da Nang. Six months later, nearly 150,000 American troops were in-country, but except for a small cadre of nurses, none of them were female.

Military women were not posted to Southeast Asian combat zones in significant numbers for almost two years, despite servicewomen's requests for deployment to Vietnam and despite the presence of numbers of civilian women in administrative and clerical positions or working with the Red Cross and USO.

Ignoring women's service records in the region during World War II and the Korean War, the military argued that combat zones—especially in the environment of Southeast Asia—were inappropriate for American women.

A Pentagon spokesman told columnist Jack Anderson that women “cannot be employed at jobs that are not in conformance with the present cultural pattern of utilizing women's services in this country.” The work must be “psychologically and sociologically” suitable. (Read “Should We Send Our Women Soldiers to Vietnam?") by Jack Anderson from the January 2, 1966, Parade magazine. Slow loading, but worth the wait.)

Even Women's Army Corps Director Brigadier General Elizabeth Hoisington discouraged sending Army women to Vietnam, believing that public controversy over the issue of women in combat zones would deter progress in expanding the role of women in the Army. Others maintained that only male nurses should be assigned to the combat theater area.

As male casualties mounted and demands to free servicemen for combat grew, the presence of nurses and other servicewomen increased in Southeast Asia. By the time American troops withdrew from Vietnam, more than 7,500 women had served. Almost 6,000 of these women were nurses and medical specialists. Seven Army nurses and one Air Force nurse died in Vietnam.

  Navy nurses receive Purple Hearts after surviving a Viet Cong bombing of their living quarters. They were among 100 injured in the explosion, but immediately began treating other casualties, ignoring their own injuries.  
  Army nurses in Vietnam cared for the civilian population as well as military.  
  Woman marine visiting a local market in Vietnam.  

Women in the US Military - the Vietnam Era