A Vietnam nurse remembers: Elgin veteran to speak at Memorial Day service
As one of about only 7,000 women who served in Vietnam during the war -- the great majority who were nurses like her -- Lorraine Darr of Elgin finds herself in rather elite company.
Arriving in a war-torn country near the end of the conflict, Darr says it was an experience that gave her new perspectives on her nation and her life and even provided the opportunity to meet her future husband.
As a 1969 graduate of a Catholic nursing school in the Pittsburgh area, Darr's interest in joining the military was sparked when an Air Force recruiter visited her school. While patriotism was certainly on her mind, she admits the desire to travel and the adventure associated with being in the service were certainly deciding factors.
"I wanted to work a year before joining the military," said Darr, who chose to do a one-year stint as a nurse at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh after graduation. After this, it was off to basic training at Shepherd Air Force Base in Texas.
She was then assigned to a medical-surgical unit at Keesler Medical Center at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.
"Hurricane Camille, a Category 5 hurricane, came through seven months earlier," Darr said.
"It was here that I also met Jack. We also met up later in Vietnam."
"Adjusting to military life was not that difficult," Darr said. "Attending a Catholic nursing school meant curfews and strict rules, similar to what is experienced in the military."
It was during this time that Darr determined she wanted to volunteer for service in Vietnam. This caused concern in her family and especially for her father, a World War II veteran.
Darr arrived in Vietnam in 1971 and was assigned to the U.S. military base at Cam Ranh Bay. It was an area also occupied by the Marines, Navy and Army and a major port for supplies and personnel going in and out of the country.
The Cam Ranh Bay Air Force Base had served as the largest in-country Air Force hospital. It also functioned as a casualty staging facility.
"Rank mattered little in my job," Darr said. "I was a first lieutenant and some nurses who were captains and majors outranked some doctors. We functioned as a medical team and certain military protocols just didn't fit for hospitals."
Although Darr admits her service made a difference to those fighting in Vietnam, she is quick to credit her counterparts who served as Army nurses.
"They handled the greatest number and most severe casualties," she noted.
Darr says medical treatment in Vietnam reached a much higher level than previous wars because of the rapid evacuation of casualties from the battlefield to the hospitals -- a practice first begun in the Korean War. The most severe were then quickly transported by plane to surgical hospitals outside the country, she added.
As the keynote speaker for the 11 a.m. Bluff City Cemetery ceremony on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, Darr says she will be sharing memories of her service in Vietnam. It is a program that will also commemorate the 50th anniversary of the entry of combat troops into Vietnam. Darr will also include her personal memories of attending the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington, D.C. in 1993.
Situated near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, this memorial is another reminder of the conflict that dragged on from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s and claimed the lives of 58,282 military personnel.
"We should not forget that the number included eight women," noted Darr. "The death count on the wall may have been higher had it not been for the expert medical care the casualties received."