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Officer, Nurse, Woman

The Army Nurse Corps in the Vietnam War

"‘I never got a chance to be a girl,’ Kate O’Hare Palmer lamented, thirty-four years after her tour as an army nurse in Vietnam. Although proud of having served, she felt that the war she never understood had robbed her of her innocence and forced her to grow up too quickly. As depicted in a photograph taken late in her tour, long hours in the operating room exhausted her both physically and mentally. Her tired eyes and gaunt face reflected th e weariness she felt after treating countless patients, some dying, some maimed, all, like her, forever changed. Still, she learned to work harder and faster than she thought she could, to trust her nursing skills, and to live independently. She developed a way to balance the dangers and benefits of being a woman in the army and in the war. Only fourteen months long, her tour in Vietnam profoundly affected her life and her beliefs."

Such vivid personal accounts abound in historian Kara Dixon Vuic’s compelling look at the experiences of army nurses in the Vietnam War. Drawing on more than 100 interviews, Vuic allows the nurses to tell their own captivating stories, from their reasons for joining the military to the physical and emotional demands of a horrific war and postwar debates about how to commemorate their service.

Vuic also explores the gender issues that arose when a male-dominated army actively recruited and employed the services of 5,000 nurses in the midst of a growing feminist movement and a changing nursing profession. Women drawn to the army’s patriotic promise faced disturbing realities in the virtually all-male hospitals of South Vietnam. Men who joined the nurse corps ran headlong into the army's belief that women should nurse and men should fight.

Officer, Nurse, Woman brings to light the nearly forgotten contributions of brave nurses who risked their lives to bring medical care to soldiers during a terrible—and divisive—war.

About the Author

Kara Dixon Vuic is an assistant professor of history at Bridgewater College.

Reviews

Vuic offers an important new contribution to how we understand women's participation in the U.S. military after World War II.

- Tanya L. Roth - H-Minerva, H-Net Reviews

Vuic's book is important reading for anyone wanting a more thorough understanding of more than just the Vietnam War or nursing history. Its relevance also encompasses enduring complexities of gender, cultural representations, and collective memory. Highly recommended.

- Choice

Utilizing a feminist paradigm, Kara Dixon Vuic's evocative and unique dissection of the collective gender experiences of Army Nurse Corps officers in Vietnam and its aftermath breaks new ground in the history of military nursing... I found Officer, Nurse, Woman quite intriguing. I can unreservedly recommend it as a valuable addition to the literature documenting nurse participation in the Vietnam War.

- Mary T. Sarnecky, DNSc, RN - Nursing History Review

Excellent study... The strength of this book is Vuic's main source: nurses who served in Vietnam... Officer, Nurse,Woman enriches a growing body of literature on second-wave feminism’s broad impact and successfully challenges and complicates the dominant narrative of military history and destabilizes familiar categories—especially our notions about women and war.

- Susan Gelfand Malka - Journal of American History

A well researched, well written account that will be used by professors and students who wish to understand better the complexity of gendered military service.

- D'Ann Campbell - Journal of Military History

Provides an important foundation for understanding how military women reflect social and cultural gender roles, how institutions respond to and influence gender norms, and how the response shapes and challenges our understanding of citizenship and nation... Vuic's book will be important for scholars of the time period as well as those interested in gender, women's work, nursing history, and the military.

- Julie Fairman - Bulletin of the History of Medicine

The best one volume treatment available that integrates the personal experiences of nurses with a nuanced understanding of social, political, military, gender, and women’s history alongside feminist theory.

- Minerva: Women and War

This is a wonderful book, chock full of oral history and riveting personal stories. It makes a meaningful contribution to Vietnam War and twentieth-century gender historiography.

- Penelope Adams Moon - Historian

Vuic's Officer, Nurse, Woman is an important text for those interested in the history of nursing, the history of military medicine, gender studies, military history, oral history, and studies of women's work and serves as a superb example of the usefulness of oral histories in historical analysis.

- David J. Caruso - Oral History Review

A very interesting social history that deserves to be wide read.

- Book Bargains and Previews

Endorsements

Solid, engaging, insightful scholarship. To see the effective mixing of gender history and social history with military history is refreshing and welcome. Vuic addresses a deep hole in the scholarship on the Vietnam War.

- William T. Allison, Georgia Southern University

Officer, Nurse, Woman contributes mightily to the historiography of military nurses, of women in the military, and women in the paid work force after World War II.

- Elizabeth Hillman, University of California Hastings College of the Law
Johns Hopkins University Press
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