In 1993, four years after the original 60 Minutes broadcast, the women finally got their memorial. For Diane Evans, who fought long and hard to make it happen, the dedication ceremony in 1993 meant that the women who served in Vietnam were no longer forgotten veterans.
Recently, Diane Evans recalled the unveiling: "I looked out on a sea of people and I felt this enormous sense of pride. Pride that the people in this country did get behind us, and that's why that memorial was there." Three decades after returning home from Vietnam, Evans is retired from the military and from nursing. Now she travels the country speaking about the women who went to war.
She thinks that Americans have, to a certain extent, changed their attitude toward the women who served in Vietnam. "We have come a long way, and the country has turned around," she says. "But there is still -- it's still a very emotional subject, and some people still don't want to talk about it."
The people most willing to talk about it are the men who received care.
After the original 60 Minutes segment aired, Evans was contacted by a vet named Bob McDonough, who said she had treated him. "He said 'I'll prove to you that you were my nurse'," remembers Evans. "He said, I have your picture I've been carrying it for 20 years He said 'I wanted a beer. And you brought that beer and hid it out between the sand bags outside the hospital.' And as soon as he said that, I was like, oh my goodness, it was me. Because I remember we'd do things like that, you know, we'd do anything, just do anything to make them happy or comfortable . He never forgot that."
But Evans never got to meet McDonough again in person. Last February, Evans received a phone call from his daughter saying that he had died from the effects of Agent Orange exposure. He was only 48.
Jackie Rhoads spent part of the last decade in another MASH unit, serving in another war, Desert Storm. But she quickly realized this was a very different war.
Says Rhoads: "It was a hundred-hour war. We saw 12 American G.I.'s, and those GI's who were there had been -- most of them had been souvenir hunting . And because of shifting sands in Saudi Arabia, a lot of ammunition was covered over. And so they were stepping on unexploded ammunition, and a lot of them received injuries that way."
She saw 12 in an entire war. In her other war, there were days when she saw hundreds. Coming home from Desert Storm, she was showered with praise. It made her uncomfortable: "The feeling I had was one of maybe embarrassment, or maybe a little guilt . People were cheering us . And many of us were not exposed to real actual combat."
Through all the celebrations Rhoads kept thinking about one soldier in Vietnam who brought his best friend to the field hospital.
"They had been on patrol. His friend had stepped on a land mine," recalls Rhoads, who recently retired from the military after 30 years of service. "And, of course, he was blown to bits. His best friend knelt down and picked up pieces of his body, put them in a black plastic bag, and then walked 12 miles to our emergency room to make sure that his friend came back home. And I thought of that. I -- I thought of that man, because he never stayed. He, as soon as he made sure his friend was registered in Graves Registration, he turned around, and he walked back down this road leading to God knows where. And I still think about him, and wonder if you know, wonder what happened to him."
Patty Langford, who married fellow veteran Pat McGarvey, has been haunted by her experience. In 1994, while working as a nurse in a local veteran's clinic, she began suffering flashbacks of Vietnam. She says they were triggered by her job: "I was not in a war situation. I was in a situation where the veterans, the same guys now, of course a lot older, were coming in to me and I was making life and death decisions about their health care."
It overwhelmed her. Unable to continue nursing, she spent four months in a veterans trauma center trying to deal with the flashbacks, and with the death of her first husband, Lieutenant Russell Reinel: "Why did he die, and I was left to live? I've become more spiritual over the years, and been asking for help from higher up to figure--answer some of these questions."
Jackie, Diane and Patty all still carry emotional baggage from Vietnam, and still maintain a bond with that time and that place. They were, Jackie says, the best years of her life: " The best. I think because I gave everything that I had."
Diane Evans thinks about her Vietnam experience every day: "It's always with me. There are some days I just wish it would go away. But I've come to terms with the fact that it's not going to go away. It's part of my life. It's who I am."
Web story produced by David Kohn;