Vietnam Women’s Memorial reaches new generations 30 years after dedication

'Your legacy lives in us'

BY JEFF STOFFER

THE AMERICAN LEGION | MARCH 2024

The critics have faded into history. New generations are inspired. Women veterans of the Vietnam War, regardless of duty station or assignment, feel connected and appreciated, often after years of doubt. These are among the effects of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Questioned, opposed and even ridiculed at the time of its genesis, the project took a decade of convincing and steadfast support from The American Legion to reach Nov. 11, 1993, and its nationally televised dedication on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Thirty years later, the memorial – relentlessly spearheaded by Vietnam War combat nurse a.nd American Legion member Diane Carlson Evans – was a cause to be celebrated during Veterans Day 2023 observances on the National Mall. As keynote speaker for the official Observance at the Wall, Carlson Evans reflected on the years leading up to the accomplishment. “The journey began smoothly until the adversaries saw we were serious and began fighting us at every step,” she told a crowd of hundreds, including American Legion National Vice Commander Mark Shreve. “Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘First they ignore you.’ They did. ‘Then they laugh at you.’ They did. ‘Then they fight you.’ They did. ‘Then you win.’ That’s our 10-year story. We won.”

She noted that the road to dedication was often rocky, but “looking back on those 10 years, I remember we never gave up on a patient in Vietnam, (and) we’ll never give up on honoring and remembering all those in the military who served and sacrificed. We knew how to get a job done.”

Women who were not yet born at the time ofthe Vietnam War spoke of how the memorial has inspired them. “The women who served in the Vietnam War played a vital role in helping the country to change and grow,” Army Capt. Danielle Craig said during a Nov. 10 candlelight ceremony. “They showed that women could serve in other capacities, such as combat roles. They also helped break down barriers and stereotypes about women. The women of the Vietnam War are role models for us all. They showed us that we can make a difference in the world, no matter our gender or background.”

Army Col. Courtney M. Sugai, whose uncle was a Vietnam War medic and father was a veteran of the war, expressed her thanks “for the freedom earned by my ancestors and … for the opportunity to challenge myself, to dream and to achieve. As you lCJ’®k at the faces on the bronze figures of this Vietnam Women’s Memorial, they don’t have the same facial expressions you see on other memorials on the National Mall. They are not 30 feet tall. They are not mounted on a horse. They are not standing heroically on top of a pedestal. Their expressions are a combination of compassion, grit, grief and hope.”

She described the statue sculpted by Glenna Goodacre, who died in 2020, as a “memorial to real women, who looked ordinary on the outside but were bolder and braver than they had to be, and stronger than most wanted them to be. I have visited this memorial several times over the course of my Army career. Whether I visited on Veterans Day or Memorial Day, or stopped by while jogging, I am continually inspired … because of how it connects me to warriors of the past, who paved the way for soldiers like me …. I am a combat veteran of 23 years. I am inspired by these women’s refusal to surrender and grateful for their relentless fight for the honor they deserved. Your legacy lives in us.”

Jeff Reinbold, superintendent of the National Mall and memorial parks for the National Park Service, told the crowd the memorial has been a major attraction. “Thirty years ago, visitation on the National Mall was 4 million. Today, we are at 36 million …. Sacred sites like the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial promote a spirit of unity and remembrance, giving all of us a place to ecognize those who have served, and those who continue to serve, our great nation.”

Among the names on the Wall are eight belonging to women who lost their lives in the war. The Vietnam Women’s Memorial honors the 10,000-plus who served in-country as well as more than 265,000 women who served around the world at the time, military and otherwise.

Linda Pugsley, a pastor and chaplain who served as an Air Force flight nurse during the Vietnam War, described the memorial as a “symbol of honor and strength, the symbol about what is right about America, not what is wrong, the symbol of the finest threads of America’s cloth.”

Retired Army Nurse Corps Lt. Col. Janis Nark told of her first encounter with the memorial, in figurine form a year before its dedication, during the 10th anniversary of the Wall. “I did two things I had never done before. I came alone, and I came in uniform. I’d been here a few times before, but I never wore anything and I never said anything that would identify me as a Vietnam vet. It was exceedingly easy to be invisible. And that’s what I was. That’s exactly what I wanted to be … right up until the moment I didn’t want to be that anymore.”

When visitors saw her in uniform, “it was astonishing,” she said. “People came up to me. They hugged me. They held me. They thanked me. Some just smiled through tears as they tried to speak. They wanted to let me know they were grateful …. I was surprised by all this recognition.” Then, when she saw a miniature version of Goodacre’s sculpture, she had a premonition:
“This memorial is going to spark as many stories as there are stars in the sky …. This is the memorial that will reach out to the women veterans of Vietnam and say, ‘We know you. We’ve been there, too. Come on home.’ And ‘come on home’ means showing up and coming to peace with our memories of war.”

At the podium, under a brilliant blue sky, Carlson Evans talked of the memorial’s legacy. “What has transpired in the last 30 years? The Vietnam Women’s Memorial has impacted our healing, instructed historians of women’s roles during the Vietnam War, changed the imagery and conversations of who serves in the military, and prompted schoolchildren at the direction of their teachers to write letters – hundreds of them – handed to women veterans on honor flights, bringing joy and smiles, to their faces.”

She spoke of growing influence among women veterans since its arrival. “Thirty years since the dedication, we reflect on how extraordinarily those women have contributed since their service … They stepped up to fight for comprehensive gender-specific needs of women at Vet Centers and VA medical centers across the United States. They fought for benefits for service­connected illness or injury. They lobbied-for wo􀁉en to be included in research on PTSD and Agent Orange and other toxic exposures. Vietnam women veterans have proven we are not shrinking violets. We paved the way for the next generations and celebrate the advancement of women to their highest aspirations.”

She closed by recognizing the need to “pass the torch” to new generations, “leaving our legacies to you, linking the past to the future,” and quoted former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., who said at the 1993 dedication:

“Perhaps the most enduring aspect of this memorial will be its impact on the future. It says something profound about what vigorous, courageous and determined individuals can do in times of crisis. What a marvelous example it will be for coming generations of young American women. Hopefully, it will inspire them to dream, to strive, to challenge adversity and not be intimidated by peril. What a magnificent legacy for the women who served during the Vietnam War to leave to our great republic.”

Jeff Stoffer is director of media and communications for The American Legion.

Tribute to Lt. Lane

During the Nov. 10 smartphone-lit ceremony at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, retired Col. Jane Carson, who was head nurse on duty at an evacuation hospital in Chu Lai when Lt. Sharon Lane was struck and killed by shrapnel at age 25 on June 8, 1969, recited a version of Col. Maude Smith’s poetic tribute to their fallen comrade. “It was very hard, as you can imagine, to lose any soldier,” Carson told attendees. “But to lose one right in the middle of the hospital – and you can’t save them – it was devastating. We had a memorial service for her on the 10th, sent her body home accompanied by one of our officers, and went back to work. We packed that down for years.”

I am Lt. Lane.
Do you remember me?
I was taken from your midst Beyond the Chi􀀍a Sea. Yes, I am Sharon Lane, And I am with them,
The very many thousand, valiant
Young men. I am with them now
Where it is ever more serene.

In the cause of freedom and man’s epic search For truth, we only plea that you will think it carefully through
Before another brutal war claims other young folk, too. I was caring for a soldier, leaning over his bed,
A piece of shrapnel struck my neck, and in seconds, I was dead.
I didn’t even have a chance to breathe a good-bye, to gesture, to scream, or to say a prayer, or cry.
It happened very suddenly a long time ago
But I’m not regretful, I want you to know.
Enjoy Earth’s awesome wonder
The while that you are there.
Yes, I am Sharon Lane.
Love binds me to you yet,
As it does to gallant men,
Lest we forget.

Get Your Copy of Diane Carson Evans' book! Available in the MMM Store.

Read the moving and personal story of her journey after being a nurse in the Vietnam war.

Montana Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day

Press Release
Montana Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, March 29, 2024.
FORT HARRISON/ HELENA, MT, March 20, 2024   

Montana, a Proud Partner with The U.S.A. Vietnam War Commemoration, is commemorating Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29, 2024, throughout the State.   This is a Vietnam War 50th Anniversary Commemorative Event sponsored by The Montana Governor’s Office, the Montana Department of Military Affairs, The Montana Military Museum, American Legion Post #2 (Lewis & Clark Post), the Oro Fino  Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Veterans Administration (See www.vietnam50th.org.) “Proud partner(s) with The U.S. A. Vietnam War Commemoration”.

Helena Area Activities:  A program is scheduled to be conducted at the Montana Capital Complex and in the Capitol Rotunda on March 29th, 2024. This program will be a combination of Veterans Honor Walk starting from 6th and Robert, around the Capitol Building to the Freedom Tree and after a wreath laying ceremony moving into the Capitol Rotunda. 

The Governor’s annual proclamation plus other correspondence from the Veterans community will be read. Kenneth Rosenbaum., a   U.S.  Army Veteran of the Vietnam War will be our guest speaker.  Upon his arrival at Pleiku, Vietnam, Captain Kenneth  ‘Rosey’ Rosenbaum was assigned as a new Army helicopter pilot to the 189th Assault Helicopter Company (AHC) “Ghostriders”, 52nd Combat Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Brigade. 

After surviving many hundreds of combat assault insertions and combat support hours flying the ‘Huey’, or the Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopter.  The UH-1 was a multipurpose utility helicopter widely used during the Vietnam War.  It was developed in the mid-1950s and shipped to Vietnam in 1958.  It performed various roles , such as medical evacuation, troop transport and attack.  The Huey was pivotal and defining feature of the War, shaping military tactics and influencing US military culture.

Rosenbaum came home and continued to fly with the Montana Army National Guard in Helena, Montana. His career flying included the smaller scout helicopters such as the OH-58 Kiowa and the AH-1 “Cobra” and   AH-64 “Apache” gunships. 

Rosy was one of the pilots that actually flew the Huey ‘Helena Gunship on the Pole’ at the airport. He completed his 28 years flying with over 1000 hours in the Blackhawk helicopter. He was a career test pilot and evaluator as a Chief Warrant Officer 4 (CW4). 

Like all Vietnam veterans, Rosy is now retired at 75 with lots of aviation memories both good and some not so good. Currently He is serving as the American Legion Commander of Post 2 here in Helena, Montana. 

Ken is married to Cindy and they have been blessed with  4 sons and now 28 Grand and great grandchildren.   Others in the family have also served.

Come and help us recognize our Vietnam Veterans, Families and Friends.

A reminder as to the schedule: 

1000-1030 – Gather in front of the Montana Historical Society. Corner of 6th and Roberts.  Parking is available around the Capital complex.  Instructions and route of march will be  provided. The March will begin at NLT 1030 and conclude at the Freedom Tree where the marchers will place a Wreath at the POW/MIA memorial Honor Walk will be on the sidewalks only.

The Rotunda Ceremony will start at 1100 hours.  Vietnam Veterans, Gold Star Families, POW-MIA families can receive a 50th Anniversary Pin for attending. 

INFORMATION: In 2011 the 62nd Montana Legislature enacted into law House Bill 255, entitled, “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day”.   The act established that annually on March 30th that Montana should recognize and thank its Vietnam Veterans with appropriate tributes.

This date was chosen based on the language of the 1973 Vietnam Peace Accords, in where the United States agreed to remove the remaining military units from the Republic of Vietnam within 60 days of signing that document.  Approximately 5500 personnel remained in Vietnam on March 29th, 1973.  Based on travel, March 30th was the arrival date in the US.      

In 2011, the United States Senate passed a congressional measure recognizing the 30 of March 2011, and every year to follow.  The Montana Legislature simultaneously acted with the passage of HB 255.  This established the day following the official end day of United States military presence in RVN.

Public Law 115-15 dated March 28, 2017, amended Title 4, United States Code, to encourage the display of the Flag on National Vietnam war Veterans Day.  Stated,” Be it enacted by the Senate And House of representatives of the United States of American.

in Congress assembled” Section 1, Short Title.  This act may be cited as the “Vietnam War Veterans recognition Act of 2017.”  Section 6(d) of Title 4, United States Code, is amended by inserting “National Vietnam Veterans Day, March 29;” after “third Monday in February;” Approved March 28, 2017. 

This effectively moved the official date of Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day to March 29, [each year].  This year’s date fall on Monday, March 29, 2021.

Montana state/community level event(s) are encouraged to recognize the over 36,000 Montana men and women who served in the Republic of Vietnam from 1959-1975.   

267 Montana men paid the ultimate price either killed in action (KIA) or died

from non-hostile causes during this period.  Twenty-two (22) Montanans were originally recognized as Prisoners of War (POW) and/or Missing in Action (MIA). 

Today five of our Montana POW/MIA’s has been returned home and efforts to locate and return the remainder go on day by day.    

Currently there are over 30,000 Vietnam Era  men and women veterans who call Montana home today.  This is as of September 2023 (reference VA. Gov statistics).  This number includes Vietnam veterans who have moved to the Big Sky after the close of the Vietnam War. Questions:  Call 406-235-0290/406-458-9847