A crowd of around 80 gathered in the Brown Lupton University Union auditorium Nov. 8. The event, part of the Discovering Global Citizenship series, was hosted by Dr. Kara Vuic of the history and women and gender studies departments.
Evans, who co-founded the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in 1984, served as a nurse in the Army Nurse Corps during the war.
She said she wondered why veterans received second-class care while in medical school. It troubled her why the people who risked their lives weren’t receiving the rightful care that they deserved, so upon graduation from nursing school, Evans joined the Army Nurse Corps at the age of 21.
She served a total of six years, and she spent one year in Vietnam. In Vietnam, she served in the burn unit of the 36 Evacuation Hospital in Vung Tau and at Pleiku in the 71 Evacuation Hospital – just 10 to 20 minutes from the battlefield via helicopter.
“No hospital was safe in Vietnam,” she said. “Those bullets were marked ‘no nurses.’”
Around 11,000 women served in the Vietnam War, according to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation. Ninety percent of those women who went to Vietnam were nurses, and as Evans described, were right in the middle of the battlefield.
Evans vividly described one of the nights that she endured in March of 1969. She recalled it as a nightmare.
She said was on the brink of sleep where suddenly, sirens started going off in the middle of the night. In the middle of the jungle, she was forced to deal with the sights of flashing red warning signs in the pitch-black hospital, the smells of “jungle rot” and vomit, and the sounds of sirens and artillery. Wounded soldiers, as well as Vietnamese children, were piling into the hospital room where she had to tend to them with only a single flashlight.
She managed to get 27 IV’s started that night in the dark.
“I would pray for grace and I would say, ‘Please God, help me get through this day,’” she said. Praying allowed her to remain calm when she so often was facing adversity, she said.
The time that she spent in Vietnam is not something she would do over again, considering the backlash those who returned from the war faced back home, she said.
Back in the United States, Vietnam veterans were mistreated and abused by citizens, Evans said. The women especially were targeted for being in a “man’s war.”
It was after she attended the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial located in Washington D.C. in 1982 that she began her push to create the women’s memorial.
Because women’s work in the war wasn’t represented in art or in the media, any attempt to do so received major backlash. The thought of a separate memorial for women was inflammatory to many. Evans said she received numerous death threats and was verbally assaulted whenever she traveled.
It took from 1984 until 1993 for Evans to get the memorial approved by Congress. “The country does care about us,” she said, referring to women in America. “It was a grassroots movement.”
November 11, 1993 – Veterans Day – was the day the Vietnam Women’s Memorial was dedicated on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
The memorial is the only monument on the Mall that is dedicated to women.
“The day of the dedication was just jubilation,” Evans said. “Looking out in the crowd and seeing these women veterans crying and hugging… their sense that they had finally been honored gave me the greatest satisfaction.”
Evans continues to be active in the veterans’ community. She is the founder and president of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation, for which she continues to travel around the country to speak about her experiences.
She also advocates for veterans who struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, advocating for their proper care, health care and jobs upon retirement.
“It takes a community to welcome home vets,” she said. “We need to help and take care of them.”