Preserving Our Past, Capitalizing on the Present, Embracing the Future

Highlights in the History of the Army Nurse Corps, 1960 to 1990

Army nursing in Vietnam actually began in April 1956 when three members arrived in Saigon, sent by the Army to train South Vietnamese nurses about the latest procedures and techniques. A few years later, hostilities in the Republic of Vietnam set the tone for the 1960s as the Army responded to the needs of that nation.

Trauma care specialization as well as shock/trauma units developed from this experience. Nursing care reflected this increased sophistication. Continued progress in medical evacuation made Vietnam casualty careintensive care nursing the standard rather than the exception. Evacuation by helicopter brought wounded military personnel to medical units within minutes of flying time. This not only transported patients from the battle locations fifty percent faster than in the Korea conflict, but also provided triage and resuscitative services for casualties. During the eleven-year period between March 1962 and March 1973, peak nurse corps strength in South Vietnam reached over nine hundred officers in 1969. It is estimated that approximately five thousand served in Vietnam.

The progressive nature of the buildup in Vietnam placed unique demands on the Army Nurse Corps. To meet requirements there and throughout the world, several recruitment strategies were authorized. A short-lived Warrant Officer Program and a short-term draft of male nurses were implemented. Both were unpopular and failed to access the required numbers. In the end, the Army Student Nurse Program and the Walter Reed Institute of Nursing educated the desired number of personnel, who were obligated to serve on active duty for a period of time.

The Army Nurse Corps emerged from its Vietnam experience with a renewed drive to meet and exceed the challenges of a growing profession. These officers worked in a team capacity with the doctors and corpsmen that was unmatched in civilian hospitals.

Professional inservice educational programs for advanced training in clinical specialties, advanced staff courses, postgraduate programs and long-term civilian education at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate levels were available at Army expense. The organization enhanced quality of care through clinical specialization and expanded nursing roles. Courses ranging from 16 weeks to 2 years in length, educated eight categories of nursing specialists. By 1976, in concert with the ANA’s position regarding entry into practice, all newly commissioned officers on active duty were required to possess a baccalaureate degree.

During this time, army nurses supported several humanitarian missions, which included the following: in 1961, members cared for crash victims of United Airlines Flight 759 near Denver; in 1962 and in 1963, ANC officers were airlifted to Iran and to Yugoslavia, respectively, to aid earthquake victims; in 1964,members aided victims of a violent earthquake in Alaska; in 1965, the healthcare professionals responded to the Dominican Republic Crisis; in 1970, after an insurrection in Jordan, male Army nurses participated in relief operations; in 1975, army nurses assisted Vietnamese refugees movement to the US; in 1976, members cared for Cuban refugees; in 1982, these officers accompanied the first contingent of U.S. troops to the Sinai; and in 1989, they supported relief efforts in the Virgin Islands following Hurricane Hugo.

 Left from top:
  Triage in a Vietnam MUST unit
  1st Lt. Dorothy Williams (Rt.) and Capt. Doris Fry with the
      8th Evacuation Hospital in Qazvin, Iran, 1963
 Right from top:
  "Dustoff" aeromedical evacuation flight patient is unloaded
  Walter Reed Institute of Nursing students with instructor
  A painting of Army nurses caring for refugee patients in
        Guam during Operation New Life in 1975
Text by ANCA Historian COL (Ret.) C. J. Moore; Photos courtesy of the Army Medical Department Center of History and Heritage