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

93rd Evacuation Hospital: Army Nursing Serving during the TET Offensive

© Constance J. Moore
Colonel, ANC (Retired), ANCA Historian

 93rd Evacuation Hospital, Long Binh, VietnamVietnamese revolutionaries launched the Tet Offensive, a series of audacious attacks against cities, towns, and military bases in South Vietnam, during late January and February 1968. One of the enemy's thrusts was launched in the Long Binh-Bien Hoa area. The huge military complex had several critical assets, such as U.S. Army Vietnam headquarters, Bien Hoa Air Base, the mammoth Long Binh Logistics Depot, and the largest and busiest health complex in Vietnam, the 93rd Evacuation Hospital.1 At that 400-bed medical facility, heavy casualties began arriving at 0345 hours and continued unceasingly for the next thirty days.2

During this critical period, over 1000 major procedures were performed in the operating room, necessitating running seven operating tables, sometimes through the night and into the next day as the need arose.3 Operating room nurses industriously set up rooms, tore down cases, ran for supplies, and performed some minor surgeries throughout the long days and nights to free up surgeons for more complicated cases. All were astonished and shocked by the massive trauma cases they were attempting to fix. Surgical nurses were also confronted with the sudden loss of indigenous civilian personnel who had sterilized instruments, assembled instrument packs, and restocked supplies cabinets in the busy operating rooms. Valuable manpower, nurse and corpsmen alike, had to be diverted to assume these tasks.4

Other hospital staff also felt the brunt of Tet. One intensive care nurse5 remembered, "Casualties varied from a trickle to a downpour. There was no such thing as working shifts. It went on for endless days and days and days. I didn't know where they could be coming from. I didn't know there were that many people in country." To manage bed capacity, nurses were constantly moving patients, preparing them for transport to Japan, to the United States, or return to duty. The medical team never knew when the next large group of casualties would require the beds of the less critically injured and wounded. To further complicate military patient management, large numbers of wounded civilian and enemy combatants were also brought to the hospital. This caused the facility to expand by 100 beds and reorganize how the care was provided to meet this critical need.6

In this guerrilla war, everyone and everything was a fair target — even the hospital. Many patients and staff members owe their lives to good sandbagging and bunkering. However, when the shelling came too near, nurses had to protect their patients as best they could. They placed them beneath beds or mattresses, and often gave the patients their personal helmets. If electricity outages occurred, nurses protected their vulnerable patients by running emergency generators to keep lifesaving equipment operational.

By March 1968, the Tet Offensive ended with defeat for the Communists.7 Army nurses assigned to the 93rd Evacuation Hospital worked relentlessly to handle the mission, when they were challenged by the profound frustrations of personnel and equipment shortages, the large patient-to-nurse ratio, and the long 12-plus-hour shifts. Despite all these trials, there was one constant for these officers — the devotion to providing excellent nursing care.

  1. Headquarters, 93rd Evacuation Hospital, Unit History and Information, (93rd Evacuation Hospital, 1965), 1.
  2. Harrington, J. “The Tet Offensive at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital,” 93rd Evacuation Hospital Quarterly Newsletter 1968 (Mar 31), 12.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Parrish, M., “The megahospital during the Tet Offensive,” USARV Medical Bulletin, 1968 (Jan-Feb), 81.
  5. Salle, M. “Vietnam nursing: The experience lives on,” Military Medicine.;col1 (Accessed Sep 29, 2011).
  6. Harrington, J. “The Tet Offensive at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital,” 93rd Evacuation Hospital Quarterly Newsletter 1968 (Mar 31), 12.
  7. Edwin Moise, The Tet and its Aftermath. The Vietnam War Series, Section 8, (Accessed Oct 5, 2011).