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Edie Meeks

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McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Edie Meeks
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: Shah Islam
Date of interview: 7 August 2019

(Start of Interview)

SM: 00:01
Yep, we are all set.

EM: 00:04

SM: 00:05
All right. First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to do this. This is oral history with Edie Meeks. Edie, the first question I want to ask you is, could you tell us about your background, where you grew up? Some of the early influences in your life, your family background, your schooling and high school, college before you became a nurse?

EM: 00:27
Okay, I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And I am one of four children. My other— older sister and two younger brothers. And I went to Catholic schools for 15 years. For grade school, high school and nursing school, which was St. Mary's School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota.

SM: 00:51
Okay. Wow. And how did you choose nursing? For your career? Is there a family history of nursing?

EM: 01:00
There is actually no medical family history at all. But I knew from the littlest of girls that I was going to be a nurse. And I always asked for the nurse’s kit in our Christmas from Santa.

SM: 01:15

EM: 01:16
And for the doc— not even the doctor’s kits, just the nurse’s kits. But I always knew— it was either that or a roller derby star. And I figured probably I would not do that. So, I became a nurse instead. I have always wanted to be a nurse and I still love nursing.

SM: 01:34
Are you still nursing?

EM: 01:36
Yes, I am two days a week in the operating room.

SM: 01:38
Wow. That is amazing. Yeah.

EM: 01:40
And mainly because I love it. You know, it is really, you… stay current with everything that is going on. Now they have robots and all these other things, and it keeps your sharp.

SM: 01:52
Yeah, very good. How did you end up as a nurse in Vietnam? Did you volunteer? Did you, did they send you, was your commitment to serve for so many years? And did you have any say where you were shipped once you got there?

EM: 02:09
I was… I enlisted. And I did that because my brother Tom had been drafted. And it was the beginning of… March beginning. But there was rumblings about antiwar and all that. And I did not know whether it was good or bad. So, I just decided that, you know, if my brother Tom got hurt, I wanted to be sure somebody was over there that wanted to be over there. And so, I enlisted, but then he said, because he was a Marine, he said, Edie, the Navy takes care of the Marines. And I had enlisted in the Army. So, forget that. I think he was relieved, though, that he were not his sister would not be, you know, offering the same type of service that he was. And so— and when you enlisted, because all of the nurses did. And at the time that I went over all of the nurses volunteered. So, we were just, you know, got— we were going to do our part.

SM: 03:17
So, all the nurses when they got there did not exactly know where they were going to end up. In terms of the medical facility—

EM: 03:25
No, no when you got— when you got there, you were assigned to where you were going.

SM: 03:29
Okay, very good.

EM: 03:30
And the— when I arrived, I had been dating a guy at Fort Ord. And he, he had asked the Chief Nurse if I can be stationed in Saigon where he was. And so, when he— when I arrived, he said oh, you are going to be in Saigon, because Captain Meeks was. And I thought, what? Yeah, I was kind of forward, but anyway. And when I stayed in Saigon at Third Field Hospital, for six months, in the intensive care unit. And then I found that, actually, I broke up with Bill because, Bill Meeks, because it was too schizophrenic. I mean, you work 12 hours a day, six days a week. And you were taking care of these really horribly injured guys. And then you were supposed to go out to dinner and have small talk. And at the time, Saigon still had four-star hospitals. I mean, [inaudible] restaurant. So, you could go to the top of, you know, the Continental Hotel and, and all of these fancy restaurants. And it was like, I cannot do that after 12 hours of taking care of these guys, you know, from the field. So, I just told him, I could not see him anymore, that you became so tight with the unit that you worked with. But it just seemed bizarre going out.

SM: 05:07
Right. One of the things I have always thought about for any soldier or nurse or anyone that went to Vietnam and came back, could you— could you describe your weeks leading up to your travel to Vietnam? What was going through your mind? Were you aware of the conditions that you might be facing once you arrived there?

EM: 05:29
I do not think anyone was aware of the conditions you would be facing. Or the injuries. I mean, I had done… that I— did not go right out of nursing school, I had gone to North Central British Columbia to a 46-bed hospital there and worked for a little over a year. And then I went down to California and worked there for a few months. And that was when I decided I was going to join the army. And so, I had worked emergency rooms, and, you know, serious stuff. And I thought I could handle anything. But when I got over there, these guys were so young. And they were just blown to bits.

SM: 06:16

EM: 06:18
And it took me years to figure out what, what was out of kilter. It was, because when, in the emergency room, everything makes sense. You know, a big fat guy comes in with a heart attack or kid without a helmet has a head injury and, you know, falling out of a tree to have a broken bone. All of these things made sense. Whereas over there, these were perfectly healthy guys that were being loaned the best. And it just did not make sense at all.

SM: 06:51
When you arrived—

EM: 06:53
[inaudible] coming— but go ahead.

SM: 06:55
When you arrived in Vietnam, you are not— you have seen in women, probably in movies, and I have read in books about what it was like when you first got off the plane. First time ever in Vietnam, the… the environment, the heat, did you feel that?

EM: 07:14
Actually, no, it just may not seem strange, but I just talked to a lot of people. But in getting off the plane, the only thing I can say is that the Earth felt so negative, so injured. Just, just the ground under which everybody was walking. And I bet that was exactly what I felt. Was that the earth was hurting over there. And, but I— and I really had no idea what I was getting into. And I said yes, I will do intensive care. And they said, great. And you— really none of the nurses really knew what they were getting into over there.

SM: 08:04
What kind of medical unit or hospital did you work in. Real emergency room only? Or were— and were their several—

EM: 08:12
So, I did intensive… intensive care, that is what I did, which is different from emergency room

SM: 08:16

EM: 08:18
That is after they go to surgery. And they come back, and we have to stabilize them, and then either they are sent to a ward, or they are sent to Japan. And… sometimes we would have to stabilize them before they went to surgery, if they came in, really a wreck. So, it just depended on what we got. You know?

SM: 08:41
The— when did you meet Diane Carlson Evans? Who became your hooch mate? And was that rate early on or halfway through your time there how—

EM: 08:55
It was first week through. And what I found was that you did not go over as a unit, a hospital unit. People were inserted, you know, people would come and go, and you form these bonds with people and then maybe four months into your being there, they would leave. And I found that several of the people that I was closest with, were going to leave about, the seventh month that I was there, but see, I am going to leave first. You go someplace else, maybe it will be better someplace else. So, I said to them, I do not care where I go, I will just go someplace. And so, they sent me to play coup, which is in the central highlands. And Diane actually had been in country six months also and she was making a switch and we arrived on the same day as the 71st evac and play coup, and both being from Minnesota we formed a wonderful bonds right away. So that was nice and lived in the same home which—

SM: 10:00
And your basically— your responsibilities were the same as nurses.

EM: 10:08
What do you mean by that? We are nurses.

SM: 10:10
Yeah. But I mean that emerg— not emergency room nurses, but the ones that are really—

EM: 10:16
Oh, you mean that? Yeah, I did intensive care there.

SM: 10:20
Yes-yes. That is what I was— What— this is kind of a general question. But people that will be listening to these things or, you know, learning about the war. And so, could you describe what a typical day would have been for a nurse in Vietnam? Number of hours you worked, you know, was it consistent wound— heavily wounded people? Just a typical day.

EM: 10:50
We worked 12 hours a day, six days a week, and then— these— it was from seven in the morning till seven at night or seven at night till seven in the morning. And your workload varied. For instance, one night I worked, and the other gal who was supposed to be there, they usually had two RMS on its night, had not come back from R&R yet. I guess the plane got delayed or something. And so, we could manage the amount that we had in one side of intensive care. The other side was the recovery room. With the corpsman that I had; we could handle that. But then we heard that we were getting six guys. And they were all pretty severely wounded. So, we, you know, got ready. And I had to tell one corpsman that he had to take care of everybody over on the intensive care side, let me know if anything was going on that I needed to know about, that— that I was going to have to be available for the troops coming in. And so, we received four of those six. And one of them was the captain. And he had such severe abdominal pain that he just could not, we were trying to stabilize him before he went to surgery. And he just could not make it. He went into cardiac arrest and died. But what was interesting about that was the— as the evening went on, because we heard about this, maybe eight o'clock, nine o'clock at night, you know, one— every once in a while, the corpsman that worked there with Scott [inaudible]. How is it going? [inaudible] Oh, let me help out! Priests, and almost all of them were there working. Now a lot of them had worked before, you know. And here they were putting in until everything became stabilized enough, which was maybe one or two o'clock in the morning. And then he had to come to work the next morning. But this is what everybody did. We just did the most you could for these guys who were injured.

SM: 13:13
The— how many nurses overall served in Vietnam between, when the whole period was that we were over there?

EM: 13:21
I think it was between eight— eight— seven and eight— and eight thousand. I do not think the thing is that they did not keep track of them. Diane, you know, ask the Pentagon for the names of the nurses who served at— the Pentagon told her no women were over there.

SM: 13:41
Oh my god.

EM: 13:44
Right. So, they did not keep track of the women at all. I mean, our names might have been on the list, but we were not looked at as women.

SM: 13:53
Oh, my goodness now.

EM: 13:55
So, there were I think between, I think around 8000 who served in the war zone? In the army anyway. Yeah.

SM: 14:06
We know that— I think there is there were nine that were killed that were— their names are on the wall. And did they keep track of safe for— nurses that were injured? You know, we talked about the 58,200 and some that had died in Vietnam that are on the wall. But there is no known really record of the number of people that were injured in the war with lifelong injuries, mental hit situations and so forth. Did they keep track of any of that with the nurses?

EM: 14:38
No, I do not think many nurses were injured. I know that one of the nurses was killed when they were attacked, you know, with rockets. And I think her ward was hit directly and she was killed.

SM: 14:56
That was Sharon Lane, I think.

EM: 14:59
Yes, yeah.

SM: 15:00

EM: 15:00
Yeah. And— but the other— it was, you know, circumstances, like one of them was on a helicopter going someplace and it got caught in wire, and the helicopter crashed. And so— and-and for injuries, I have not really heard of any nurses that were injured, the keeping track of what happened to the nurses after, they [inaudible] did not even know what to do with the females that came back. I know that there were several who went in the (19)80s, early (19)80s, for help from the VA, and there was just no help to be had. So, they put them in men's group. And the women started taking care of the man, because that is what we do. And the women got sicker and sicker. Because they were not really taking care of themselves at all. Then they started being alerted that the woman— and the woman demanded too that they receive, you know, the same good services that the men got, and slowly to me has really turned around, especially now that there are so many female soldiers that are going to need help. Because the female is going to react differently no matter what you do, than the male. I mean, the two of them can shoot the same person. And inside, they are both going to react differently. So, they really need females to just females. Females talking to males does not do it.

SM: 16:43
It leads right into my next question and why Diane created or worked hard to make sure the Women's Memorial became a reality. Why did it take so long for nurses to be recognized in the war? And I interviewed Diane a long time ago, and she came to our campus and her stories were unbelievable. But Diane's effort to create the Women's Memorial where she had to go before hearings in Washington and I heard some Congresswomen or people in politics, were saying kind of bad things to her. I mean, just your thoughts— you-you have known Diane, just the whole process of how long it took for nurses to be recognized.

EM: 17:25
Right, and luckily enough, they had Diane as the, you know, leader, because she is just tenacious, I mean, she will not give up. And if you cannot get it this way, she will go around another way. You know and try that way. And she, I mean, I would not have had the patience that she did, but she just kept going forward and forward and forward. And slowly and slowly. And the thing is that the man raised, you know, millions for the wall in three years. And the women it took 10 years and a lot of that had to do with the fact that Jan Scruggs fought us tooth and nail. He did not want that Women's Memorial on the Mall at all. And so, he if he had given us any kind of a plus, you know, then I think it would have helped a lot. But he was so anti that memorial. And even after it was built, he was anti that memorial.

SM: 18:36
Was it just him or the people that worked with him too?

EM: 18:40
I think he surrounded himself with people that were like minded.

SM: 18:44
Because I know there was Jack Wheeler, who was a power broker too. He raised funds. Sadly, he was murdered in Wilmington, Delaware about 10 years ago, but—

EM: 18:56
Oh my gosh!

SM: 18:57
But he— I do not know if you knew that.

EM: 18:59

SM: 19:00
Yeah, he is passed. He was— it is a long story. But, you know, he was the guy that raised a lot of the funds for the Vietnam Memorial, and, and he was really close to Jan. So, I do not know if he was that-that way as well. You know, you have known Diane, did she ever tell you the stories about her going before [inaudible] committees?

EM: 19:24
Oh, yes.

SM: 19:25
Yeah, I cannot believe— I saw one of them on YouTube. I could not believe how— I could not believe how they talked to her!

EM: 19:32
I know.

SM: 19:33
Could you— you-you have— you know, could you explain that? What was going on and how difficult it was for, not only to get the Women's Memorial off the ground and there might be the Jan Scruggs of the world that are against it, but what about those congress people? You know.

EM: 19:51
Well, you know, it is interesting because back in the ‘80s, things were not different than they are now. And it was almost as if, this is-this is how I perceived what was going on, was that men were the heroes, and women just cleaned up the men. And men always got the medals and always, you know, statues of heroes, heroes, heroes, heroes. And it was not until the Women's Memorial that I think fee— people really felt— the women themselves felt that they might be heroes. Because women have never been thought of like that in the United States. As heroes they might have been thought of as exceptional or— but not heroic. And the women who went over there were pretty heroic. Because they were not made to go over, they volunteered to go over. And they put up with a lot of stuff. And they did a lot of hard work, you know, seven days a week sometimes. And for me, I never felt— thought of myself as a hero until after the Women's Memorial. And my kids were saying— my-my daughter has, you know, when-when I went to Mount Holyoke to speak, it was the first time I had ever spoken about it. My daughter was going to Mount Holyoke and there was a fellow there who taught a course on Vietnam. And he would start his course by saying you women will never know what it is like to be a poor. Well, of course, my daughter is a little feminist, called me up. And he was-he was taking a course on the (19)60s. And she asked her professor, because they had eight hours on Vietnam, he— she asked her professor if I could come and speak. And the guy must have been really brave, because he said yes. And so, it was the first time I had ever spoken about it. And I went up, and my daughter said that there were maybe 70 young women there. My daughter stands up and she says, I want to introduce my mother Edie, me. She was a nurse in Vietnam, and I am so proud of her. And— well, of course, I almost collapsed. But to me, that was the first time anybody had said that. And it was later, is— the young woman came up. You are my hero. Mrs. Meeks. I was so surprised! Because my generation did not think of women as heroes. But her generation does.

SM: 23:13
Yeah, that is, well that—
EM: 23:14
That is what is good about the whole thing.

SM: 23:17
Yeah, what you are saying really is the boomer generation did not look at women as heroes.

EM: 23:22

SM: 23:23
Yeah, and it is interesting, because it was the-the women's movement was happening during the time that— yeah well at least the boomers were very young at that age. But still, it is still well, that is-that is a tremendous revelation. And you know, I have been to the Women's Memorial so many times over the years. And I have heard all the testimonies from many of the soldiers who served over there and-and I— and I have heard the constant revelation that you are heroes. You are heroes to them. And it is-and it is, you know, why were not they saying that before the Women's Memorial was built?

EM: 24:04
I think they did not know to say it. Again, the women were just supposed to clean up the mess. That is what they have done in every war.

SM: 24:14

EM: 24:15
The nurse [inaudible] the guys back to health or whatever, you know, whether it was the revolution or whatever it was. You know.

SM: 24:23
Did you—

EM: 24:24

SM: 24:25
Go ahead

EM: 24:26
Go ahead!

SM: 24:27
No, you go ahead, you can finish.

EM: 24:30
But to me that-that is really what it was about was that they did not think of these women as being heroic. And the women did not think of themselves as being heroic. They just thought, oh this is my job. You know, I consider a lot of women heroes, who take care of the guys who come back from war. That is difficult. These guys have changed. They are not the same people who left. Just to deal with everything is really tough.

SM: 25:08
When both you and Diane came home, even before the-the idea of a wall or a memorial being built, did you and Diane talk a lot after you returned from Vietnam about how all Vietnam vets, including the nurses who served in Vietnam were treated on your return by the American public and then we Diana's is set up many times you have to about you are not welcomed home, as well as most of the people who served on the battlefields is— what was hap—

EM: 25:40
We never discussed it at all. In fact, it was interesting, because after I spoke at Mount Holyoke, I called Diane and I said, oh, I did this and this and this, and the other thing. She said, do you know— realize Edie that we have known each other 23 years, and we have never discussed Vietnam? And I said, oh my God, you are right! But we never did.

SM: 26:07
Did-did was Diana, and— both you and Diane feeling that you were not welcomed home? Which was very common, right up till about—

EM: 26:15
Oh yes, yeah. I mean you never told anyone that you-that you were in Vietnam. In fact, when the Women's Memorial was going to be dedicated, somebody newfound out that I was a Vietnam vet and put a blurb in the newspaper, the little local newspaper. And people would stop me in the Grand Union, which was the grocery store, the local grocery store where everybody meets. And— my God, Edie, I have known you for 20 years. I never knew you were a nurse over there!

SM: 26:42
Oh, my God.

EM: 26:43
So, you never told anybody. And one of the reasons was— I can remember, I was in the hospital working. And this patient said to me, I heard you were in Vietnam. What was it like? And I just had to turn around and leave. I mean, there is no sound, like, that tells anyone what it was like. So, it is almost impossible to explain in 30 seconds. So, you just did not talk about it at all.

SM: 27:18
Did you feel that— you know this, that post-traumatic stress disorder was pretty common among nurses just like it was among the rest of the troops?

EM: 27:28
Oh, absolutely. Yep. Absolutely.

SM: 27:30
Yeah, and—

EM: 27:33
They were seeing things that they never would have seen in the States. And they were-they were working with people, you know. And-and hours, and seeing wounds and being rocketed, and you know, just doing things that they never would do in the United States.

SM: 27:55
Why was it so difficult for many of the people who claim they had it, to keep trying to prove it to Veterans Affairs that they had at— let me mention though, I go to the wall every year, as you well know, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, I have been going since (19)93. Have not missed— I have only missed one. That was President Barack Obama's visit, because they forced everybody to the back. I did not like all that. By the way, what did you think, I am diverting here, but what did you think of that memorial, or the Remembrance Day when President Obama was there? And I remember Diane had to walk from the back to go to the stage. Do you remember that? It was a very—

EM: 28:42
I guess I do not.

SM: 28:43
Yeah, that is only one I could not come because you had that— the security was so tight. And all the people that were—

EM: 28:47
Oh yes, I can! She was not allowed to sit close. Right-right.

SM: 28:50
Yeah, no, none of the vets were—

EM: 28:51
The guy [inaudible]

SM: 28:52
The vets were in the back and all the politicians were up in the front!

EM: 28:56
I know. I know. That is what it is all about.

SM: 29:00
Yeah. And it really got to me. But post-traumatic stress disorder, why did it take so long for the Veterans Affairs to recognize the validity of the claims made by our service— people who served in Vietnam, and I sat next to a person five years ago who came from Wash— state of Washington, and he said he is still trying to get— he is still trying to get claims because he has post-traumatic stress disorder, but he does not have the right numbers. They would go by certain numbers, and he says— and here it is— and some are still battling to be recognized that they have it.

EM: 29:39
Yep. Yep. I think it is money. 100 percent of its money. It also has to do with— I can remember when I first sent in, because Diane was the one that taught me into sending in for disability. So, I sent in, and they gave me 10 percent for hearing or something like that. She said now you go for 30 percent, because you have to keep going, you have to keep going. So, the 30 percent, you have to write up this whole thing. And I get back, denied. [inaudible] you just poured your heart out, you know, about what happened over there. And you are sitting here thinking I bet whoever read this, or did not read, it, never served. You know, some civilian who has never served, is making a judgment about whether you deserve disability or not. And the thing about disability is, you just have to be tenacious, you have to keep at it and keep at it and keep at it. Which is too bad because it is— not only do you feel that you have PTSD from the war, but after that whole thing, you feel like you have PTSD because of the VA.

SM: 31:03
Oh my gosh.

EM: 31:06
Because you are so angry at those people, for not trusting you and believing you.

SM: 31:14
Yeah, I remember going to a hearing when I first moved from California, and Bob Edgar, the former congressman, was-was he was only a two-term congressman. But the fact is that he was really involved in this particular issue. And I got to know the Vietnam vets from Penn's Landing here in Philadelphia, they are building the wall. He said, go to the meetings, I just went to the meetings. And he was pleading the case that he was trying to make a pass some sort of resolution in Washington, making sure that anybody who makes a claim for post-traumatic stress disorder gets medical coverage. And so, I heard the horror stories that all these veterans are telling about, you know, having it, claiming it and then having to prove that they had and so it is a-it is a long, long story. And I want to go into here something about that I think you have talked about many times, in— and those people who were very seriously wounded and many who were dying in the war nurses were right with them, in fact, in their arms many times and that you became— nurses oftentimes became the substitute moms. Because-because they have that here is a 19, 20-year-old male dying and… and he— they— they are talking— they want to see their mom and all this other stuff, could you talk about some a few of those experiences where that might have happened with you?

EM: 32:43
I do not think it has so much happened with me, but by the time they got to the intensive care unit, they had been pre stabilized. Some of them did die, because their infections were so great, or the wounds were so great. And I can-I can remember them asking for mom, or— and you would just be there. You know. And you really tell them whatever they wanted to hear. You know. I am here, I love you. The whole thing. Because you figure, you know, if that was my son, or if it was my brother, that is what I would want. I can remember, at one point, this gal called me up and she said, I am a Vietnam veteran. I was a nurse over there. And I am doing my PhD on post-traumatic stress with women veterans. Would you be one of the people I interviewed? I said, Sure. So, she came up to my house. She lives in this city, New York City. And she came up to my house, in Garretson, a couple of times. And then the third time she came with the final thesis. And that was the time when she started talking about herself. She never talked about herself before. And I said is there anyone that you remember that you cannot get out of your head? And she said, I remember during test. This one young man who had been— they said that he was just so injured, they did not… could not waste the time operated on him, you know, would have taken too long, and they had too many other urgent cases to do. So, they pushed him to the side. And every time she passed him, he would say, is it my turn next? And she [inaudible] to take out, it will be just— not too long now. Not too long. And every time, she said, I always wondered if in doing that I prolonged his life. Because I gave him hope, because he did die. And I said to her, your mother, what would you want for your kid? You would want somebody to recognize them. And to be kind to them. And to love them by saying, your next, your next. And then he can just go to sleep quietly. So, it is that famous thing that-that stayed with you.

SM: 35:43
Yeah, you spoke at the Vietnam Memorial this past Memorial Day. It was a fantastic presentation, number one. And number two, I think you mentioned about one particular soldier that had died, are there— you— that you had connected with some of them who had passed away? Could you-could you talk a little bit about maybe one or two of the-the soldiers that you will never forget?

EM: 36:09
The one that-that kept bothering me when I was not paying attention to PS— PTSD or anything, but that would pop up in my head was this young man from Kansas, from a farm in Kansas. And he had a really bad abdominal wall that had a terrible infection, and we just could not get ahead of that infection. We did not have the antibiotics that we have today, for one thing. And you— If I remember really, he was nineteen. And he got a letter from his mom, and he asked me to read it. So, I did. And his mom was telling about his dad coming in from— it was in October. Hunting, [inaudible] cornfield with the family dog and… and I used to do that with my family down in my Uncle Albert’s farm in Southern Minnesota. And then the mom told me a little bit about what was happening in the community. And at the very end, she said, besides that she loved him, we are so proud of you, son. And like, three days later, he died. And the thing was that you could not tell the parents anything. You know, I would have loved to have written letters to some of these parents, and say your son was so heroic in the way he died. And, you know, such a good kid. But you could not write anybody. You were not allowed.

SM: 37:44
Wow. When you returned home, did any of the… soldiers that you had help save or in intensive care, did they ever try to contact you to thank you for helping them?

EM: 38:02
No, and I have a feeling that it is because most of them were pretty out of it when they were with us in the intensive care unit. You know, we were not a stabilizing force. And if you were really, really bad we would— you had your surgery, we stabilize you until you could be shipped to Japan. And then they would form relationships with those gals. You know that? The only one that I really remember that we heard from actually that wrote us a letter was a young man who came into the emergency area. And his heart had been nicked with a boarder shrapnel or something. And they often did ‘EM: up right there and fixed it and… then he came to us. He was with us for about two weeks. And he was there over Christmas. And then he was shipped to Japan. And he wrote us back from Walter Reed and he said I am doing fine. But that was the only one we ever heard from. I do not think a lot of them knew where they were, you know, because they were either, if they were really bad off, they had a lot of narcotics to keep the pain down. Or just—

SM: 39:19
Well, that is kind of what— that is kind of what the Women's Memorial has done. Because it is brought many people to verify the experiences they had with nurses and to thank them. I have seen, you know, the programs you have in the morning and the afternoon, and it is… Over the years, there is just so many, and you see the connection between the nurse and the person that they have served, they waited on, helped.

EM: 39:48

SM: 39:49
And that-that—

EM: 39:50
It also— It also helped me quite a bit. I remember one time I was down there, because I used to go every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and I was down there to answer questions or talk to people. And [inaudible] had a patch over one arm. And it was his first time down at the wall and on this memorial, and… So, we started chatting, and he was from New Jersey and… and I— he said, well, where were you stationed? I said Third Field Hospital, he said, I went through there! Now, we did not have a neurosurgeon. So, if you had a head injury, you were shipped out right away. But they stabilized him in the emergency area, and then shipped him out to Japan, because he did have a head injury. And with a lot of head injuries, when you saw these guys, you think, I do not know if we are doing them a favor. But here was this fellow, he had lost his eye. But he had his own business, he has three girls, three daughters. You know, he lived a good life. And I said, thank you for being here. Because some of the patients that we had, I used to think, are we doing them a favor? And it is nice to see that those you know, we worked so hard for actually did have a good life.

SM: 41:17
Good. Very good. That is, that is unbelievable. That is a great story. And I honestly, you were working these unbelievable hours, six days a week, 12, 12 hours? Where did you go for rest and relaxation? Did you have opportunities for— what was R&R to you? And how often were you allowed to have it.

EM: 41:42
We had art, we were allowed two [inaudible]. And the first one I took with my roommate from Saigon. And we went to Hong Kong. Now this was toward the end of— I think it was the beginning of December that we went. And, you have to remember this is like five months with no shopping.

SM: 42:09
Ha-ha, oh no!

EM: 42:10
Honestly, you felt like throwing your money on the street and saying give me anything!


EM: 42:25
[inaudible] really interesting. We had our hair done, you know, [inaudible], and bought presents for home, that kind of thing. The better one I took with Diane, and we went to Thailand, to Bangkok. And that was interesting because you take a boat up the river and see the— but again, it was so surreal that you would leave these guys who kept coming in and kept coming in, whether I was there or not, you know? And you go and vacation! And then you back! And I thought it must be even more bizarre for these guys who are in the field, who leave for R&R and then come back and then they are in the field again. You know, it is, it is such— it was such a bizarre thing. But interesting. I got to go to Hong Kong and Bangkok! So…

SM: 43:22
Those are— with— now— remember I asked you a question how you felt that first time you got off the plane when you landed in Vietnam. And I am now asking the question of when you are leaving. When did you return— when-when did you return home? And could you describe your last few days what you were thinking in your final day, getting on the plane, and flying back? What were you thinking about? And how did it differ from your feelings when you arrived in Vietnam?

EM: 43:56
Planning to leave, you almost felt like you needed to re-up for another year. Because you felt like you had not finished. I mean, you could not finish, you know. And you— I really had to make myself go home. But, in just in this last July, because I went home in July. And it was the 50th anniversary of the person landing on the moon. The night before I left Vietnam, they landed on the moon. And I happened to be in I think it was Cameron Bay waiting for the flight the next morning. Or wherever it was, I cannot even remember where it was that I flew out, but it was not the hospital. And somebody came out of the officer's mess and said oh, come you have to see this! They are landing on the moon! And I said why would I want to see that? That is nothing. Guys are dying over here. Why aren't people paying attention? To me, the landing on the Moon was nothing. And for years, I could not watch that. There was nothing. People should have been paying attention to all those young men that were dying.

SM: 45:21
Yeah, that was 19—

EM: 45:22
That was how I felt about it.

SM: 45:24
That was 1969!

EM: 45:26
Yeah, yeah, that is when I left.

SM: 45:30
Wow. How long did it take for you to adjust back into society after you returned home? And I am not talking about— I am not going to the general perception that everybody was not welcomed home. But did your family and friends react differently and welcome you home? Or were you welcome home by people that you knew before you left? Or was there kind of, a kind of a silence from them? Or a fear—

EM: 45:56
Well, you were welcomed home as if you did not wait to come. You know, you were— because they knew— did not have any idea what you have just gone through. Say, you know, oh, this is wonderful, you are home! And you know, everybody comes and gives you a gift. But it is like a welcome home like you were away any place, for any reason. So, it really did not have anything to do with being in Vietnam. It had to do with this— oh, and then they would never ask!

SM: 46:38
How long—

EM: 46:39

SM: 46:40
Go ahead. No, you go ahead. You can finish up.

EM: 46:42
So, they— they, they had no idea what it was like and in a way, it was easier that way because there is no way to explain it to them. How horrible it was.

SM: 46:56
Were there movies that that you have seen since you came home that said this is really what happened over there? I know that one movie that touched a lot of people was Coming Home, the one with Jon Voight and Jane Fonda.

EM: 47:15
Oh, yes. Yeah. I saw that, and it was a wonderful movie. The movie that impressed me the most and— and I did not see any of the other war movies [inaudible] from Vietnam. The only one I did see, and it was years later, was Apocalypse Now.

SM: 47:32

EM: 47:34
And I said, I do not know, you know, somebody asked me about it, I said, I do not know if, you know, what happened. Really happened. But I am telling you that the feeling of insanity and weirdness and craziness and other worlds was absolutely right.

SM: 47:58

EM: 47:59
They got the feeling of [inaudible], perfectly. And that war.

SM: 48:04
Francis Ford Coppola was the producer of that movie.

EM: 48:09

SM: 48:10
Yeah. And I agree. I know one person that I interviewed, I re-interviewed Bobby Mueller this past Monday. And he, he had mentioned to me that the movie that he thought was really— [inaudible] was really like over there was Full Metal Jacket?

EM: 48:30
Ah, yeah-yeah, I have heard that.

SM: 48:32
So that is the one that he said, if you want to really understand about what happened to the guys over there, you watch that movie. When you came home, did you go right back as a nurse, or did you have a break in between before you went back to being a nurse?

EM: 48:49
Well actually, talk about insanity, the guy that I told I could not date anymore, when I went to play coup. He started calling me. He was still in Saigon. But he started calling me. And we talked every night. Because of the job that he did, he had the ability to get a telephone and use it anytime he wanted, I guess. And so, as if in talking to him, it kind of saved my sanity. I did not have to date him. I did not have to go anywhere. But we just talked. And when I got back— he got out of the service before I did. I still had six months actually after I got out, after I came back. And I had a month off and then I went to Madigan General at— in Tacoma, Washington. And that was… the hospital for Fort Lewis, which was a huge basic training fort. And it was not until years and years later, that it dawned on me— you know, I thought, oh, well, of course, I will do intensive care nursing! I am used to that! That is the thing, you see I must have been crazy! But [inaudible] so you get there, and you are dealing with things that are totally different. But, to me, just as horrifying, and I did not realize that until later. Some of the things that were horrifying was that kids would come in with meningitis and die. They would die. And he had just been into basic training! And the parents would come. And they are saying to themselves, we just set this kid off to basic training. But because there was no vaccine or anything back then. You know, you just had to hope that the sergeant would pick up on it and send the kid to, you know, to get help. But sometimes the charities would say, just suck it up. [inaudible], you know, and by that time, they would come to us, the meningitis was so bad that we could not get ahead of it.

SM: 51:06
Well, after Vietnam, of course, you got involved with Diane and the creation of the Women's Vietnam memorial that opened tonight and opened in 1993. And I know you have been involved in so many other projects, like the one you are involved in now with a purple heart. And could you describe those years? I know you were on the board, too, with Diane, I believe, could you describe those years of being with Diane and the battles in— kind of put it all together in terms of the initial first meetings to in the opening of the memorial in (19)93. I mean, just from your perspective, because you were on the board, and you were a close friend of Diane's. So, because people who are people who are going to be listening to this will probably many of them will have already visited the Vietnam Memorial and making sure that they visit the Women's Memorial as well. And it was not easy getting it. And that, that the only reason it is there is because of the tenacity, and the drive of people like Diane and yourself that makes sure that women were presented. So just your thoughts.

EM: 52:16
Well, Diane was persistent. I did not— she would call me, and she would say we need somebody on the East Coast. Then I would say call somebody else, I do not-I do not know how you can talk about this. I cannot talk about it then. And it was not until up maybe a year and a half before— the dedication, that she called me she said, we really need people on the East Coast to talk about this, would you, do it? And I thought about it, I said, I will do it under one condition that I can stop anytime I want. Or if he asked me a question that I do not like, I do not have to answer it. And she said, great. So, I started talking to people. And the first time again that I talked in front of-in front of a group of people was Mount Holyoke. And what really happened with me being on the board was after the dedication of the memorial, I decided that I was going to go every Memorial Day and every Veterans Day to see Diane. And the second time we were there, I think it was second or third year. There were some people who were pretty rude to her. And she told me about it later. And I said, well, that is it. Diane, I am going to be there every time with you and just follow you around and watch your back. And nobody is going to speak to you like that ever again. Okay, so that is really what I did. We were just— we stuck together. And I was not going to let anybody abuse her ever again. And one year, I went down there, and she came in, she said, well, you are on the board. And I said I am? She said, yeah, I figured it was coming down, you might as well be on the board anyway. So, I said, okay, whatever you want. I also backed her up on the board because sometimes we would have problems with people who have their own agenda. And so, I would just backer with whatever Diane felt was right.

SM: 54:47
Do you ever yourself have flashbacks, remembering those times in Vietnam. You could be in a mall or you are at-you are up at a fairground and you hear a helicopter flying in or—

EM: 55:03
Oh, yeah, those are—or fireworks. Forget it, you know? I remember when I was asked to speak at the dedication of the Huey helicopter at the Smithsonian.

SM: 55:22
Oh, wow.

EM: 55:23
And it was the first time that any aircraft had flown over the mall since 9/11. So, I said, oh, sure! You know, you are gawking this thing like an idiot. And I— actually in my speech, I talked about the sound. But then, the helicopter comes, we are all standing outside. The helicopter comes in, it flies by. And it is not supposed to fly over the Vietnam Memorial, because they said so, well, of course, being Vietnam vets, all those guys did, you know. So, they flew down to the Vietnam Memorial, flew over it, and then flew back. And again, it was that hearing it before you saw it. And you could hear that. And then it slowly came into view, and then it landed and all these guys in fatigues got out. And I thought, I mean, I was like in shock. And then I had to speak. So, I spoke, and after the captain came up to me up the helicopter, and he said, have you been inside a Huey in Vietnam? I said, no. He said, would you like to? I said, no, I do not even want to get near it! He said, okay, sorry. So, he just tuck my hand, my arm under his. And we slowly were chatting, he was chatting with this person and that person, and he slowly walks to the door of the Smithsonian and then we walk through the door. Slowly we walk towards the helicopter. And we walked up to it. And he said, would you like to touch it? And he gave me the right to say no. Which I love. But I did. I touched it. And it was, it was extremely moving. I was supposed to be at a reception that night. And I said to them, I have to go home. I have to leave. So, I got my turn. I drove back to New York. It was really overwhelming.

SM: 57:56
I never served in Vietnam yet when I come there every year to Memorial Day and Veterans Day as they are clearing out the area making sure there is no bombs, you know, the dogs that they bring down in there. They have this help. They have this helicopter flying overhead during that 12 to one o'clock timeframe, you know, when they are making sure everything is okay from before the ceremony starts. To me, I am not a Vietnam veteran, but that bugs the heck out of me, wondering if that is bugging of the veterans themselves, because of that-that sound, it is that sound—

EM: 58:33
If it was a Huey helicopter, it would because it has— the Huey has a distinctive sound.

SM: 58:39

EM: 58:40
A very distinctive sound. And so that would trigger a lot, I think.

SM: 58:46

EM: 58:47
You say helicopter, helicopter. You know, not so much.

SM: 58:50
Yes, you know it is a—

EM: 58:51
The thing that I thought was odd was I went to the dedication of the South Dakota Vietnam memorial. They asked someone to come from the Women's Memorial to be present. I said, okay. And after the ceremony, they had all these fireworks in the middle of the day. I thought, are these people insane?

SM: 59:16
My gosh.

EM: 59:17
Who thought of fireworks? I mean, I cannot stand fireworks to this day,

SM: 59:21
Right. What do all Vietnam nurses have in common in your view, and at the same time, where do they most differ? When relating to the time they were in Vietnam?

EM: 59:43
Oh, well, you know what I could say about having in common because everybody's experience is different. If you are on a malaria ward, you are experienced would be different from mine in an intensive care unit, or triage, or-or, or… And also, the war was different in different times. I remember a friend of my daughter’s; he is a dentist. And he went to Vietnam, I think it was 1966. It was early anyway. And he said, oh, would you like to come over and see the pictures that I took over there? I asked how on earth can he, you know, see more pictures of this? But they went as a unit to set up a hospital, which was fine. Nobody else did that after that. And the war was not really raging. (19)68, (19)69 there was a lot of fighting. (19)70 to (19)71, not so much fighting, but a lot of drugs. And the guys would come in with drug overdoses. So, it was different kinds of nursing at different times. Over there.

SM: 1:01:19
Right. If you had to do it all over again, would you go back? If you were younger?

EM: 1:01:26
Oh yeah.

SM: 1:01:27
You would?

EM: 1:01:28

SM: 1:01:29
Have you returned—

EM: 1:01:31
In fact, every nurse, I have talked to has said, in a minute. You know, if it all happened again, and would you say yes, and everyone said, yes, I would go.

SM: 1:01:43
Have you returned—

EM: 1:01:44
And even thought it was traumatizing and life changing, it was worth it.

SM: 1:01:48
Right. Have you returned to Vietnam?

EM: 1:01:52
No, and I will never go. And that is just me. You know, I remember when my daughter came to me, she said, mom I am going to Vietnam for vacations! I was like what!? A friend of hers was working over in Hanoi. And so, she is like, come on over! You know, go around. And she said, is there any place, you know, that is special that you want me to stop, and see? I said, no, just bring back new memories.

SM: 1:02:27
Yeah, I think it is one of the number— one of the top honeymoon places in the world.

EM: 1:02:34
Well, it is less expensive than a lot of places. I know that. So, I think that—

SM: 1:02:37
Right. Yeah, I know somebody who went on their honeymoon over there. And they said it was it was unbelievable how beautiful the country is.

EM: 1:02:46
Yes, yeah. That is what my daughter said too. That it is really [inaudible]. She said also, now this was, oh, gosh. Late (19)90s, I think that she went, and she said, and everybody was so friendly. But she said, but 50 percent of the population was not born—

SM: 1:03:08
Yeah, that is true.

EM: 1:03:09
—you know, then. So, none of them know what they have— what everybody went through.

SM: 1:03:16
This— I am going into a section here now where I am just asking questions about the war. Your thoughts on the war? Did you support America’s involvement in the war as a nurse? And how about right after you returned home from the war? It has been many years later, do you support the war effort? And was it— or do you feel it was a mistake overall? You know, I have also wondered, when I see veterans, you know, their thoughts on the antiwar movement and those who were protesting at home, whether they— you were aware that what was going on at home with on the campuses and in the streets of America, all the protests. I know I threw out a lot there, but just your thoughts on the war overall.

EM: 1:04:00
Well, first of all, my brother Charles, the youngest brother, he was arrested for protesting. And somebody said to me, well, how did you feel about that? And I said, well, I knew that my brother loves me, but he hated the war. And he was draft eligible, and he said, if he had been drafted, he would have gone. But he really felt that his duty was to protest the war. Personally, I feel that if the war had not been protested, we would still be there fighting and wasting lives. And I when I went over, I had no feeling one way or another about the war. You know I was just there to help. But I— and I went— the end of July, by the end— by October, I was so filled with rage and anger against our government and against the army, that I just had to really stomp it down. That was part of that— just kind of, you had to do away with your emotions, you know. I mean, we were not allowed to mourn the guys that we lost. Because we did not have time for one thing. You know, you were not allowed to say how angry you were at the army for wasting these guys. Because they felt like you were just sending them out there, only out there who cares? You know, let us send more numbers out there, and then we will win. Well, that is not how it works. And because we were the nurses that took care of them, we knew that these were not just numbers. These were sons, somebody's son, somebody's brother, somebody's, you know, lover, somebody's husband, somebody's father. And that is why when the Iraq war started, my PTSD went wild. And I was talking to my psychiatrist about it. And he said, the reason why it is affecting you so much because— channel 15, the public station that we have, would show pictures of each of the guys that was— or girls, that were killed. And he said, people look at those, and they are just faces and they are numbers. You look at them and you know, they are people because you have seen that before. So, for you, they are all very personal. And that is why it is so difficult for you.

SM: 1:06:44
Were you, you know, not only were you having emotional issues with the men and who are dying in the battles, are dying in the hospitals. But how about the citizenry of Vietnam, a lot of the antiwar movement was involved in wanting to bring the boys home, so that they— we would not have any more death. And secondly, against all the massive killing of the Vietnamese citizens. With saturated bombing all over the place, the numbers game, you know, killing, they were even keeping track of the amount of animals that they were killing. They are, they are doing anything to build up numbers. And at least we do not do that today, at least I hope we do not in the saturated bombings when we are in the Middle East. But your— did— were you-were you sensitive enough to know what was going on to the Vietnamese people, too?

EM: 1:07:45
I think at the time, you are so concerned about your own people, that you could care less. Whether they are Vietnamese, whether they were suffering [inaudible], you could care less about, you know, because you are caring for your guys. And the fact that these poor guys should not be here in the first place. And it was— one of the things that I became very cynical when I was over there was the fact that when there is war, and this has proved out to be true in Iraq, the first thing you should look at is who is making the money. And the problem: with that is that you are making the money on the lives of citizens. You know, these are not hired thugs that you hired for your army. These are citizen soldiers. That have gone because their country has asked them to. And to use them up so somebody can make money, to me, is the most appalling thing in the world.

SM: 1:09:02
That is prophetic. Prophetic, not pathetic, prophetic. Because I think, because I think Bobby has said that— Bobby Mueller has said the same thing. In some of his deep thoughts about war.

EM: 1:09:19
Yeah. Follow the money.

SM: 10:09:21
Yeah. And yep, he is always following the money. When John Kerry went before the Fulbright Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee. A lot of people— Vietnam Veterans Against the War he represented, and in the description of the atrocities that took place in Vietnam, not only the atrocities that were being committed by our troops, but some of the descriptions of what was actually happening in there. Were you aware of that? Were you aware of some of these—

EM: 1:09:56
You know, it is kind of like with My Lai. When My Lai happened, and they publicized it, I thought to myself, I can totally understand why that happened. These guys were all young, really young. They were not like— I guess the average age during World War Two was 26. These guys were 18 and 19! And they were marked by somebody who was 21! And they did not have much leadership over there. Everybody was passing the buck. And to me, to be put out in the field, to be afraid, day after day after day, for your life. To not trust anyone. You never do. I mean, that was true, in Saigon they told us do not kick the cans, when you are walking down the street, you see a can, do not kick it. Could have an explosive in it. And you never knew. Because they did not wear uniforms. It was not like, oh, here is the enemy and there is not. You know, we had— I remember we had a desk clerk who worked with us in the intensive care unit. And one morning, he was not there. And I said, well, what happened to so and so? Oh, he was killed last night, he was VC. We never knew that!

SM: 1:11:31
Oh, my gosh. Sheesh.

EM: 1:11:35
And so, you just did not know who your enemy was. And you could get crazy up there. It is kind of like when my daughter went with me for the dedication. And she came back to the room. She said, Mom, your guys down at the [inaudible] wearing their uniforms. What is with that? And I said, Gwyneth, your brother is now 19. The most he has ever done, in the wild, is to float down the Delaware with the Boy Scout troop. Think of him being put into basic training, and then dropped in the middle of the jungle, and living in fear, for a year. He would come back a different person.

SM: 1:12:26
When the Vietnam Veterans formed that organization, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, I think it was around the time you came home, although they were at the 1970 Republican convention. I know Bobby was in that group. What did you think of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War because they were throwing their— this is right about the time that John Kerry did the presentation before the Foreign Relations Committee. They threw their-their medals away.

EM: 1:12:59

SM: 1:13:00
What did you think of— what do you think the majority of the Vietnam Veterans thought of this group in the beginning, even though that more and more were joining as the years went on, and what did the nurses think? You in particular?

EM: 1:13:15
I do not— for me, I was all for it. Because I was totally against that war. I thought it was a useless war, that we were just throwing our young men away. For no reason. Because they were not allowing them to win the war. I mean, we had rules. And the Viet— they— Vietcong had no rules. They could do whatever they want. And so, we were— they said to us, and if you break those rules, it is against the law, you know, and you will be prosecuted. Well, none of the North Vietnamese were prosecuted for any of those things. And they did whatever they needed to do to win. I think that is just sad as it is, I did not— the only episode I have watched of the Ken Burns Vietnam thing with the first one, because I knew it would be about history. And the sad thing to me is that we turned Ho Chi Minh away when he came for help.

SM: 1:14:27
That is right.

EM: 1:14:28
He came to us first and said, we want to have a united country.

SM: 1:14:37
Yes, I—

EM: 1:14:38
And what a sad thing that is, you know?

SM: 1:14:41
He was just a figurehead really. At the end of the war, he-he really had no impact. He was just a figurehead and of course eventually died before the war ended. But, that whole thing about Harry Truman had got a letter after World War II from Ho Chi Minh saying how much he admired Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence and then the story was we just gotten over a terrible war and Truman did not want to [inaudible] linked with another conflict someplace else. So, he just kind of avoided Ho Chi Minh. Boy, if Harry Truman had responded in friendship to Ho Chi Minh my golly—

EM: 1:15:19
I know.

SM: 1:15:20
I mean this never would have happened. History is amazing. When you are— when you think about Diane— we brought up Jan Scruggs and Jack Wheeler were— and I think, Bob Lubeck, or Dewback. Were the three men that were— really created the Vietnam Memorial, as an idea. Were you at the 1982 opening of the wall?

EM: 1:15:39
No, I would not have gone for anything. I was still, for me, it was still too, too raw. I was [inaudible]

SM: 1:15:53
Because it, you know, they got the documentary on that, that particular day. And oh, my golly, it is like everything changed on that day in terms of the views toward Vietnam veterans. The feeling of that they felt proud of what, you know, the brotherhood was amazing. And I am sure the sisterhood with nurses was amazing. It was just like a coming together, and kind of changed, for the better, the views of America and towards those who served in Vietnam, and in the remembrance, events have been there ever since I believe I know. Jan was the moderator for many years. Diane, in the Women's Memorial, she represented for quite a few years, your thoughts on the Vietnam Memorial, the battle to get the memorial in the first place? And then finally, here with Jan wrote his first book was the— To Heal a Nation. And we know that the effort was to heal the families of Vietnam vets and those who died and so forth. But it is a lot— it is a big question here. But your thoughts on that whole battle too, which eventually led to the Women's Memorial, being on the wall, even Jan [inaudible] may have opposed it. I mean, everything comes with a battle.

EM: 1:17:10
Right, right, right. Well, everything does come, you know, with a battle. And I think— I bet the battle people never served. And that is the key is that these people never served. Those are the ones that are saying no. And that is why I think somebody mentioned the other day, everybody should do some kind of service. You know, whether it is in country or, you know, no matter what it is, you could do some kind of service for their country for a year or two. And I totally believe that.

SM: 1:17:57
I do too. And—

EM: 1:18:01
And then when the veterans calm, they would have some kind of— I mean, here are people who— their big thing in Congress or the Senate has been making money. And they just consider veterans parasites. You know, they use them when they want to make more money with a war. But then after they are parasites.

SM: 1:18:32
Did the wall help heal our nation from that war? And because I still, I guess, I guess me, some people say I am obsessed with Vietnam and just move on. We are in 2019 now, but I see so many from lessons that we learn and then lessons that we have learned and lost. And I think it is healed a lot of the Vietnam vets. But—

EM: 1:19:00
Yes, yeah.

SM: 1:19:01
How about the need— how about the nation? Those are— because the divisions were so intense back then.

EM: 1:19:11
And actually, for my generation, sometimes it still is. There is still some people that I cannot discuss it with. You know, that, and that is okay. As long as I know that I just will not discuss it with them. But I know what I know. And, but the thing is about that war, and the healing to me would be if they have learned something, right. And when the first George Bush said, oh, we are going into Kuwait to help the people. I said, they are lying to us again, they are going in there for the oil! If you just tell us the truth, and that was the biggest thing for me was that they lied all the time, about Vietnam. All the time. They lied why we are there. They lied, you know, about the numbers. They lied about getting out.

SM: 1:20:12
Yeah, it was George Bush. It was George Bush who said the Vietnam syndrome is over. Remember, he said that in 1989? And I thought that I do not think he knows what he is talking about.

EM: 1:20:25
Right? He does not. Yeah.

SM: 1:20:27
Yeah. So, this— you— what you just said, there it goes right into this next question is, as time goes on, why must we must, why must we never forget the Vietnam War? And the lessons learned or lost from that war? Why is it important to remember rather than being, just then being a lost footnote in history, which seems to be all events had happened in history. 120 years should now like we are talking about the Civil War and reading all the books, while we are doing the same thing about the Vietnam War. But—

EM: 1:21:03
I think the biggest thing that the American people, at least some of them, learned from the Vietnam War was to question the government. And to say, wait a second, is this really real? You know, because the government, again, is going to do whatever it wants. But it is actually the people that say, I beg your pardon? You know, and that is one of the reasons, for me, sending people over there. 345 tours over to Iraq, and Afghanistan is cruel and unusual punishment. If you do that, you should be giving them $100,000 a year when they retire. And every medical benefits they need, but they do not. They give them a hard time. And if you are injured, sick, they give them a hard time. And to me the torture that these people have had to go through. I mean, we had to go for a year. It is true, now their tour, I think is six months or something. But we have to go for a year. And what happens is… your mind gets twisted, but then you go back a second time. Pretty soon, it feels comfortable. Because you are used to the adrenaline and the camaraderie and all that— when you come home, it is even harder. And then you come back, and you are supposed to be normal! That is the thing. They are going to expect you to be normal. Nobody is normal! I think that the biggest thing about Vietnam is, question the government, always question the government, because there are people in the government who are not there for the good of the people.

SM: 1:23:00
Do you consider—

EM: 1:23:02
They are there for good of themselves.

SM: 1:23:05
Yeah, I always say that the people that serve this nation, in the military, are our heroes, because they put their lives on the line. And I will always believe that. There is a bad, but there is bad within every group. But the majority of them are heroes. But I go a step further here. I also feel that those who are in the anti-war movement in the United States, and then even other parts of the world too that were genuinely, I mean, genuine, honestly, not to just create, you know, controversy and problems and everything. The [inaudible] were generally against the war because they wanted to bring our troops home, so no more of them would be killed, and certainly to say the Vietnamese citizens, I consider them heroes too.

EM: 1:23:48
Right. Oh absolutely, absolutely.

SM: 1:23:51
Yeah, and so— and I have said this to Randy Davis, who I have gotten to know quite well, who was one of the biggest activists in America at that time. He did— he was the organizer of the moratorium. And, and he says, well, thanks, Steve. But I really believe that because they— a lot of them were arrested, they were spied on they have, you know, there is just, it is just a case that if they were genuinely caring about the lives of our troops, and the people of Vietnam, and that is what— but if they are only doing it to raise hell. I am not speaking of them. So, do you feel the same way too?

EM: 1:24:28
Oh, absolutely. In fact, the money that I send these days is to Veterans for Peace.

SM: 1:24:35
Oh, yes.

EM: 1:24:36
And to vote vets, who— finance veterans who are running for office

SM: 1:24:46
Yeah, I kind of wish John McCain was still with us. Because no matter what you thought about him, I do not care whether he is Republican or Democrat man. He was outspoken, and we miss him in Congress, believe me, we miss him?

EM: 1:25:01
Yeah, I know.

SM: 1:25:02
When you— I am—

EM: 1:25:04
It is really— it is such a shame because you are looking at the-the Republicans in Congress and you say to yourself, none of them speak up, what is wrong with them? You know, when verbal abuse is happening or bullying is happening or whatever, I cannot get over that, but none of them speak up.

SM: 1:25:25
Yeah, it is you know, that whole term when we call about a politician or a statesman or stateswoman, we do not have, we do not have enough of them. And today—

EM: 1:25:37
I know.

SM: 1:25:38
And that bugs me. When I think of the (19)60s, I think of, you know, whether you liked the senators or not, I think of Edwin Muskie, I think of Gaylord Nelson. I know, William Fulbright, early in his years was a bigot. We know that when he was in Arkansas, but he was a hell of a senator. I am talking about statesman now, even the Kennedys, and Dr. King who was a— it is just a different— it is just something— there is something missing. When you when you think of the 1960s and (19)70s. What is the first thing that comes to your mind?

EM: 1:26:14
Oh, boy. I think Vietnam. It was [inaudible], it was interesting, because when my daughter had asked me to speak, and she said she was taking a course on the (19)60s and I said, is that history already? I could not believe it! She said, mom, that was one of the most amazing decades in the history of the United States. And I never thought of it that way. But it is true. You know, with Martin Luther King and Kennedy and all of these people. So many changes, you know, even just women's [inaudible] coming true You know, and then the early (19)70s, then they finally made birth control legal. Which, I am sure that the young people today are just amazed that it ever was illegal.

SM: 1:27:19
Yeah, is there one particular event in the (19)60s and (19)70s, that stands out above all the others in your view?

EM: 1:27:35
There were just so many of them. The one that popped into my head, I do not think this was the most, you know, traumatic one, but was the one where the Russian ships were going to deliver something to Cuba. I was in nursing school at the time. And they put everyone on alert. And that if something happened, everybody would be high stepping notch in what they would have to do. Because they would have— who knows what would happen? You know if we had to go to war with Cuba or Russia. You know that to me was a real surprise. That—

SM: 1:28:25
That was that was the (19)62, yeah that was the (19)62 Cuban Missile Crisis.

EM: 1:28:32

SM: 1:28:35
And now history has shown we were lucky to have JFK is our president. No question about it.

EM: 1:28:41
Yes, yeah.

SM: 1:28:44
It has been said that what made the (19)60s and (19)70s was the spirit of the times of feeling that everything was possible about the about once future that we were going to end the war, bring peace to the world. And racism, sexism, homophobia. There was it was just a feeling. Your thoughts on the concept that the (19)60s was about spirit? And please do not— my phone is ringing. Do not worry about that.

EM: 1:29:24
I think it has to do with a lot of different things. The (19)50s were what I would call very controlled. You know, being a Catholic in the (19)50s its church was extremely controlling then. Really, you know, I— it is the kind of thing where I tell people when I was in grade school and they taught about, you know, “Thou shalt not steal,” they told us that if you steal $7 or more, it is a mortal sin. If you steal less than that it is a menial sin. So, it was that kind of thing where everybody needed to know what the rule was. And I said, but nobody ever said, you do not steal because it is not nice, and it hurts people. And it does not belong to you. Nobody ever said that. It was about the punishment. I told that to somebody who was there when I went to New York. She said, oh my God in New York was $12!

SM: 1:30:28
I never heard this! Wow that is...

EM: 1:30:31
Yeah. But I think it is because we were so controlled. Remember, Donna Reed?

SM: 1:30:39
Oh, yeah, The Donna Reed Show. Yes.

EM: 1:30:40
Perfect housewife, the perfect this, the perfect that. And then the (19)60s came and it was like, you know, we do not want this. We want real, not perfect. I [inaudible] now I do not remember this too much. But I remember going through that whole era where they persecuted Hollywood, you know, communists. What was his name?

SM: 1:31:15
McCarthy era?

EM: 1:31:16
Yes. The McCarthy era. I think that-that really wrapped around somebody— some people's heads too, you know, that this was not what we want in our country. We want freedom, we want openness. And I think that is really what, you know, the people were saying that this— because I can remember I was in California 1967. Everybody was doing everything. And the thought process was anything you believe is fine. Which for me was great, because it really opened a lot of doors as to what I wanted. And a God and what I wanted in a belief, which really held me through Vietnam.

SM: 1:32:05
Right. You know, we— took mentioned The Donna Reed Show, there was Father Knows Best too that was, that was very popular— The Danny Thomas show and all those shows about families that went right into the early (19)60s as well. And then began the early (19)70s with All in the Family. Archie Bunker and oh, wow. Anyways, what was the watershed event in the (19)60s in your view? Might be repeated the further earlier question, but I hear from a lot of people that— might remember Paul Critchlow? You know, Paul, I interviewed as well, he is unbelievable. And he said he went into the service to go to Vietnam because he felt I had to be involved in the watershed event of my generation, which was the Vietnam War, and, you know, Paul could have gone on to grad school, you know. And they came in he, he was at Nebraska and, and of course, he was treated poorly when he returned home to Nebraska too. So, yeah, and a watershed is something that I have always heard as a history major is it is what is the event that really that stands out in the (19)60s and (19)70s. It can be something that happened one day, or it could be what you just described your— earlier the Vietnam War too

EM: 1:33:50
I do not think that there was a watershed thing for me. I think that— because there just kept being one huge thing after another, you know, a death here and then another death, and then another death. You know, people kept selling off the good guys. And you are saying to yourself, how come nobody ever shoots the bad guys? But— and then Vietnam, and I think the whole, that whole decade is, especially the second half of that decade, was huge for me.

SM: 1:34:35
At here at Binghamton University, I have tried to persuade the people I work with here on the new center, that when we talk about the (19)60s we are talking really up to 1973. I— you know, what happened from 1960 to (19)73. You had the Kennedy assassination, obviously, ending— although really the beginning of the first half of the (19)60s. And then you have got, as some people have said, all hell broke loose after (19)63 Right through (19)73. Because you know what happened in (19)70. And then (19)71, and (19)72, and (19)73 was really almost again, part of the (19)60s. And then all of a sudden things change. And by (19)75, it was no more because the commune movement and everything, the rise of the radical right in the religious community, and there is a whole lot happening. But anyways.

EM: 1:35:35
But also, Nixon was— Nixon left. And then after he left, war was finally ended. He was elected to end the war. But he liked Johnson. Why? Because I can remember Jackson was saying, oh, no, we are not going to—this was during the election kind of thing—we are not going to spend any more troops over there. And then of course, he did.

SM: 1:36:08
Yeah, it was, it was just so many different lies. I remember the first lie to me, and I was very young, was the U-2 crisis with Eisenhower, where he went on national— when he went on the national television in 1959, and said the guy was not a spy over Russia. Very obvious he was lying. And, you know, I do not— I am not going to, you know, that is the one time I disliked him. But, you know, I remember that as a specific lie in front of the American public about it about the U-2, Gary Powers. And then we start the whole thing going into Vietnam. So, it is kind of— the Boomers were kind of— saw it over and over again, if you could describe the youth of the (19)60s and early (19)70s. What would be the qualities you admire or and the qualities you least admire? The Boomer generation?

EM: 1:37:05
Well, the best quality was that a lot of them thought outside the box, which had not been done before. And the boxes usually had been built by people who wanted to control people. And so now these guys and gals were thinking outside the boxes. It scared the, you know, the box builders. But for humankind, I think it was a great thing. You know that they were thinking, wait a second. And the biggest thing, again, that I think— one of the biggest things that the Vietnam War did for the people of the United States was, taught them not to trust the government, and to think for themselves. And to question.

SM: 1:38:02
Well, that is something that is continuing because we are seeing so much questioning today. It is amazing.

EM: 1:38:07

SM: 1:38:08
Yeah, the question though— question we ask, though, is how many of those people who are questioning are really part of that Boomer generation or generations that follow? Like the millennials, and Generation Y and so forth.

But— actually, the boomer generation has really been a disappointment, I think, in that they did not follow up on a lot of what they hoped would happen,

SM: 1:38:35
Right. Yeah—

EM: 1:38:39
I think that a lot of the generations, like my daughter's generation, my daughter and son, are— is very proactive. My daughter is gay. And so, she is very proactive. You know, never before would you have been able to.

SM: 1:38:58
Yeah, I think there is some very clear of strengths that came out. And there is some clear weaknesses as well. And the one thing that that I think is to me, and I just want your thoughts on this, and this was for— I am not paraphrasing Bobby Muller, but you know, he says, as the (19)60s move on, you know, we need to move on. But he did say one thing. And that was the lack of trust in our leaders, that seems to be common among the boomers. And the boomers because of the lies, the continuing of lies, lack of trust. And if you can recall, this was across the board. It was not only lack of trust in our president, but lack of trust in the head of the Board of Supervisors, the head of the like a president of the college and a university, the minister or priest or anybody in positions of authority or responsibility, anyone who was supposedly the head of a manager of a bank, they were all bad because you could not trust them because they were leaders. And that seems to have been across the board. And when you have Vietnam and Watergate and some of the other things… I— do you agree—

EM: 1:40:19
But it turned out to be right. I mean, look at the Catholic Church. You know, you could not trust them because they were not trustworthy with your kids.

SM: 1:40:27
Right, yeah so—

EM: 1:40:31
The lack of trust was right!

SM: 1:40:36
You have those, though, that this is a real— this is a— would be a great classroom discussion. Because philosophy, because the people that believe that— people that do not— are constantly— do not trust others, cannot be a leader. Because you have got to be able to understand— you got to be able to be trusted to be a leader, number one. And you have got to be able to do things that make people believe in you. So, if you are constantly not trusting others, who is going to trust you? So—

EM: 1:41:06
I do not think it is that, that trusting others. I think it is, certain people in authority that are not trusted. You know, if you, say, running for office, you should trust the people that are helping you out. And you should trust what you believe in. But I certainly would not trust any big government people. And I would think, you know, I would be suspicious if some big company came and said, we really want to back you. Because what do they want? Nobody does it for free? So, there are a lot of people who are not trustworthy.

SM: 1:42:00
Well, I know the—

EM: 1:42:02
I do not think being suspicious and being careful is a bad thing. You know, if somebody comes to me, and I am a senator and says, oh, this is really— it would be great, it would be great. Why? Is it great for you? Or is it great for my people?

SM: 1:42:27
Getting back to Vietnam, you know, they always I work in a university for many years, and universities are supposed to be a microcosm: of society. They always say that. Now, when you look at the Vietnam War, and you even mentioned it that, that the drugs kind of become very prevalent in the (19)69-(19)73, or whatever, period in Vietnam. And we all hear about the music that was being played over in Vietnam, just like the music being played in America at the time. What— you know, and the whole racism: issue between Black and white soldiers and troops, was what was happening in Vietnam, the same thing that was happening in America in the social scene? Where the tensions between people of color and people who were white, was prevalent, but of course, we all know that when you are in a war zone, you believe you work as a unit. So that kind of goes away when you are in battle. But it is when you are not in battle. Your thoughts on— was Vietnam a microcosm of what was happening in America?

EM: 1:43:35
And I have no idea. The only thing I know is, it did not matter what color you were, if you were one of my corpsmen, you were part of the team. And it did not matter what color you were, if you came in as a patient, you were a patient. And that is all I really knew about any kind of, you know, it was not so— where I was, there was no conflict because we needed everybody. And you did depend on them. And they did work as a team. So, really was not a question for me, but I was not, you know—

SM: 1:44:13
Did the increase in drug usage over there really hurt the war effort and in terms of— degrade our military preparedness?

EM: 1:44:26
I do not think it hurt the war effort. Because from what I understand, a lot of the drugs taken over there were taken because they kind of let up. And were not really planning on winning the war. They were just kind of in a waiting.

SM: 1:44:45
Yes. Okay. That is, it is a good description.

EM: 1:44:49
And so, if you are bored, what do you do? And they were so readily available. That I am sure that people just said, well, let me try it, let me see what. If you are really busy shooting people, you do not take drugs. Or if you are busy just trying to stay alive, you do not take drugs.

SM: 1:45:14
Or if you are concentrating to get the job done, you do not take drugs. Did you—

EM: 1:45:17
Right. And if you have time on your hands in the middle of a jungle or whatever, or in the middle of Saigon or in the middle of whatever, then you might take drugs if they are available. Because who wants to be over there anyway?

SM: 1:45:31
Yeah, the boomer generation when they were young, lot of them thought felt that they were the most unique generation in history, because of all the things we talked about earlier, they are going to make the world better for everyone. And they were not going to end things that have been here forever on planet Earth, like racism, sexism, so forth. Your thoughts, the boomer generation, were they the most unique group, ever? And secondly, have you changed— how did you feel about it when you were young? Being a part of it. And secondly, how do you feel now that you are a lot older?

EM: 1:46:09
I think, as a group… What happened was a lot of stuff happened. It was not just civil rights. It was civil rights and women's rights, and, you know, on and on and on, about opening a lot of ideas. And it did not all get taken care of. But all of the ideas came out. And I think that-that was important, because so many they have been worked on, you know, one of the things that was allowed was all this fight about women's rights. Now, that is kind of, to me, a no brainer. But men seem to fight it like cats and dogs. And it is a power thing. You know, it is the same with just my kids. But the same with abortion. It is fine. If you do not believe in abortion, then do not have one. But if somebody else believes something totally different than you, what makes them wrong? You know, you are saying that what you believe is right, well, that fits right for you. But it is like kind of like religions, religions are all different. So, if you believe that life starts at the instant at conception, God bless you, do not have an abortion. But if somebody else actually believed, because of her whole, you know, that life happens at the moment of birth, then she has the right to do whatever she wants with her body. And yet, there are people who want to force their beliefs on other people.

SM: 1:48:10
When you look at the (19)60s and (19)70s, I always say early (19)70s, not all (19)70s I should say. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Who are the good girls or the bad women, the good women, I mean, it can be a group, or it could be an individual.

EM: 1:48:36
I cannot think of any bad. The groups just were. And they all were for a different reason. You know, some-some of the African American people became more militant, because they felt that the peace thing did not work. I do not think that is necessarily bad. I think it is just that they were so frustrated they could hardly see straight, and they had been waiting for 100 years. That is a long time. You know, since the Civil War. And same with women's rights. Some woman was strident. And some women were, you know, wrap yourself in cellophane when your husband comes home. So— I think all of the ideas need to be out there. And all of them need to be looked at. And hopefully sanity overtakes.

SM: 1:49:49
Right. And I guess— I am going to end right here because I have gone back to the Women's Memorial and the Three-Man statue and the Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial. When you enter that sacred ground, every time you go there, and you look at the wall, and you kind of— I do this even though I did not serve Vietnam, but Vietnam had such an influence on my life, and my peers’ lives. I like to be there alone sometimes. So, I will walk on the side where the Washington Monument is monument is where it is not as crowded. And I will just stand there for 30, 20-30 minutes. And I go back to when I was young, college, and all the things, watching the TV, like we all did during the war, the first war that was shown to the American public. And all these flashes go through my head, memories of back, what goes through your mind? When if when you go back there and look at the wall? I know you see the names there. But do you see—

EM: 1:51:04
Actually, it is interesting, because one of the things that you said was sacred ground, and I do not consider— for me, It is not sacred ground. This is like home. And when I go there, and I have done this before, I have talked to my boys. I go to the area on the wall where I know my guys are, and I just talked to them. And I am glad that those memorials are there because that wall really shows what war is. Not just a guy on a horse, you know, with a sword. It is individual people. And it has been a meeting place of healing for Vietnam vets, where they can come, meet each other. They may never have known each other before, but because they are Vietnam vets, they communicate and it is a healing process. The same with the Women's Memorial. And the memorial next to the statue of the three guys, which is, you know, the memorial remembering all those who died because of the war.

SM: 1:52:22
Yes-yes. They just redid that one.

EM: 1:52:25
Yeah. That, to me is most important. Because there were so many who died because of that war. From Agent Orange or suicide or whatever it might be.

SM: 1:52:40
Yeah, when I when I see that whole area there, I think of that word, context. Context being defined as a word that means everybody's feelings, thoughts, reflections, memories, matter. So that— what you are telling me today, the feelings that I have as a non-veteran, but who is a big supporter of veterans And what, you know, whether a person's anti-war supported the war, or, you know, I have spoken to a lot of conservatives, as well as liberals and the conservatives are, you are really asking us to be involved in this, you know? Yes, I am. It is the— it is context about— everybody's views matter. If you want to understand this very complex, decade or decade and a half from— I consider from 1960 to 1976, when we have celebrated our 200th anniversary, and of course, Jimmy Carter comes in as president, but it is that whole era. And there is so much. So, are there any other— I am done with questions. Are there any other questions you thought I might ask you or any final thoughts you want to add to the conversation?

EM: 1:54:03
I do not think so. Whatever things you— when you mentioned the statue of the three guys what I remember was, when Diane and I had first went up and— we were together and we went up to the statue of those three guys, and I said to Diane, okay, when you look at the statue, what do you think first? She looked at and she said, those guys have great veins, for starting an IV. I said they do! That is the first thing I looked at, the veins on there, wow. That would be easy!

SM: 1:54:37

EM: 1:54:41
We do things a little differently.

SM: 1:54:44
Yeah, well, you know, just recently, you know, Ross Perot passed away and of course, he was a big critic of the wall. And originally, he was going to give a lot—give a lot of money. I think, I heard $171,000. he was going to give to Jim Scruggs and the people involved. But then when he saw the design of the— by Maya Lin, he wanted to take the money back. I do not know, I do not think he eventually did, but no matter what, whether it be the Vietnam Memorial, the— even the three man statue and the Woman's Memorial, the battles to have them even there is another story! It is another war! In respect, the war to get them— Yeah, so, anyways…

EM: 1:55:26
But you know I actually tell you, looking at those three guys, one of the works of art that has meant the most to me, I found in South Dakota when I went through that. And it was a print made by a Vietnam vet out in Washington State. And it was the heads of three young guys, they had these helmets on, they looked like they just came out of the bush. And each face has the 1000-yard stare. But they also their faces have these splinters, you know, like a fractured piece of glass. With just cracks little teeny-teeny grips, but they are all cracked differently. Each face is cracked in a different place. And at the bottom, a dog tag that says PTSD.

SM: 1:56:24
Wow. That is a drawing?

EM: 1:56:27
And I gave— It is a- it is a— I can send it to you, if you have—

SM: 1:56:32
Yeah, if you could send it on my— I am not here, I am up in Binghamton, I will not be able to get to it until I get home. But you have my email. I will give it— [inaudible].

EM: 1:56:42
I could use your phone number too; I could just take a picture and—

SM: 1:56:44
Yes, that would be fine. Yep.

EM: 1:56:49
Okay. But that to me was—said it all. And I gave it to my psychiatrist, one of the— I had a couple of friends. And I gave one to my psychiatrist. And he is no longer my psychiatrist, I have a female now, but he said— I saw him in the hall the other day. And he said, that is the first thing the guys noticed when they come in. And they said that is it.

SM: 1:57:08
Wow. Yeah, I got to see that for sure. All right. Well, Edie, thank you very much. We almost did two hours here on what we are going to do is I will—Binghamton University will send you the tape to your email.

EM: 1:57:24
Oh, great. Okay.

SM: 1:57:25
It will be— I do not know how one is— how long it is going to take, but it will be a digital recording. And then you can watch it and then finally approve it so can be used for research and scholarship with all the other interviews here at Binghamton.

EM: 1:57:39
Okay, great. Perfect.

SM: 1:57:41
Well thank you very much, Edie, you have a great day, and I will be seeing you. Are you going to be out there at Veterans Day.

EM: 1:57:46
No, I was there for Memorial Day. So that is it for me this year.

SM: 1:57:50
All right. Well, I will see you next Memorial Day.

EM: 1:57:52
Okay, saints alive!

SM: 1:57:54
We will be in touch before then you take care! Thank you!

EM: 1:57:57
Okay, you too!

SM: 1:57:58

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview



Stephen McKiernan


Edie Meeks

Biographical Text

Edie Meeks grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota along with an older sister and two younger brothers. She joined the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in early 1968 and enlisted as a nurse in Saigon during the Vietnam War. Meeks left the ANC in 1970 and began her work in the operating room, which she continues to this day in the Northern Westchester Hospital of Mt. Kisco, New York. She graduated from St. Mary's school of nursing in Rochester, Minnesota.





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Binghamton University Libraries

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Interview Format


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Nursing; Vietnam War; Anti War Movement; Saigon; Women's Memorial; 1960s; 1970s; Boomer generation


EDIE MEEKS (1).jpg

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About this Collection

Collection Description

Stephen McKiernan's collection of interviews includes more than two hundred interviews with prominent figures of the 1960s, which were collected between the mid-1990s and 2010s. The collection provides narratives of people who were actively involved in or witnessed events in the 1960s, an era which spurred profound cultural and… More

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“Edie Meeks,” Digital Collections, accessed April 23, 2024,