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Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Jane McCarthy

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McKiernan Interviews
Interview with: Jane McCarthy
Interviewed by: Stephen McKiernan
Transcriber: Lynn Bijou
Date of interview: 23 June 2022
(Start of Interview)

SM: 00:10
Thank you, Dr. McCarthy, for agreeing to do this interview. And I would like to start the-the interview by having you, read the, read the speech that you gave at the Vietnam Memorial, the wall, on Memorial Day 2022. And we are going to start with this and then throughout the interview, I will ask questions and linkage to it as well.

JM: 00:38
Okay. Okay, here goes. Peter Cogill, KIA, February 1967. Craig Simeone, KIA, May 1969. Eddie Murray, GIA, July 1969. Allen Keating, KIA], October 1969. Dennis Reardon, KIA, November 1969. Those are the names on this wall, from Cohasset. A small town in Massachusetts where I grew up, eight boys in all from Cohasset died in Vietnam. This is why we have Memorial Day. This is why I march each year in the Cohasset, Massachusetts Memorial Day Parade, to remember those friends, those young boys that we lost in Vietnam, to remember the high cost of war. We are here now on Memorial Day once again, here more than 50 years later to remember this loss, to remember the high cost of war. Many of you out there also served in Vietnam. Nurses like my friend from Boston, Kathy Pines, and corpsman and medics, physicians, helicopter pilots, helicopter pilots that I never knew because your job ended when my job began: bringing the wounded to us at the hospital, and radio guys at the hospitals and in the field, like my friend Dick Churchill, who called in the choppers for the wounded. All those who helped in the hospitals and in the field cared for those wounded, please stand. And let us just thank them. And gold star mothers like Joanne Churchill, your sons were not alone, as these veterans were the ones caring for the wounded from the field to the hospitals. Can you want it that is out there who made it back? These nurses, and docs, and corpsmen, and medics are the ones that were there to take care of you. I served as an Army nurse in Vietnam, in 1970 and 1971, just after my friends on this wall, had made their sacrifice. I was not in favor of the war, and did not understand what we were doing here. But I knew many of my friends were being drafted and killed. I decided what would be of more purpose, at that time in my life, a new 21-year-old nurse, then to care for those wounded but were being drafted and sent off to war. I joined the Army Nurse Corps after 10 months working here at the Walter Reed Army Hospital. I was ordered to the United States Evacuation Hospital in Da Nang, south Vietnam. I have worked in triage or what we call here, the emergency room. What was called there priyad and receiving, receiving the wounded. I took care of 18 and 19-year-old young men, boys. I really saw a 20-year-old, shot up, frightened, alone, and afraid to die in a war they did not understand. How does a 22-year-old girl from a small town in Massachusetts tell a 19-year-old soldier that he does not have a foot or leg anymore, and they have wounds. The patient is expected to die because they were not candidates for surgery. I just tell them, or I sat with them until they died? I wonder why we were fighting this war. I thought I would find answers in Vietnam. But I did not. I did learn that war causes deaths and mutilation. So, what was it like coming home? Looking back now, I had a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, I believe, I believe all of us that witnessed the atrocities of war, experience post-traumatic stress to one degree or another. I had, nightly, trouble sleeping hypervigilance, depressed, I was not eating. In those days, there was no such thing as PTSD. You were told to just put one foot in front of the other and go on with your life. For me, that meant school, work, more school, work, and having my own family. I did get some help along the way. In 1993, we had the dedication of the memorial for the nurses over there. I remember being here. We had a parade of nurses down Constitution Avenue, and each of us had our banner of our work behind, standing behind the banner for our hospital in Vietnam, and we stood behind this banner, and the veterans were on the side of the road. It was very quiet. And you would hear every once in a while, when the veteran guys in their wheelchairs, they would see the sign of their hospitals and you wish you would hear them yell out, "You took care of me, you took care of me. I remember you. You took care of me." This was so healing for all of us, for the vets, and for us the nurses. And it was for us nurses to begin to realize that we needed to heal also. We saw those atrocities day in and day out. And we needed to be healed. And that is what both of these Vietnam memorials have given us over the year. And I am glad that we do what we do every Memorial Day here. At our nurse’s memorial, we have our candlelight service in the evening, AND the storytelling in the morning, And then this Vietnam program here at the wall in the afternoon, all remembering the high cost of war. I would like to end today by sharing a poem written anonymously, by a soldier who must have been wounded in Vietnam and cared for by nurses. It is called, "Angels in War." "Listen, now I have a story to tell about some women who lived through hell. They saw it in the war in a special way, sometimes 16 hours a day. There is a story of pain and strife and agony and fight for life. Listen now to this story I tell about these women who worked through hell. But they were young, like you and me. How much more special can they be? How many hands in the night did she hold while a young boy cried out, "I am so cold." Listen now to the stories they tell. These are the women who lived through hell. Let us not forget these stories they tell. For they are our sisters who lived through hell."

SM: 09:14
That was, I was present at the speech this year. And it was a very powerful one. And you received a standing ovation from everyone who was there. And I knew when I, you accepted the, the honor to interview you. I wanted you to give that speech so that others can hear it not only today, but 50 years from now, to remember those brave young men and women who served in that war. And, and, and of course you state the eight who died from your hometown and you went to school with. And I just want to say those names are on the Vietnam Memorial. And I will be asking you some questions about that speech as we go on with this interview. But I do I want to start, start off by saying you mentioned five names. Is there anything a little bit you can say about those names like, Peter Cogill. Could you say something about Peter?

JM: 10:13
Peter Cogill was, he was in my class, so I knew him growing up and [inaudible] Peter Cogill. I mean, you know, I knew him growing up, 1967. So, we graduated from high school in (19)66. So, he must have gone in right after high school, went into the army. And then, Craig Simeone he lived up the street from me by the football field, and he was in my class. And, you know, a good student, I am not sure, 1959, if he, you know, went off to college or something, I do not know. My best friend there is Allen Keating, and he was a neighbor of mine. And he was, I knew him, you know, from kindergarten on up, played in the neighborhood, you know, baseball, football. I, you know, I played all of that, did all that with the guys in the neighborhood, rode our bikes. And through high school, he was the captain of our football team. Just, you know, just so well liked by all of us. And, I think Alan especially was missed by so many. I have a friend, my friend that was Dick Churchill, he still wears his, Alan's, you know, on his wrist, like a bracelet, with Alan's name on it. So, those with a 1, 2, 3, Eddie Murray, Eddie Murray was in my class too, four, four of them that were in my class, Dennis Reardon was a year older, I believe, but I knew him. He was in my brother's class.

SM: 12:07
When they came home from war, were they buried in the hometown cemetery, or were some of them-

JM: 12:12

SM: 12:12
-buried in Arlington?

JM: 12:14
No they-they-they were buried at home because those were the funerals. I was coming home to every six months. Yeah. Yeah, I do not. I do not, you know, back then. I do not remember anybody opting to be buried in Arlington.

SM: 12:31

JM: 12:32
My friend Chrissy, Chris was in Vietnam with me, a nurse, Chris McKinley, and she died about 15 years ago, we think from exposure to Agent Orange. And, anyway, and she had her, she was buried at Arlington. And, but I think back then I do not know if we just did not even know you could not be buried, but they probably did not want to be. No, they-

SM: 13:10

JM: 13:10
-did not want to be buried in Arlington. They wanted to come back home.

SM: 13:14
Could you talk about, could talk about your hometown, your early years growing up? What it was like being in high school before you went off to college and went off to war?

JM: 13:27
Yeah, Cohasset is a small town on the ocean halfway between Boston and the Cape [Cod]. So, it is a lovely little town. And I went to the schools there, through high school. And, and there were about 100 kids in my class starting out in kindergarten. [chuckles] And we were all together through high school. And it was a pretty well to do town. I do not know what it was, a lot of the, a lot went on to college. And, there is, you know, there is old money there, there is roots, I mean, my family went back. My mother's family went back several generations. You know, it is one of those towns where you came over on the boat and you did not leave [laughter] and go out but you just stayed. It was very New England. My grandparents had a New England farm and, meaning, you know, with vegetables, and chickens, and a cow, and all that. But, you know that they survived on themselves. And I had a horse growing up and kept it at my grandparents. But they kept, it was really there for us, and I would go up there to ride the horse, and I could run. And then, I had another race horse when I was about 15 that was close to my home, that people had and I rode the horse all through town, I would ride the horse down to the beach [chuckles]. I never run into the water, to heel his leg, and then run him back to town [chuckles]. It was that kind of a town.

SM: 15:22
When you were in high school, were the, were the young people in the school pretty well informed about what was happening beyond their town? What was happening-

JM: 15:33

SM: 15:33
-in the (19)60s about the march on like, for example, civil rights, the march on Washington, the Vietnam War, all the things that were happening in America?

JM: 15:41
Yeah-yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, we were, we were, we were torn like everybody else, as I was torn, you know. As a matter of fact, when I was in high school and nursing school making that decision, do I go out and protest? With the flower children, you know, go out and protest, or do I join the army? And it was, it was that, those were my decisions that I was going to do one or the other. And, you know, most, by (19)68-(19)69. Most people, families were trying to avoid the drought, that is for sure. My brothers, I had two older brothers, and my parents went to the town. I do not know, I forget, man, what we call Mrs. Bouncer, the draft commission of something. And got, got deferments, my brothers every six months, because they were in school, and to keep them out of the Army, you know, and then by the time all these guys died, they came up with a rule, but Cohasset just lost too many. And we were not going to send any more over to Vietnam from Cohasset. No we were, we were very aware, very aware. I mean, you know, I remember the day that Kennedy was shot and Martin Luther King, and very much part of the, very much part of the illusion and disillusionment of the times. They were some difficult times, were not they?

SM: 17:28
Yeah, you bring up a question I was going to ask later, but I will ask it now, because, you know, I call, you are probably what they call the, the early boomer group, which is the front edge boomers, and they were born between (19)46 and about (19)57. And, the impact a lot of this had on that part of the boomer generation was very strong, obviously. And the death of John Kennedy in 1963, and then the deaths of Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King in (19)68. It, people kind of remember, where were you when you heard that John Kennedy was killed?

JM: 17:29
Yeah-yeah, exactly. Right. Right. We knew where we were right, what you are asking me.

SM: 18:02
Yeah where were, how did you find out, and where were you?

JM: 18:18
Well, I was, I was in high school, and November 22nd, and it was at one o'clock in the afternoon. And they made, and I had majorette practice, I was the captain of the majorette group, majorette. And, they made an announcement on the PA system that Kennedy had been shot. And I guess they have dismissed school or something, but I went down to the gym. And by the time I go to the gym, then they announced that he had been killed. And, of course, we did not have majorette practice. That was a first. And then I remember, we did not have school on Friday, and then the funeral was Monday. But the horse, you know, and I remember going over to my friend Linda's house with her dad, in their house, and sitting in their den watching the funeral.

SM: 19:22
Yeah. The shock, you know, we were, I am about the same age. We were, you know, we were young and man, that was a shock to everyone. And, and then, of course, as the (19)60s moved on, then we had the, within three months, the killings of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, and they were equally shocking.

JM: 19:48
Oh, right. But, it was worse. It was scary. It was, you know, and it was sad. It was, it was very painful, very painful.

SM: 20:02
When you were, again, you were, you were young, this is before you become a nurse. But, did you start questioning about America? Where was America going? You know, we are having some of that right now in the world today. With everything going on in 2020 people are asking these questions. Is our nation going to survive these things in the long run? Did you think about that? Did you think about any of this when, you, these tragedies were happening?

JM: 20:34
Well, I think even when I was in nursing school, I did not understand. Remember, like I said, in my-my speech there, I did not understand why we were in this war. But I had this idea in my head that the government knew why we were. And I thought, if I went over to war, I would find out why we were in this war. And, so I still have this idea that the government knew what they were doing. But boy, did I get disillusion about that? While I was in Vietnam, I think I kind of got awakened that, no, they do not know what they are doing. And I mean worse than that, it was, I mean, to be very honest with you, what I found out was that there was this thing called the military industrial complex. There were people making lots of money off of this war. And, and that seemed to be what was driving them. There was not, it was not the Vietnamese people wanting democracy, they just wanted to know where their next meal was going to be, and they wanted to visit their relatives unknowing. And, you know, who are we? And then this whole idea that they would draft 18-year old and 19-year-old, I think that was done on purpose. Because they figured 18-19-year old did not know any better. You know, they were very more, more pliable than the 25-year-old. And because when I was, l I mean, the only guys I saw wounded and blown up were 18-19-year old. So they must have just really, it seemed to be pretty purposeful.

SM: 22:22
Were your parents for or against the war? And did you have any, what they call a generation gap in your family over that war?

JM: 22:31
Oh, well, my father had served in World War II, and he was in the Navy. And I thought, when I came up with this idea of going into the army, I had hoped that I would, what do I say, leaned on his, his sense of patriotism or something because they had to sign papers for me because I was only, I was 19, I think when I went in, I went in as I was still a student in nursing school. So, I went into the Army student nurse program, and they take me my last year, and then I owed them too. And so yeah, my parents had to sign in. I remember that day, you know, putting the papers out there after dinner, at the dinner table, and wondering if they would be willing to do it. But they did, and I mean, I think it is kind of crazy doing it. They work so hard to keep my brothers out of war. And then they are wondering, "Oh, my daughter comes home, then wants to do this." I, you know, they just signed, I do not know, I do not know what they were thinking. But I know, I think my father was very proud because he was, in the Legion he would, and you know, Cohasset you heard my speech, we have this-

SM: 24:07

JM: 24:07
-Memorial Day parade. And, and he went out within Vietnam. I know they were very upset when I, I mean, I came to Walter Reed. And then I had to go home and tell them, "I got to go to Vietnam." They were very upset. They were, they were not happy about that. Like I could do something about it. You know, they accused me of volunteering. But you know, I had to go. So, off I went. And that Memorial Day that I was away my father at the parade, at the end of the parade at the podium, you know, announced that I was in Vietnam and that he had heard from me. I think that morning, I am not sure I was allowed to call home once a month and so the town, not only my parents, but the whole town knew I was over there. And what I was doing, and then, you know, to come home, and then my father when I came home from Vietnam, I think in (19)72, for Memorial Day, he asked me to march in the parade, and I said, "No, not going to march, not going to put on that uniform." And I remember my mother coming upstairs and saying, "Would you please? Would you do it for your father? You will not do it for anybody else, will you do for your father?" So I said, "Okay," so I pulled out my summary chords uniform. I went down there, and there was only two other guys and me, because most days, remember, you did not put on a uniform.

SM: 24:07

JM: 25:51
You would get stoned, or rotten tomatoes, or whatever. And the three of us stood proudly and walked down Main Street of Cohasset, wearing our uniform. And since then, I think there is I do not know how many, 50, I do not know a lot more have come out. You know, of course, that was a long time ago. But, so then my father asked me to give my speech a couple of years later, some time to give a talk at the end of the parade, as the guest speaker, and I remember saying to him, "Okay, I will give you my talk, but it is not going to be a talk. You are going to like." Obvious, I had a lot of anger in me, you know.

SM: 26:33

JM: 26:34
And I said, "Yeah, I am not going to talk about heroes. I am not going to do that. I am going to tell you the truth about what, what I observed about war." And so, that was my first anti, anti-war talk on Memorial Day. [chuckles]

SM: 26:54
Wow, that is a lot of courage. That is a lot of courage. But yeah, you had a lot of courage and desire to serve by going to Vietnam so, that it kind of came out in your speech. You know, you talked about the military industrial complex. You know, Eisenhower warned us about that, when he was leaving office. Be wary of the military industrial complex. And he, I was telling him this stuff that Kennedy, before Kennedy became president. So it was kind of, his thoughts were right on. Some of the other events of the 1960s, just like you, if, when you first heard, he probably knew where you were, or how about the shootings at Kent State in 1970. That was a shocker too, that killed people. Yeah, you know, there has been a lot of protests, but nobody has been shot.

JM: 27:47
Yeah. Well, 1970, so and see, I was probably in Vietnam when that went on. And so in (19)71, or (19)72, I was in Colorado, and I joined, I was going to Colorado University, and I joined the Vietnam Veterans Against the War protest group. So, I was right here with them protesting, you know, doing anything to get us the hell out of war. You know, I was pretty committed to this war was wrong, and we needed to get out of that.

SM: 28:43
The, you chose a career in nursing, a career that helps you decide what you could do to serve your nation, which is, which is certainly honorable. And you were against the war, but you still went because of the eight that you knew had died from your hometown. You brought this up at your presentation at the Vietnam Memorial. That must have really created mixed emotions with you even when you were over there serving. Can you talk at all about, first off that the trip over, the flight over, usually when people from, who are going to Vietnam that trip over, they had a lot of feelings and when they got off that plane and felt that heat, that was the second thing and then saw others that were coming home? Just you know, that whole, your feelings over there knowing that these things are going on back in the United States. The anti-war movement was so strong. And I think part of the anti-war movement was also over in Vietnam because the African American soldiers were dealing with a lot of the civil rights issues as well that were going on in America. [crosstalk]

JM: 30:06
Yep. Those are two separate issues. Those are two, there was an anti-Vietnam war movement in Vietnam, and there was a civil rights movement of the black soldiers that were being mistreated, you know, send off to jail. And, and we and, and that was scary. Both of that was scary. Now, the anti-Vietnam movement, I will tell you a story is that we, the docs and the nurses, you know, put, you know, we had officers and enlisted in the officers and all of that, and we, but we had a place, Lance's Bar, that where we lived in the barracks, well it was not a barrack, we call them hooches. But anyway, there is, and we would go there to, you know, get together, to say goodbye, have a party, either somebody was leaving, or somebody just came and, and would sing and have drinks, I guess, I do not know, sit around in a circle. Maybe, I do not, maybe 15 of us, 20 of us, and the docs and the nurses, you can imagine, you have got very close to these people. And at the end would always, end by singing, "You have got a friend, you have got a friend," James Taylor. And then would stomp, stomp on the floor at the end, "Peace now, peace now." Well, one night, the group had this same demonstration out on top of the bunkers, and Harvey was there. He is our radiologist taking movies of this, and singing the song, I guess and everything. Well, this got reported to somebody, I guess, the echo, and he reported to Saigon. And then Saigon had an investigation of us, and they all came up in their helicopters, and interviewed everybody. I cannot remember if I get interviewed or not, because I said I was working that night. I am sorry. I missed it, you know. [chuckles] And so, that was a big deal. So with our punishment, I remember was, they were not going to give us any medals. Of course, we laugh about it, because in those days in the army, right, if you did something wrong, they threatened you with going to Vietnam. Okay. Then when you were in Vietnam, they threatened you with going further north, near the DMZ, but we were already about as far north as you could get. [laughter] So, they took away our metals. And I remember a couple of the guys say, "You know, I was not going to wear those damn metals ever again anyway." So yeah, we had our own anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. And I remember the black enlisted guys, scaring, you know, they had weapons in their barracks and they were going to have a revolt and we had a couple of black docs, physicians, thank God, that went over and they went over, and talked to them, and calmed them down. So, we were okay. So yeah, there was there was, there was a lot going on, you know, to the, yeah, there was a lot going on.

SM: 33:29
What was that feeling when you got on that plane heading to Vietnam? What were your- what was going through your mind there? That is a long flight.

JM: 33:38
It is, it is. And I left from Washington, my family, I had gone home. And I was, I had to be in this wedding for my brother and I was the maid, and I was a, you know, bridesmaid. And oh, my God, my cousin had been injured in Vietnam, and my aunt is asking me to take care of them. And I am like, I was, I am like, "Oh my god, I cannot do all this people." But, and then, I got on a plane, came back here to Washington, to my friends here. And then they had to put me on a plane at [inaudible] and with my duffel bag, and that was it too, being back home in Cohasset, I remember packing a duffel bag and thinking, you know, how do you pack for a year? As a woman knowing there are no shopping malls, people. [chuckles] You know and, and figuring that all out, and packing the duffel bag, and I think they allowed me to have another suitcase, I had a croc suitcase. And getting back here to Washington and then Beth and M drove me to the airport, and then I flew to Hawaii and I called them I remember and I just cried. So then from, then on, Hawaii to Cyprus. I think I landed in Guam. And then on to Saigon, it felt like I cried every 15 minutes, I just cried. I just cried, I was alone. And then I remember being on this plane with 250 GI's. And somebody is saying, "For any second lieutenants out there, your average life is 20 minutes," or something and then someone else saying, "Look to your left, look to your right. One of you is not going to make it back." So it is a very long time, as a woman, as a young woman, 22. And, and, and I do not remember the guys like being overly friendly at all, somehow, or I might, just so caught up in myself, you know, I am scared. And then we come landing into Saigon there, and there were these, what, there is flares going off. And I thought they were bombs. Because what do I know, I do not know what bombs, I do not know anything like that, oh, my God. And, and then I got out of the airplane, yet somehow. And they put me in a hut somewhere that had concertina wire around it, for three days. And there was a guard there, and I did not know if he was guarding me to keep the enemy out or to keep me in. [laughter] I did not know what the hell I was doing. I remember reading a book, and I waited. And then they finally maybe I have got my uniforms then. Somehow, they took me somewhere to get uniforms, and put my name on the uniform. And then I went down to Saigon too, and I met with the Chief Nurse. And I remember her saying, "What are you doing here? I did not know you was coming." And I am thinking, "Oh, my God. All this. And she does not want me." But anyway, and then she goes "What am I going to do with you?" "I do not know," I thought-

SM: 34:37
[chuckles} [chuckles]

JM: 34:55
-you know, so then she said, "Okay, I am going to put you up with the knives at the backup." And I am going to, so they put me in a C-140 with another 200 guys. And we landed every 20 minutes or something you had to unload and load. In fact, it was nighttime by the time I got up there, and they could not safely get me over to the hospital. So, I had to stay at the airport with the red, with the Donut Dollies place. So I am like, "What the hell are you people doing here? Why would you?" Oh, but then they have got me over the 95th, somehow, somebody got me over there. And so, the Chief nurse was there. And she said, "Here, here is your mooch, go to there. Come back and see me in three days." [chuckles] Because she is such a mess, I guess she figures. So anyway, it was, it was not easy, no. And then she assigned me to the ICU. And because I had come from Reed and I had worked recovering from ICU. And then that did not work out well. So then she moved me down to this, what they call a pre-op and receiving which was, as you heard me say, essentially the emergency room. And she said, I know you can take care of your own patients down there. And you can call the shots more or less. So, I went down there and that is where I met Christy and Annie, and we just became best friends, the three of us, and uncovering the docks, you know, and we had a great team. So things, but it was, it was either. I mean it was, ugh.

SM: 38:55
Were you there, [crosstalk] were you at this location the whole time you were in Vietnam?

JM: 39:02
Yes. Yeah. I never went anywhere. And you know, you could not go anywhere either.

SM: 39:07
How long were you there?

JM: 39:10
Ten months. And you could not as a woman, of course you could not drive, of course, you did not have a vehicle. And you could not leave the compound, unless you were in uniform, in a vehicle, where the driver had agreed to take you to another military place. And the only place I went was China Beach where they had an officer's club and, you know, a change area and you know, so and that was, that was I think it was Army, might have been Navy. I do not know. But that was the only place I went to, which is often by myself.

SM: 39:52
Were you a seven day a week nurse, or would you, did you, were you five days a week and two days off?

JM: 39:59
No, we worked, we worked six days, 12 hours a day.

SM: 40:02

JM: 40:04
Seven to seven or seven to seven.

SM: 40:07
Wow. And what were your duties there?

JM: 40:12
Well, that is the outright. So, down there in pre-op and receiving, I mean, I had to learn. It was taking care of the wounded, that came in. Amputations, leg [inaudible], above the knee, below the knee, hip wounds, back wounds, chest wounds, and then they came in hypovolemic shock. And so, you were, I was, I learned how to resuscitate somebody in a hypovolemic shock. So, that meant starting IV's. And, you know, my orientation to going to war as a nurse was when Bob Watson in at Walter Reed, he had been to Vietnam, he was an anesthesiologist. And he heard I was, when I am on orders, to Vietnam. So, he took me to the back, to the operating room. And he taught me how to start an IV. Because he knew I needed to know how to do that. And so, by the time I got over there to pre-op and receiving down there, I knew how to start an IV and essentially, so you know, the wounded came in on the choppers on the chopper pad, the corpsman would grab a gurney, go out and get the wounded, bring them in, we put them on the sawhorses. And then I go to work, cut off your uniforms. And started, check, get their name, get a feel on a blood pressure count, start their IV, if you can get something going in the hand, or the arm, if not, I can stick them in the external jugular, I put them head down. If they were in so much shock, I could not get into a vein, I go into the external jugular and I have gotten really good at that, and start an IV and then I would also be doing what is called a femoral tic, stick a needle with the 10-cc syringe into their femoral artery, and ask for a 10-cc's of blood to hook it to two tubes of blood, and I would send it with a corpsman over to the blood bank right across the hall. And then, he would give it to the blood bank person in exchange for two units of-of, O neg, low titer blood, because that is a universal donor. And then in the meantime, the blood bank guy is typing and crossing. So, the next units would be type specific at least. And in the meantime, I am back here starting the IV's, setting up something for blood to get the blood going. And looking at the wounds, I mean, not looking at them, changing the bandages and then oh, and then writing up an X-ray. So because we would want to get them on to X-ray if there was any abdominal or even the legs to see if there were any cracks in the wound, you know. So, we try to stabilize them enough to get them to X-ray, if they were not stable I would have to go with them to X-ray, pumping the blood, pumping the IVs, get them out of X-ray. And hopefully you have got a stable blood pressure, 90 anyway. And then take them up the hall to the operating room. And then those that were not that critically injured went over to what we call pre-op and I would come back and look at them, and try to get them ready better. For the, you know, you had to be prioritizing all the time. You know, this one is going to go, and this one we can wait. So, that is what my day was like.

SM: 43:54
When the really seriously wounded individuals, how long were they there? Did they take them, do they take them away to another hospital after a certain length of time? And for those who were not hurt as much, what was the longest number of days that they would stay in at your location?

JM: 44:13
I would say for about two or three days. And we would stabilize them enough so that they can transport and so, two or three days and they either went back to their unit if they were really like, you know could, if they were okay, or two or three days and they were medivac to Camp Sama. So, usually we could load them onto a bus, you know on stretchers, and take them down, they would take them down to the airport, put them on a plane, and medivac them to Camp Sama in Japan. Yeah-yeah.

SM: 44:47
In your speech you talked about, you know, holding the hand of someone who died. Could you describe a few experiences with wounded or dying vets? What did you do for them, no names? But, what were their wounds? And were you with them when they died? You know, there is different groups here, there is those that may have lost an arm or a leg. And so they found out that they, one of their limbs is gone, and how they reacted and so forth. And those that you could not do anything for, and we were going to die. And just a couple of the times, the experiences and I do not know if you ever mentioned this at the speech, but the thing is, did you ever go back to the wall on Washington, D.C. and tried to look up somebody on the wall that you would actually try to help save?

JM: 45:42
No, I did not come home with any names. And I think I did that on purpose. I did not come home with any names. I remember, people, maybe a little bit from Walter Reed. But I do not, but not, no, no. And what was interesting in Vietnam, we never, I guess a nurse, you are used to like, you know, you have patient conferences. You talk about the patients, right? And when Chrissy, Annie and I would get together on the picnic bench with a bottle of bourbon. We would not talk about any patient. We just stuffed it. We just stuffed it. And I remember with Tony, he was a surgeon, and Sherry and, we did not, we just did not talk about it. We just did not talk about it. And then when we, when I came home and I ended up in Colorado, and Chrissy and Annie were out there and couple of other nurses, a couple of docs, about 10 of us, especially in Cafe McKenna. That is right, she was an OR nurse. And we then, we talked, and talked, and talked, and talked, and talked. But in Vietnam, we did not talk, and I did not come home with anything. Nope.

SM: 47:16
Yeah, I know that. I have interviewed a lot of people and read a lot of books, and some of the stories about some of the people in Vietnam who are seriously wounded. Now, some of them survived. But, they would always be talking and asking for their mom, or their brother, or their sister, or their, someone in their family because not knowing if they will ever see them again. Did you have a lot of that, or?

JM: 47:43
No-no. Well, you know, for the most part, and this is, I remember, if a guy came in alive, they survived. You know, because that is, that is, because we were treating hypovolemic shock, you know, and you pump them up some fluids and some fluids. They will pick up for you, they will survive. Now, the only ones that did not survive in my experience, anyway, were the head wounds, because the nurse, you know, I would call the neurosurgeon down, to come down and assess and say there is nothing I can do with this one. And so, so I would take that patient in the back. And, I would sit with him until he died. But he was not conscious, you know, but I would stay there, I would not leave him alone. But I remember thinking that consciously you know, that, I, that they came in alive. They would leave alive, for the most part, and cause most of our wounds again, were amputations, blank amps.

SM: 47:44
Okay. Yep.

JM: 48:55
As long as you could catch up.

SM: 49:04
The, you had mentioned that R&R was very important. And you mentioned China Beach, I think there was a T.V. show about that. I think there is something there with China Beach. But-

JM: 49:14
Yes-yes. Of course.

SM: 49:16
You were up north, you were near the DMZ, were not you, you were, you were up north. So, how far away was China Beach, and describe what China Beach is all about for those who have never heard of it?

JM: 49:21
Yeah. Well, right there was a show China Beach, and it was a real China Beach and it was not it. [laughs] And as I said it was, it, I guess it was considered it was, it was an in-country R&R. So I guess, you know, soldiers would come in from the field. I do not know if they had any space for them to stay. Maybe they did, but that does not concern me. They need a place to stay. But, they did have an old club that I think served food. And the beach was just absolutely gorgeous, just absolutely gorgeous. And we would go sometimes, like real professional surgeons and nurses, and put down on a Sunday, we would be quote "off," [chuckles] and sit on the beach, and swim. But I remember sitting there one Sunday with everybody, and we are looking over to Marble Mountain. And there were bombs being dropped and stuff. I mean, you could hear the war. And we all said, "Well, we better pack it up. We are going to have business soon. We better get back to work." And that was the craziness of it all. You know. [chuckles] We were enjoying a beautiful day at the beach, in our bathing suits. I remember, I did not bring a bathing suit with me. And I had to write my mother and ask her to send me a bathing suit. I said, "But make it be one for a nun or something." [laughter] So, she sent me a one-piece bathing suit with a skirt to it, you know. So, you know, I just wanted to be, you know, I did not want to be wearing any bikinis on China Beach [chuckles].

SM: 51:30
Now the, China Beach, it was totally 100 percent secure. Was it really? You know, Vietnam was not safe anywhere. But that was one area, you knew you were safe.

JM: 51:46
Yeah-yeah. It I think it had a perimeter. And I mean, it was only a section of the beach and it had some kind of a fence up there. And whether, there were probably guards out there. I know we, we had, they had Air Force. There were lifeguards there that we were active duty Air Force. Because I remember talking to one and then he told me he was in the Air Force. I thought, well, that is a nice job [laughter].

SM: 52:22
Now, could you talk about how you left Vietnam, you were there for 10 months? And I remember reading something that a United States senator helped you get home. But could you talk about when that time came when you are leaving Vietnam?

JM: 52:44
Right, well, like in February, March, I, I came up with my five-year plan. That is what I call it, my five-year plan, which meant I want to get back, go to college. Because part of my going into was I knew I had the G.I. bill because my parents would not let me go to college and I wanted to go to college. I really, really wanted to go to college. I had good grades. I loved school. I wanted to go to medical school. But my father. and I got into five universities, but my father said "No, you are going to go to Mass General Hospital School of Nursing." Okay. So, that is my part of this thing. I had had the G.I. Bill to go to college. And so, I applied to colleges again, while I was in Vietnam, I got into two universities. And then I put the paperwork in for school. I was supposed to go home in October, but I needed to go home in August, so I could start school, the fall semester. We put the paperwork in and nothing happened, and nothing happened. So, it had to be like July, and nothing was happening. And so, the IG was coming for the day, early in the morning. I remember there was a sign up that said that the IG will be here at 7:30 in the morning, in this little room. So I said, "Okay, I am going to go and talk to the IG." So, I did, and I told him my story. And I said, "I have not heard anything." He said, "Okay, let me look into it." Well, he got back to me and said, "Oh, your paperwork was lost." So I thought really, and I said, "Chief it must have fallen out of the airplane on the way back to Washington, D.C." I was quite cynical when I said it. [laughs] And so, you know, I came back and I realized this army was not going to do anything for me to get out of here. So, I was working nights one night, and I am sitting there and thinking, "Okay, what are you going to do?" I could write to Ted Kennedy. Okay, knowing that if you write to your Senator, your days are numbered in the military. That just is not something you do as an officer. As a first lieutenant in the army, but I decided, and writing a letter from Vietnam, you know, there was no postage, but it could be, somebody could be reading it on the way out of the country. But I did, I wrote an eight-page letter to Ted Kennedy and told him my whole story, I want to go back, I am here today, and they will not let me out of here, and I want to go to school. Well, six days later, on a Sunday morning, the Chief Nurse, Lieutenant Colonel comes running down, I am working. And she said, "McCarthy, go pack your bags, you are out of here." That is how I left Vietnam.

SM: 54:31

JM: 55:04
And I went back to my room, and I packed my stuff up in my duffel bag. And I found John Robuski, who had a Jeep, I knew he had a Jeep, and we got in our flak jacket and helmet. But that time, they wanted us to wear this blackjack and helmet all the time. And he took me to the airport. And that is how I left. I never said goodbye to anybody.

SM: 56:07
But you were on your way home. [chuckles]

JM: 56:09
Yeah-yeah. So I got on a plane to [inaudible]. They kept me there for a few days. And then they got me on a plane to Travis Air Force Base. And they processed me out in eight hours. And, you know, now I have been on a plane for 26 hours, and they made me dress up in my uniform, not [inaudible]. And they said I could not bring any [inaudible] home with me. But you saw me, I had my [inaudible], I stuff, I stuffed in my duffel bag to bring home with me. But, that was illegal. They did not want you to do it. But, I did it anyway. But, I had to put on my skirt, and jacket, and stockings, and high heels, black heels to ride on my plane home. By the time I got to Travis I could not even put the high heels on my feet. My ankles was, my feet was so swollen, they walked me around for eight hours, processed me out of the army, and then at the last stop the guy hands me a couple thousand dollars and said "Okay, see you." I definitely did not see other coworkers. I said, "Where am I supposed to go?" He said, "Well, where do you live?" And I said, "Well, I guess Massachusetts." "Then get on an airplane and go," "Well, where is the airport?" "25 miles down the road." I said, "How do I get there?" "I do not know, grab a cab." [chuckles]

SM: 57:33
[chuckles] Jeez, very helpful.

JM: 57:37
Yeah. Yeah, that is how I left the Army

SM: 57:42
Now, you had, you had talked about you had a five-year plan and your goals were to continue our education. And you know you are, you are a doctor, you got a PhD. Could you talk a little bit about, you know, your plans and then on your rival home? I have a couple of questions about post-traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange. But I want to, just your five-year plan because it was a good one.

JM: 58:11
Yeah, it was three years. I knew I needed three more years to get my college degree, a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. So I had applied to, say Indiana University's School of Nursing, and been accepted into Colorado University. And then my plan was after that was to go to anesthesia school to become a nurse anesthetist because I had found out about nurse anesthetist at Walter Reed and I thought, "Wow, this is something," but I did not think I would have the guts or the know how to do it. But in Vietnam, I said, "I can do this," and then went nurse anesthetists in Vietnam too. And, you know, I figured, yeah, I can do this. If I can do that, I can do this. So-so-so that was my plan, get my college degree, and then two more years in anesthesia school. So that is what I did, I came back. I went to IUP, Indiana University one semester, then I got in my car and drove out to Colorado, went to Colorado University, and went to Loretto Heights College, finished up the degree there. And then I had applied to Fairfax Hospital School, nurse anesthesia, got in there and moved back here to Virginia, went to that program, cut through, cut through there, and then I got a job at the Washington Hospital Center for a couple of years, and then I moved up to Walter Reed again. So now, I am back at Reed civilian nurse anesthetists in 1970, (19)78. And I was working, and Bob Watson was there, the same guy that said goodbye to me, you know, I mean, you know, they have taught me how to start an IV now, and so in the whole department and Bob was my chair, and well, it was connected to the Uniformed Services University. And somehow, I found out about that, and I went over, and I talked to Bob about it. And he said, "Well, you know, you got to go to medical school," but I do not want to go to medical school, I think I want to go on to my PhD in research, to do research. So he said, "Okay," so I went over for a couple of interviews there, and they accepted me. And so I, while I was back being a student and I loved it, I absolutely loved it. I mean, it was really hard. But, I had to give up my job at Reed. And I was essentially in medical school for two years. And then you go off, and do the research for three years, basic science research. And, you know, it was great. It was, it was hard. As I said, it was very hard. But, I learned how to do some really significant research. And from there, I did a postdoc at Mammary Naval Medical Research Institute. And then FDA found me and asked me to come over and work there as their basic scientist because of my pre-doctoral work, which was in high frequency ventilation, and FDA was reviewing the first high frequency ventilators for infants, and my research was preclinical. But anyway, I was a [inaudible], I was living my hat at the time. And so that is how I got into my work at FDA. And I transferred from an Army Reserve. And I became an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, working at FDA. And so I was able to, you know, being in that uniform, Public Health Service for 20 years. With my work at FDA.

SM: 1:02:08

JM: 1:02:09
That is a quick long story, is not it?

SM: 1:02:11
But that is a great, I mean, it is a kind of, having a goal and doing it, having a goal, and doing it. And that is, it says a lot about you. And what you have done your whole life. Did you ever experienced Agent Orange? Did you ever have any effects of that when you were there?

JM: 1:02:28
Well, I do not. Well, I mean, I do not, do people have acute effects of Agent Orange?

SM: 1:02:37
Some people that have had cancer, they figured they got it from Agent Orange.

JM: 1:02:41
Well, right. Right, you see, you do not have acute but long years and years later.

SM: 1:02:47
I know many Vietnam vets and what they had to go through to prove they were victims of Agent Orange was kind of a living hell and. Right

JM: 1:02:47
And my friend Chrissy that I told you about, and Annie's husband that she met there, both have strange Leukemias and died come from them. And, and I often though, and Chrissy did too, but it was our exposure to Agent Orange because we were cutting off their uniforms, right, when they came in, the wounded. And we did not wear, we did not wear gloves, [chuckles] we were not wearing gloves. And we, so we definitely could have been exposed to it. I had breast cancer about 15 years ago. And I think I put a claim into VA for it, but I never really followed up on it. Thank goodness I, I had an early, very early stage. And so, my treatment was successful. Well, my end was going through, my was, of course I never got in the Agent Orange thing, but my thing was hard that was hard was PTSD.

SM: 1:04:17
Yeah, could you explain how you knew you had it?

JM: 1:04:23
Well, it is not like, okay, okay. Okay. Let us see. I think like, I think I said my job. Looking back, I had classic PTSD and also how I knew that was, okay, when I was getting out of the Public Health Service retiring about 15 years ago or so, or 20, I do not know, 15 years ago. They told me make sure you go to VA and get an exit physical. So this is 2006, right, 25 years or something, or 30, whatever, 40 years after Vietnam, but they said, get an exit physical. So I said, "Okay," so I went down to VA in D.C. And part of that was, I somehow, I met with a clinical psychologist and they took my history. And I told them my symptoms when I first came home from Vietnam, you know, I did not sleep for six months, I did not eat. I was depressed. I was numb. I, you know, the classic stuff. And so he said, anyway, I remember him saying to me, "You have classic symptoms of PTSD." Okay, so I guess he put paperwork in for me to get, to get process for disability for PTSD. And I remember having to do that, I had to come up with letters that I was within Vietnam, and letters of people that knew me and Vietnam, and letters from psychologists with relationship things. And, yeah, I had to do a lot of work to get that but it did finally come through. I think I got 60 percent disability. But then seven years later, they, they asked that I do a reevaluation. So, I went back down to VA again in D.C., and I was seen by this civilian old psychiatrist who said to me, "Well, you look pretty good to me right now," and that was the end of that.

SM: 1:06:46
I read someplace, because I have looked up several articles on you, that you were working with a younger nurse and, a woman came in, and died in the office or something like that. And he said, you were not as emotional about that, as you know, because you have seen so much death in Vietnam.

JM: 1:07:07
Yeah, yeah. So, when I came back, I was in Indiana, and I was working, I thought, okay, I guess I am an emergency room nurse now. And I got a job at the city hospital there in Indianapolis. And in the ER, and I am working evenings, and I am working with a student who was assigned to work with me, a student nurse, old lady came in with a fractured hip in her bed, and I said, "Why do not you go ahead over to X-ray with her." So the student comes back, and she is crying. And I said, "What are you crying about it," she said, "She died." And I hope I did not say this, I thought about it. I thought, you were crying over that? I was holding a 19-year-old in my arms who bled to death in my arm, two weeks ago. And that is when I knew I ought not to be here. This is not a good place for me to be. So I was so numb, I realized that, you know, so I never did, I do not think, I left that job. But shortly after that, I moved out to Colorado. And I do not think, I worked at the city hospital there. But maybe the Chief Nurse knew enough, that could see that, I was damaged goods or something and then an ER with, anyway, I remember working in a pediatric clinic, and then they put me on the jail ward. But at least, I do not know. Yeah. Anyway, that is-

SM: 1:08:51

JM: 1:08:51
-that is what happened.

SM: 1:08:53
When you came home from the war, you said you remember a Vietnam Veterans Against, Viet Vets against the war. And you were involved in some of the protests that they did as well. Did you attend, any of the activity that took place on that one weekend where they were actually throwing their, their metals over a fence, and going up to a microphone and, and then that was the same weekend that John Kerry gave that famous speech? Before the Foreign Relations Committee with William Fulbright. You know, he said something about the fact that, you know, how can you say, how can I keep on serving in Vietnam and say, I would be the last man to die in a war that, that was so wrong or something like that. Were you there that weekend? Were you aware that was going on, as a member of Vietnam Vets of America against the war?

JM: 1:09:48
No, I did not. I do not, where was it?

SM: 1:09:52
It was in Washington, D.C.

JM: 1:09:53
No-no-no. No, I, do not know, I did not get involved. And really, I did not come to D.C., I did not. I was barely keeping my own life together, I think [chuckles] you know what I mean? I was not, I was not seeing like John Kerry. I mean, I did, as I said, in Colorado, and I went to a couple of meetings, a couple of demonstrations there. But even when I got back here to go to anesthesia school, I do not remember being really involved. It was not until, but then we had that, I was involved, but in a positive way, rather than a negative way. If you know what I mean, like (19)80-(19)82, we had the dedication of the wall, I was there for that. And in (19)93, I was there and that even, I went to the Congress for the hearings. You know, I was involved, but I do not remember going to any demonstrations.

SM: 1:11:10
Yeah, that was just, that is how John Kerry's career really started. He gave that speech and it was a heck of a great speech. And he had a senator and William Fulbright that, that wanted him to come speak. And obviously, William Fulbright was not liked at that time by L.B.J. And so it was, you know, it was his historic time. You know, I like your comments too. You are a Vietnam veteran and how the nation treated Vietnam veterans is disgraceful upon their return. I have a story here I want you to respond to and it is just a typical example of how the vets are treated upon the return. Bobby Mahler who founded Vietnam Veterans of America, told me in an interview, and I have seen him several other times, that the reason why he created this organization was because when he came home, severely wounded, paralyzed from the waist down. He was in the hospital. And they had absolutely no wheelchairs at his hospital, and he asked for a wheelchair and he said, "We do not have any." And he thought that was ridiculous. He, people were coming home from war, and could not walk. And so he put in his mind, personally as one person, that I am going to do something to make sure this never happens again to other vets. And that is how he kind of, the reason why he formed Vietnam Veterans of America. And of course, he was one of the cofounders of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, too. But your overall comments about how Vietnam vets were treated upon their return, it is, it is upsetting.

JM: 1:12:54
Well, I do not, well, I mean, which comments?

SM: 1:13:02
No, just any thoughts on how America treated its vets who served in Vietnam?

JM: 1:13:06
Oh you are asking me what, what-

SM: 1:13:09

JM: 1:13:10
-I do not, I think I do not, this is my opinion. But, I do not think a parade would have helped. And I do not think my feelings, there was PTSD, or that, you know, having experienced war, we need to heal, we need to heal. And then I guess what we did with the wall and the memorial was healing. That is healing. I mean, I do not think coming home to a parade. I mean, there was nothing to celebrate, what are you going to celebrate? You were just in a war that nobody knows why the hell we were in this damn thing. I think it is more about so, it was not I was not all about that I got spit on and that kind of stuff. It was not about me. I mean, what we needed and Chrissy and I worked on that for years. When we came home I remember you know she was out in California and had a lot to do with that show China Beach. The producers worked with her, and interviewed her. She, a lot of the shows were based on her stories.

SM: 1:14:38
Who you are talking about, Chrissy? Whose Chrissy?

JM: 1:14:43
Chrissy was with me and, was a nurse there in pre-op and receiving.

SM: 1:14:48

JM: 1:14:48
It was, yeah, yeah, we were best friends. We got home. She was in Colorado. And you know, we stayed in touch. But she was out in California, working with the, working, and on the side, you know, we all did our Vietnam stuff on the side. Then we, what we worked on was like the Vet Centers, you know, Vet Centers, and getting veterans help that way. We, we felt very, that is what we needed, where we needed to be putting our energy away. Not so much a parade, to get them some help. And they started these Vet centers on the sidewalks, you know, that was supposed to be if you were a veteran come in, and we will help you. And we needed to get them more help that way. I do not know if that is making sense.

SM: 1:15:48
Oh, yeah, it does. It is a different opinion. And that is, that is important.

JM: 1:15:52
I do not think I do not think a parade would have helped.

SM: 1:15:55

JM: 1:15:55
You know, I think that the Vietnam vets they had trouble with, we had trouble because we have witnessed atrocities of war. And what are you going to do celebrate that they needed to?

SM: 1:16:08

JM: 1:16:09
You know, we needed to process that. We needed to process with other veterans, with other, because you could not talk to anybody that had not been there. They did not understand. And we needed to support the veterans that way to help them get on with their lives. But I mean, and to help heal, and what they went through.

SM: 1:16:34
You attended both of the- these historic events, the opening of the wall in 1982, and the opening of the women's memorial in 1993. As a veteran I have seen, I live in California, I could not come to attend. But, that picture of the wall opening is, man, there was a lot of people there. Could you, what was the feelings that, that was there, in 1982? Just-just being there, what did it, how did you feel?

JM: 1:17:04
So, it was, it was very exciting. There was a lot of hoopla, there was a lot of, there was a, you know, a lot of veterans here on motorcycles. And so, there was that kind of celebration. But I think afterwards, you know, when-when, like, the wall was a very somber place. It was almost sacred, you know, and it was very different from any other Memorial. And when people would come in, like, I remember when Chrissy came in to see the wall for the first time, and my friend, Mike Camp, who was a psychiatrist. I think he was still at Walter Reed them, and we were in Vietnam together. And, and we both thought, we cannot let Chrissy see that wall by herself, and we met her at the wall. And we walked her through the wall, with her. I mean, that is, that is, that is what kind of a sites it is, when you see it for the first time. And, and then seeing the soldiers, you know, looking at the wall. So, there was a difference between to me anyway, that day when we celebrated the dedication of the wall. And then afterwards, the impact it has on veterans since, even to this day, you know that-

SM: 1:18:41

JM: 1:18:42
-you have airplanes full of veterans coming in to look at that wall. And but then, you look at 1993 right, by then I was at the Uniformed Services University as a professor. I was in uniform now. And several of us went down to the dedication. Oh, yeah. Oh, my goodness. You know, all kinds of nurses came in from all over the country. And I remember this friend of mine, another friend, Janet Smart, from Colorado. She and I were friends in Colorado. I mean, you know, when we ran the streets, and we skied, and partied, and she was a ski instructor, and she had been, she was a nurse in the reserve unit. But so I left Colorado, you know, and came back and now we were, what, 20 years later or so 15 years later, and we were at the Dedication of the Nurses Memorial. I am and I look up and she is tall like I am, and I looked over, and there was Janet. And we both said to each other, "What are you doing here?" [laughter] And she said, "I was in Vietnam," and I said "Well, so was I." We had been friends in Colorado for three years, never told each other that we had been in Vietnam.

SM: 1:20:06
Oh my gosh. Yeah.

JM: 1:20:08
Yeah. So, I mean, that just shows you how much you can stuff it. But that so anyway, that day I told her in my speech I talked about, the somberness. But the nurse’s memorial, I feel like it is still different. I can go and sit there, and I do not know, it feels more healing, and peaceful, or something underneath the trees. And whereas the wall, you know, if you really look at the wall, it has got all those names on it.

SM: 1:20:48
You know, Jam Scruggs wrote, his first book was "To heal a Nation." And, and this is a question I have asked all the people I have interviewed. When Jan used to say a lot, "This is not a political entity. This is all about remembrance. This is about making sure that we never forget those who served in Vietnam and lost their lives. And those who did serve in Vietnam and came home, and for the families of those who are no longer with us," that, you know, it was all about that, it was about healing. He goes on and it is done a great job in terms of healing, the Vietnam vets, and their families. The question is whether what the job is done with healing the nation that was so divided in, in the (19)60s? And that everybody has their own opinions on this. Do you think that wall has helped us heal as a nation?

JM: 1:21:49
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I, I think it was a turning point in, in how we looked at war, I mean, every other Memorial, is memorializing the heroes coming home. And I think that this memorial, is memorializing the high cost of war, and the pain of war. And I mean, I differ from Shannon, a bit there that it is not about remembering, it is about, it is about remembering these people. But it is also, it is about remembering the high costs of war, and we ought to think twice about getting into another war.

SM: 1:22:39

JM: 1:22:41
But that is very opposite meaning of every other Memorial where you look at "Oh, the soldiers, the heroes." I do not get that from the wall. I do not get that from, from looking at the wall. I get that this, we lost 58,000 men for what? And that is what even the soldiers, the way those soldiers are looking at that wall, you know.

SM: 1:23:17
In your view, what is the legacy of the Vietnam War? And what were the lessons learned or lost in that war?

JM: 1:23:26
Oh, I was hoping that we had learned the lesson of not getting into war. Nothing good comes of it. That is all we have atrocities, and lives lost, and countries ruin. When you think, you know that poor Vietnam country, the bombing, and everything, ugh. You know, wars are not good, nothing good comes out of them. And in this whole thing, you got a question. Somebody say, well, it was the domino theory. Really? Really, that is what we were told we were there because of the domino theory. Yeah, we lost and I do not see any dominoes falling here. And Vietnam, even though it was under communist rule, it was probably, it was probably better off than-than it was when it was being at war for 15-20 years.

SM: 1:24:33
Who do you blame for the war, if you know?

JM: 1:24:40
I think, I think all of them you know, the military industrial complex, the people making money off to the war. They were pushing it. The lobbyists, the weapons people, the convinced, and I knew Johnson he knew it was wrong. And then Nixon, you know, he did. It was the one time voted for Nixon was because he said he would get us the hell out of there-

SM: 1:25:15

JM: 1:25:19
-but I thought, I thought once we got out of there that we had learned our lessons, and then you see in (19)91, 20 years later, Bush invaded Iran. And I fell apart, then I fell apart. I just did not think our country would ever do that. And that is when I really fell apart with PTSD. Because I just, I, we could not turn the T.V. on in my house. We, you know, I could not I got really depressed, I just could not believe that we were doing that again.

SM: 1:25:57
And now we are talking about building another memorial for the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, so. Because that is what I think Jan is, is somewhat linked to that effort, because he is always we are thinking about those who serve the nation, and so-

JM: 1:26:16
I am not. Yeah, right, no.

SM: 1:26:20
One of the questions I want to ask before I ask my final two questions is, do you consider the activists who tried to end the war as heroes like those who served in the war in Vietnam, both are not treated well, upon the returned? Nixon called the silent majority; his group was called the silent majority during the (19)60s and early (19)70s. And they are the ones that kind of were, after those who served the anti-war protesters and so forth. But they were trying to save lives. But, the ones that were not it for just fun. The true activist one to save lives in Vietnam, not only the people who served in Vietnam, Americans, but also the Vietnamese population as well. Would you consider them? You know, the divisions of the (19)60s are such that how could you dare call an anti-war protester a hero, but today, when you are talking about today's terms, looking at Vietnam vets who I consider heroes, and, and Viet, and then the anti-war protesters who are against this war for many, many years, all ages, not just young people, if they were sincere, and bringing people home to save lives, I consider them heroes. What are your thoughts?

JM: 1:27:45
What that we care about the Vietnamese people too, is what you are asking?

SM: 1:27:50
No, it was do you consider the anti-war, the people who were anti-war protesters? Do you consider them heroes too?

JM: 1:27:58
Yes, absolutely. Thank God we had them, thank God. Because, you know, that helped get us the hell out of there. But if people just sat back and said, "Okay, let us keep going with this war." We were losing a 1000 men a month, were being killed. No, absolutely. Thank God for the protesters. I think maybe Nixon was who got us the hell out of there, do not you?

SM: 1:28:24
Yeah. I agree.

JM: 1:28:27

SM: 1:28:28

JM: 1:28:29
Yeah, thank God to the protesters. We needed more of them.

SM: 1:28:35
The, I have a question too as a general question, is several people have talked about the 1960s and early (29)70s as two different groups, two different eras. The one era was 1960-(19)63, and the second era was (19)64-1975, when the helicopters flew off the Embassy in Saigon, of course, they are referring to probably the era of Kennedy, and then his death. And then the second (19)60s started in (19)64. Or do you consider it all one?

JM: 1:29:18
Well, yeah-yeah, I cannot say I could separate them. You know, that. What separates them into what? I do not know. Two different eras? Yeah.

SM: 1:29:53
No. That is just something, one of the top military people at the World War II Memorial when I interviewed him-him, he broke it down in the 2 (19)60s. It is just a thought that some people have, said it was two different years in one year.

JM: 1:30:08
No-no, they were not my life. They were the most influential years of my life. And they were all very much connected, that you know, then our president was killed. And that we were shooting people like Martin Luther King. I mean, then Kennedy was probably killed because of the civil rights that he was willing to, to work with. And so, it was that, and then we got this. I mean, I guess it was different than that. Then we have got another bunch of people that want to get into a war in Vietnam. [laughs]. Oh, God.

SM: 1:30:56
Certainly, for the, your, your thoughts on the boomer generation as a whole? Do you have any opinions on them?

JM: 1:31:05
Well, I am one, right?

SM: 1:31:06
Yes, you are one.

JM: 1:31:20
I think, I mean, I always thought that we were very illusioned. I mean, that Kennedy, remember, Kennedy, and he, he had the Peace Corps. And, you know, there were ideals we could strive for. We were very idealistic, that whatever we wanted to do, we could do, and what, and that is what I got out of the (19)60s, you know, whatever I wanted to do, I could do it, and I was going to go do it. And I think it was a woman, a young woman that my mother could not do, or chose or did not do, the things I did, that was another generation. But I decided I was going to, I could, I could see the possibility, the possibility. And I wrote that way, if you want to think about it that way, as a woman, that, you know, there was something saying to me, I could be whoever I wanted to be, and I was going to go be it. And I do not think I would have, I think we were the first generation to be able to do that. In other words, to-to be able to go and get myself educated, to have a successful career, to be a leader, and to have my own family. I mean, I was raised that as a woman, you could not do all those things.

SM: 1:32:58
That is very well said, very well said. And I want to end the, this last question. What would you say to young people, or people who are listening to this interview, 50 years from now, long after both you and I are gone, and many of our generation is, the boomers will all be gone too? What words of advice would you like to give to those people?

JM: 1:33:27
Well, you know, again, as a woman, that this was the beginning of those opportunities. And I do not know what is going to happen like with, with the, well with the Supreme Court, and remember as a woman in 1973, that those opportunities had just begun, for a woman's right to choose. And, we did not have those rights before. And I think that is what opened up a lot of doors, and I do not know what is going to happen, if those doors are going to close. And, but we had it in 1973. We had it as women, and then, and we believed in democracy, and we believed in equality of all, you know, all, at least I did, maybe I was naive, but I believed in a country where everyone could be equal. Black people, white people, we all had equal opportunity, or at least opportunity to do good things with our lives. And I think that is being challenged now with this autocracy with the Supreme Court, and this, these cowboys and whatever, you know, I hope we are going to be able to keep our democracy going, because that is what gives us the opportunity to do what we want to do from within, inside ourselves. And that could be taken away from us. I hope it is not. But I consider myself very, very lucky that I was right on the cusp of that. And I figured out a way to do what I wanted to do with my life and to not let things like the fact that I am a woman stop me.

SM: 1:35:26
Well, this has been one heck of an interview and I want to thank you very much for-for agreeing to do this. I am going to turn the tape off now and say a few more comments afterwards. Thanks again.

(End of Interview)

Date of Interview

23 June 2022


Stephen McKiernan


Dr. Elizabeth Jane McCarthy

Biographical Text

Dr. Elizabeth Jane McCarthy grew up in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  She is a nurse, educator, and activist. Dr. McCarthy served in Vietnam as a nurse in the 95th Evacuation Hospital in Da Nang. Upon returning from Vietnam, she went to nurse anesthesia school. She worked as a nurse anesthetist for several years and returned to school for her Ph.D. in Physiology from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. Since her retirement from the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, Dr. McCarthy is teaching graduate nursing students at the University of North Florida, Drexel University, and the University of Maryland.





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Binghamton University Libraries

Digital Format


Date of Digitization

23 June 2022

Material Type


Interview Format


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Vietnam war; Nurse; People, Wounded; Home; Memorial Wall; Veterans; Remember; Uniform; Hospital; Dead; Lives; 1960s.


Jane McCarthy.jpeg

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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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“Interview with Dr. Elizabeth Jane McCarthy,” Digital Collections, accessed December 6, 2023,