conversation about what happened. We’re
all amateurs at telling our own stories
where our perspectives are skewed a certain
way. As the Russians say, no man sees his
“But each one of those voices is an important part of the party. The more of them
we have, the better composite we have.”
Jane Knowles studied nursing and joined
the military in 1968 at age 26. She
went to Vietnam the next year, assigned
to the 85th EVAC hospital, Phu Bai,
Republic of South Vietnam. She was a
second lieutenant in a MASH unit.
“I was young — I was afraid the war was
gonna be over before I got there. Does that
make any sense?
“It was just not a good time for women
going in the service. Nobody really believed
there was a war over there ’til after the fact —
so I’ve had so many of my friends say, ‘I wish
I’d written you a letter.’ Got that guilt.
“It was about 30 miles by chopper to any
hospital. The helicopters saved a lot of lives.
Like, in World War II or Korea, those guys
would’ve died. It depended on where the firefight was — where the action was, there was
battalion aid stations — but most of the time
they came straight to us from the field.
“Next to our compound was the air strip
and the ARVINS — the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam, like their basic training
camp. So the VC at night would lob some
rockets and mortars in. … They’d do it in
threes — one would be further away and one
would be short, and that’s how they figured out
how dead to hit.
“The biggest push we had was Hamburger
Hill. We were getting them in 75 at a time.
We were so busy with casualties that we were
waving them south. For two solid weeks, every
day at the same time we would start getting
casualties. After they got the hill, they just
pounded it and pounded it and pounded it.
And they just walked away and left it.”
After the war, in Texas, Knowles was
spit on while in uniform. She stopped in a
store and changed into civilian clothes, and
later she was ashamed she had done that.
“I had to come home and hide my uniform
to keep from getting pushed around. You didn’t
wear the uniform if you could help it. … You
didn’t want to call attention to yourself.”
Edward Eatherly Bridges thought the Army would help him find a direction
for his life. He entered Special Forces training shortly after being commissioned a second lieutenant in 1960. The “entrepreneurs
of the Army,” as he called them, were in
ahead of the buildup of troops in Vietnam,
doing intelligence work, developing rapport with the Montagnards, the indigenous
peoples of the Central Highlands — training them and learning from them.
When Bob Wilson came to talk to him
about it in the late 1980s, Bridges described
the wonder of a bale of money dropped by
Bryan Giemza ’99 (JD, ’01 MA, ’04 PhD), director of the Southern Historical Collection: “People might say something to one of Jim
White’s high school students precisely because they are amateurs, quote-unquote.”