written by Pat Jernigan (Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired)

Retired U.S. Army Colonel Pat Jernigan for Women Vietnam Veterans

I’m a proud Vietnam veteran, and sometimes I’ll wear a hat that identifies me as such.

Occasionally, a kind citizen will thank me for my service.

“Were you a nurse?” they invariably ask.

The question exasperates me a bit, but I understand it.

The vast majority of women in Vietnam, over 10,000, served as nurses. They performed nearly impossible jobs in stressful environments. They saved lives and saw a lot of blood and guts. They did the kind of work I can only admire and can’t imagine myself ever doing.

I was one of the 1,000 or so other women in Vietnam who weren’t nurses. We held line and staff positions, mostly in the rear. We were, in the language of the day, REMFs—Rear Echelon Mother*#@!s.

I was a staff intelligence officer at Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) J-2 in Saigon. Others served in administration, supply and logistics, communications, aviation, legal, and other support and operational positions. They were flight controllers, clerk-typists, translators, physical therapists, dieticians—you name it, they did it.

Policies dating back to 1945, if not earlier, imposed a range of restrictions on us.

There were caps on the numbers of women who could serve and on the ranks to which they could be promoted. Women couldn’t command men, and a whole slew of assignments and schools were closed to them.

Only after decades of protest and court challenges were these discriminatory policies amended. And it wasn’t until 2015 that the Department of Defense ended all restrictions on women’s service.

Before that happened, two Vietnam WAC veterans, Claire Brisbois Starnes and Priscilla Landry Wilkowitz, started connecting with others like them who had served in staff and line positions. The result was the Vietnam Women Veterans Association, Inc. (VWVA), an organization devoted to preserving the history and educating the public about the non-nurses who served in Vietnam.

Retired Army Sergeant Major Donna Lowrey spearheaded the effort to gather and publish these and other stories into book form. The result is Women Vietnam Veterans Our Untold Stories, the first ever volume to share our names and accounts of service in our own voices. You can order it from Amazon (https://a.co/d/a9fCg4m) or other booksellers.

Col. (Ret.) Pat Jernigan is a Vietnam veteran and a 2018 inductee into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame.