LIEUTENANT DEE – U.S. ARMY NURSES CORP.
(Photo of a nurse in Vietnam War)
TAN SONAT AIR BASE, VIETNAM
It was early afternoon when the wheels of the huge U.S cargo plane connected to the tarmac. Through the swirling red dust and blazing sun, eyes gazed at their first sighting of Vietnam. Several thuds later, the plane taxied past army barracks and plane hangars. Large areas of red mud covered the roofs, sandbags and the ground. Inside the plane, the heat was overwhelming. Everyone waited for the doors to open.
Lieutenant Dee stood and waited for the staircase to be secured. She tried to adjust her breathing to the intense heat. From ever direction, her senses were bombarded. She faintly heard the new recruit, Scarlazzi, talk about beaches, babes, boobs and booze.
“Let’s go.” Dee realized that the pilot had asked her to descend. With each step her senses were assaulted by unfamiliar sights, deafening sounds and pungent smells. Her nylons stuck to her skin and she measured each step, one hand securing her armyskirt from exposing her thighs.
The base was in constant motion – trucks, jeeps, ambulances, buses and fire trucks were in the process of loading and unloading. Waiting for transportation, Dee let her eyes take in her new surroundings. The entire perimeter of the base was surrounded by high wire fences.
“What a nauseating smell!” Lieutenant Sue Montgomery spoke with a soft southern drawl.
“They burn the shit from the latrines!” Scarlazzi added. He apparently had little respect for officers, or perhaps not for a black woman officer.
Sue stared at him. “Scarlazzi, the word to use is ” excrement.”
Scarlazzi glared. “You learn that big word at some Negro college, Lieutenant?”
Sue glared at the grinning lad, his intention was to insult and get a laugh.
Sue turned to her fellow nurses.
“He’s all mine, when he comes with his balls blown off!”
The men laughed and Scarlazzi grimaced.
Lieutenant Sophie Wong interjected.
“It’s mostly the smell of burning kerosene and jet fuel.” She pointed to an adjacent runway. “Those planes screeching to a halt are F-14 fighters, and those heavy planes are B-52 bombers.”
“Where’s this knowledge coming from?” Sue teased, “Dating a pilot?”
“I wish!” Sophie sighed. “My younger brother builds model planes.”
This conversation was interrupted by Scarlazzi. He bellowed, “Here comes the Welcome Wagon, lots of cold beer!”
The nurses exchanged weary glances. Scarlazzi had been such a pain for most of the twenty-hour flight. He had been loud and hyperactive. Everyone had been forced to listen to stories of gang fights in the Bronx, where his bravery and fighting skills had made him a man to be feared. Naturally, he claimed that he would take care of his mates in Nam.
Dee had compared Scarlazzi’s background to her own farm life on an Amish farm in Pennsylavania. Her brother Isaiah was nineteen years old, the same age as Scarlazzi. He had been exempted from the draft as a 2-C Registrant, deferred because of agricultural occupation. He was an only son in a family of five daughters. Dee, on the other hand, defied her pacifist Amish family. She felt compelled to serve as a nurse in Vietnam. At twenty-one years of age, she felt her youth and skills would serve her country.
This photo was taken at Tan Sonat Air Base, Vietnam in 1968. This date coincides with the story. The plane is a Cargo C-142 similar to the one in which Dee and company travelled.