Remembering war’s nurses

During Sunday’s Vietnam Veterans Day at Legion Post 225

Nurses from Minnesota played a key role in seeing the Vietnam Womens Memorial built. Their story is told in “Sisterhood of War” by Kim Heikkila. (Photo courtesy of Dan Arant and Bill Shugarts)

Cliff Buchan
News Editor

In its first four years of existence, Forest Lake’s Vietnam Veterans Day observance has gone to extra measures to recognize and welcome home the men who served in Southeast Asia.

Last year’s program paid special honor to the men from the Forest Lake area who made the ultimate sacrifice in the war some 40 years ago.

Forest Lake as a community is known as the first in the state to formally recognize Vietnam Veterans Day with an official proclamation by the city council.

On Sunday, the fifth such observance is scheduled in Forest Lake and this year’s program will once again break new ground.

Sunday’s 2 p.m. program at American Legion Post 225, 355 W. Broadway Ave., will pay special honors to the women who served in Vietnam and in particular, females nurses, a small and sometimes forgotten but highly important segment of the armed forces.

In keeping with that theme, the guest speaker on Sunday is Kim Heikkila, author of “Sisterhood of War, Minnesota Women in Vietnam,” (Minnesota Historical Society Press) which follows the stories of 15 women from Minnesota or with Minnesota ties who went off to serve their country and came home to the same reception as their male counterparts and often with the same stress and strain that dogged those who slugged through the jungles in a war that became strongly unpopular in the states.

Kim Heikkila

Heikkila, an adjunct instructor in the history department at St. Catherine University where she teaches classes on the Vietnam War, will be joined on Sunday by a number of the nurses who are subjects in the book. She will take questions from the audience at the conclusion of her talk and will be available to autograph copies of the book, released in 2011.

Heikkila’s book delves into the experiences of the 15 nurse veterans, exploring what drove them to enlist, what happened to them in Vietnam and how the war changed their lives. The 15 Minnesota nurses, who were among the 6000 military nurses who served in Vietnam, saw themselves as nurses first and foremost; their job was to heal rather than kill, Heikkila writes in the introduction.

The book explores how the nurses began healing from the wounds of the war by turning their energies to a new purpose in the years following the war: the campaign to build the National Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington, D.C. which was finally realized with the memorial’s dedication in 1993.

Sunday’s Program

Many of the highlights from past programs will return on Sunday.

Stan Turner, former KSTP TV anchor and now a newsman and program host on KLBB 1220 AM radio in Stillwater, will serve as master of ceremonies. The combined color guard of Legion Post 225 and VFW Post 4210 will post the flags.

Gold Star families and all veterans in attendance will be recognized.

The 2012 student winner of the Vietnam Veterans Day $500 scholarship will also be announced. Funds for the scholarship are provided by Minnesota Vietnam Veterans Charities.

The local scholarship this year is being given in memory of the late Jack Palmer, a partner in Reub’s Tire Shop and a Vietnam veteran. His widow, Jan Palmer, will reflect on her husband’s life and service.

The student winning the scholarship will be on hand to read the first-place essay.

This year’s essay question was:  “It took three years to design, build and dedicate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (aka The Wall). Two years to build the statue of Three Servicemen that stands at the west end of the Wall.  Why did it take 10 years and two acts of Congress to build and dedicate the Vietnam Women’s Memorial? Why was it so important for women Vietnam Veterans to have their own memorial?”

The competition is open to seniors who are on track to graduate this spring. An essay of 600 words or less is required.

Sunday’s program is free and all Vietnam veterans are encouraged to attend. Registration opens at 1:30 p.m.

Light refreshments will be served at the conclusion of the program.