~on Behalf of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Project by
– Kathryn Wrolstad Ling [Family History Number: A2D5C-2], American Red Cross, SMH, RVN, 1967-68, November 11, 1996 

It is a great honor to be here today and to speak on behalf of the 265,000 women who served during the Vietnam War Era. While I represent all the women who’s service is recognized by the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, today I will focus briefly on the area of service in which I was enrolled: The American Red Cross.

Official records indicate that a total of 1,120 women served with the Red Cross in Vietnam during that 11 year period. Of that number, 627 were young women who were part of the organization’s Supplemental Recreation Activities Overseas (SRAO) program, fondly known as Donut Dollies. The other women, such as myself, served in the Service to Military Hospitals (SMH) and the Service to Military Installations (SMI) programs. (Source: Celebration of Patriotism and Courage)

Four American Red Cross women died in Vietnam: Hanna Crews(1969), Virginia Kirsch (1970), Lucinda Richter (1971) and former Red Cross worker, Sharon Weslesy(1975- Operation Babylift). Their names are a permanent part of the Memorial Garden at the American Red Cross National Headquarters located at 17th and D here in Washington. I encourage you to visit there.

Most of the women who served in Vietnam did so as volunteers, both military and civilian. We volunteered to go into that Field of War, with all the naiveté, confidence and enthusiasm that goes with youth. We didn’t think of ourselves as kids, after all most of us had finished our degrees. The very men we dealt with, whether as patients or as combat soldiers, were usually younger than us. Twelve months latter we left that combat field forever older, forever altered.

But we have gone on and this Field in which we gather today has been an important part of our life’s journey.

For me this Field, anchored by the Wall, with boundaries defined by the statue of 3 young soldiers eternally on point and by the women’s statue so poignantly capturing the compassion and caring of the women who served: these artists landmarks define a very special place.

It is my hope that this Field will be remembered, not as a Field of Combat but as a Healing Field. A Field where people who have experienced the realities of combat can still find and share compassion. Where scars of war are healed: healed through the love, concern and generosity of spirit that we have shown one another. A Field where strangers, sharing only an experience can comfort one another. A Field where we learn to care and to share those dark and dangerous thoughts. A place were tears don’t reach the ground but are caught on the shoulder of a friend.

May the camaraderie, the comfort and compassion we share with one another be so strong that it permeates this very air, so that visitors to this Field will know that something very special happens here. A Field that has witnessed the compassion of combat altered people is a Field rich in love, rich in memories, and rich in healing.

Let this Field be remembered for those who died in Vietnam, but also for those who served in Vietnam and lived, for those who served throughout the world in this cause as well as those who waited at home for returning warriors, people forever changed. Individuals who continued the healing journey, the journey to peace long after the war was declared ended. The legacy of those who lived will be that the War didn’t conquer them, but that they conquered the War.

This Field, sanctified with the blood of 58,000 dead, and sustained by the spirit of those who were touched by the War and conquered it, this Field is too a monument. Long after we are gone people will come to this Field and know that the power of the human spirit was at force here and can be found here and shared here and joined her. This Field of Healing.

For the women who died there, for the women who served there, it too is our field and I for one, proudly claim it.

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