Nancy Kramer, 70, served her country as a US Army nurse during the Vietnam War from 1970 to 1971.
Born in East Lansing, Michigan, she, like many others, was inspired to serve her country but said, “I’ve never, ever spoken about my tour of duty or my experiences…just bear with me.”
She was shipped off to basic training in spring 1970 (approximately 11,000 women ended up serving in Vietnam. Close to 90 percent were nurses; Nancy Kramer was one of them).
Like many of her fellow nurses, Nancy Kramer endured extraordinary heat, insects, loneliness, sleepless nights, disease, ever-present enemy fire while treating wounded, and dying soldiers.
It was an immensely difficult job and the pressure, at times, was unbearable.
She recalled the painful story of an 18-year-old who had both legs blown off. “The poor boy wouldn’t say anything during the day…but at night, I could hear his whimpers and sobs…tried to comfort him the best I could as he was in so much pain physically and emotionally…the sobs were just gut-wrenching,” she remembered.
Of the many lessons that she learned in Vietnam, there was one she said was the most important: “You never woke a sleeping veteran…you could really get hurt,” she said.
She continued, “We dealt with a great many amputations…almost half of my patients were amputees…some had lost more than one limb…the constant sight of those boys, their screams and cries in the hospital…you couldn’t give in to the anguish…you had to keep pushing and not let it get to you in front of the wounded.”
Asked what it was like for her to send a soldier back into battle she replied, “Absolutely, the worst feeling in the world for me personally…the wounded that arrived were in shock or unconscious…they would open their eyes and I was the first person they saw…never will I forget those smiles.”
When it came to the holidays, “It was tough…we had a great deal of camaraderie though, which kept us close…we really relied on each other…if someone was going through a tough time, we were there for them,” she recalled.
Ms. Kramer said that all she went through and saw made her stronger: “I learned survival skills…how to adapt quickly…I never told anyone that I was a nurse in Vietnam when I came home…never said anything about Vietnam…I was always just a nurse.”
She said her proudest moment in came in 1993, “at the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial on Veterans Day…to finally be recognized and praised for our service and what we went through as nurses, well, it was VERY special.”
Her experience in Vietnam took a tremendous toll on her emotionally, and she suffers from PTSD. “It finally helps to talk about it…it lessens a bit of the pain but not all of it,” she said.
Ms. Kramer is an avid golfer and enjoys old movies. She has been married to her husband, Frank, for 38 years and has one daughter and two grandchildren.
Nancy Kramer, thank you for your service to our great country, and welcome home.
Contact Wayne Soares at email@example.com