Although Pentagon sources estimate that 1,234 military women other than nurses served throughout the war, the exact number is unknown. These women served in various positions, such as personnel, administrative, logistics, communications, finance, intelligence, operations, advisors, public information, military justice, flight controllers, and in a myriad of other duties. Except for nurses in Korea, U.S. women had not served in a combat theater since World War II.
The first Women’s Army Corps (WAC) person to serve in Vietnam was Major Anne Marie Doering (1962 to 1963). The daughter of a French engineer, she was born and raised in Haiphong and spoke fluent Vietnamese. She was assigned to the Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Saigon as a plans officer.
Originally, the Army fought sending women other than nurses into Vietnam. COL Shirley R. Heinze waged a winning battle with the top brass. Finally, in January 1965, Major Kathleen I. Wilkes and Sergeant First Class Betty L. Adams arrived in Saigon as advisors to the newly-formed Vietnamese Women’s Armed Forces Corps. Major Audrey Fisher was the first WAC officer assigned to Headquarters U.S. Army Vietnam with the Office of the Adjutant General.
In December 1965, six WAC stenographers arrived in Saigon. In October 1966, First Sergeant Marion Crawford and Sergeant First Class Betty Benson arrived as the advance party to oversee the creation of a WAC detachment at Tan Son Nhut. The rest of the unit cadre, Captain Peggy Ready, Staff Sergeant Edith Efferson and SP5 Rhynell Stoabs, arrived in November 1966. Never in the Army’s history had there been a WAC detachment in a combat zone.
On 12 January 1967, the first WAC enlisted arrived to serve at Headquarters U.S. Army Vietnam (USARV), Tan Son Nhut. Six months later, along with the entire USARV command, the detachment moved to Long Binh, approximately 27 miles northeast of Saigon. By mid-1967, the total number of WACs in Vietnam had leveled of at about 160 officers and enlisted personnel in Saigon and Long Binh. Most enlisted women were between the ages of 19 and 23.
The majority of the WACs were stationed at Long Binh, assigned to Headquarters U.S. Army Vietnam (USARV), the 1st Logistics Command, the U.S. Army Engineer Group Command, the 18th Military Police Brigade, the 3rd Ordnance Brigade, the 1st Aviation Brigade, and Headquarters Support Command, among others. Those stationed in Saigon were assigned primarily to the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), Headquarters Area Command, Civil Operation and Rural Development Support Agency and 519th Military Intelligence Groups. A few officers served with the U.S. Army Central Support Command at Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh Bay. By early 1970, more than 130 enlisted WACs, 30 Army officers, and five Army warrant officers were serving throughout Vietnam.
Major Sherian Cadoria received the Air Med for meritorious service for duty at Cam Ranh Bay. Captain Catherine Brajkovich was decorated for heroism for alerting residents of a hotel in Saigon of a fire in the building. Major Gloria Olson received the Air Medal for her duties as a journalist and photographer at MACV. The WAC Detachment received two unit service awards for its service in Vietnam. No WACs died in Vietnam. One woman, Specialist Five Sheron Green, received the Purple Heart — the only WAC to received that medal since World War II.
According to Maj. Gen. Jeanne Holm, USAF, in her book “Women in the Military — An Unfinished Revolution,” approximately 500 WACs served one-year tours in Vietnam, many two or more tours. However, according to COL Bettie J. Morden, USA, in “The Women’s Army Corps, 1945-1978, approximately 700 WACs served.
U.S. Air Force
The first women to received orders for Vietnam, aside from the nurses, were female physical therapists and dietitians. They first arrived in 1966 for duty at the Air Force Base at Cam Ranh Bay.
In June 1967, at the request of the Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Lieutenant Colonel June H. Hilton, accompanied by five enlisted women, landed at Tan Son Nhut for duty with Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV) Headquarters. Soon, other officers were on their way to the 7th Air Force Headquarters at Tan Son Nhut. Though enlisted females were restricted to assignments in the Saigon area, some officers were assigned to Cam Ranh Bay and Bien Hoa air bases.
It wasn’t until 1970 that more enlisted women were assigned to Tan Son Nhut. Air Force women stationed in Vietnam numbered 20 officers and 22 enlisted women at their peak strength in June 1971. It is difficult to ascertain the number of women in the Air Force who served in Vietnam, since their numbers include those who were stationed in Thailand. In all, between 500 and 600 Air Force women served in Southeast Asia.
U.S. Marine Corps
Until 1966, only about 60 women marines were permitted to serve overseas, and all but seven of these were assigned to Hawaii. The first U.S. Marine Corps woman to served in a combat theater, Sergeant Barbara J. Dulinsky, stepped off the plane at Bien Hoa Air Force Base March 18, 1967. She was assigned 30 miles from there in Saigon to the Marine Corps Personnel Section on the staff of the Commander, Naval Forces, Vietnam.
Most of the female marines served with the Marine Liaison/Marine Corps Personnel Section on the staff of the Commander, Naval Forces, Vietnam, but several others worked for the MACV J-3, J-5, SGS and the Adjutant General’s Office. On occasion, duty took them to the field to conduct on-the-spot audits of the service records of the widely scattered men in the north.
Women marines in Vietnam normally numbered eight or 10 enlisted women and one or two officers at any one time for a total of 28 enlisted women and eight officers between 1967 and 1973.
Between 1967 and 1973, eight Navy line officers served in Vietnam. Most were assigned to the naval staff in Saigon, and one reported to the Naval Support Activity in Cam Ranh Bay. No enlisted Navy women served in Vietnam.
The first woman Navy officer, Lieutenant Elizabeth G. Wylie, arrived in Saigon in June 1967 with assignment to the staff of the Commander, Naval Forces, Command Information Center. No more than one or two officers were in Vietnam at any one time. Those in the non-nursing field who served aboard ships were not considered as being in-country.
Commander Elizabeth Barrett was the highest ranking woman naval line officer to serve in Vietnam and the first to hold a command in a combat zone. She arrived in Saigon in January 1972 and in November became the commanding officer of 450 enlisted men in the Naval Advisory Group, a position she held until she left Vietnam in March 1973.
On 8 September 1972, Personnelman Third Class Peggy Sue Griffith reported aboard the USS Sanctuary, the first of a group of 32 enlisted women and two women officers, setting off on uncharted seas. These women were now the U.S. Navy’s first sea-going women sailors, expected to perform the same duties as their male shipmates.
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Ann Kerr served primarily as an administrative assistant, with significant additional watchstanding duties both in port and at sea. Ensign Rosemary Nelson of the Supply Corps, was responsible for the officers’ wardroom mess (dining room) and also stood watched in port.
Army Medical Specialist Corps
The first member of the Army Medical Specialist Corps to serve in Vietnam was a physical therapist who volunteered for Vietnam. Major Barbara Gray was assigned to the 17th Field Hospital, Saigon, March 1966.
Army physical therapists were assigned to the II, III, and IV combat tactical zones at the 8th (Nha Trang), and 3rd and 17th (Saigon) Field Hospitals; the 12th (Cu Chi), 24th (Long Binh), 29th (Can Tho), 36th (Vung Tau), 67th (Qui Nhon), 71st (Pleiku), 85th (Qui Nhon), 93rd (Long Binh), and 95th (Da Nang) Evacuation Hospitals; 3rd Surgical Hospital (Dong Tam); the 6th Convalescent Center (Cam Ranh Bay); and MACV Headquarters.
One Army occupational therapist was assigned in Vietnam in 1971. Her mission was to strengthen rehabilitation programs in the Army drug control treatment facilities and to discuss occupational therapy support and training for the Vietnamese civilian population.
In May 1966, at the request of the MACV Surgeon, the first two Army Medical Specialist Corps dietitians, one a woman, arrived at Tan Son Nhut. Major Patricia Accountius was originally assigned to the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon, but was soon given the additional post of dietary consultant for the 44th Medical Brigade, 1st Logistical Command.
A total of 20 female Army dietitians served in Vietnam. While Army physical therapists were assigned to specific hospitals, dietitians were assigned to the Medical Group headquarters in each combat tactical zone. Since road transportation was unreliable and dangerous, they usually traveled by helicopter.
Between March 1966 and February 1973, 33 female Army physical therapists served in South Vietnam. The last Army dietitian and physical therapist to serve in Vietnam, both women, left Saigon for home in February 1973.
The WAC Detachment at Long Binh was closed 21 September 1972, and the cadre moved to Saigon. By the end of December, two WAC officers and 17 enlisted women remained in Saigon. By the end of March 1973, all the WACs had left Vietnam.
Other services had also sent most of their women out of the country. A few Air Force and Army women returned later to help in Operation Baby Lift in 1975.
Awards given to military women in Vietnam include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (both for aerial combat missions and meritorious achievement), Joint Service Commendation Medal, and Army Commendation Medal for heroism.
Pallas Athena, Greek goddess of war, known to the Romans as Minerva, goddess of wisdom, according to ancient myth, sprang into life, fully armed, from the head of Zeus, ruler of the gods. Her role was a dual one. Goddess of storms and of battle, she also instructed mankind in the arts and practical activities of daily life. She presided in war only to lead on to victory and through victory to peace, prosperity and progress.
WAC Detachment, Special Troops, HQ USARV (Oct 1966-1972)
Commanders, First Sergeants, and Administrative NCOs
CPT Peggy E. Ready
1SG Marion C. Crawford
Field First (Admin NCO): SFC Betty J. Benson
CPT Joanne P. Murphy
1SG Marion C. Crawford
Field First (Admin NCO): SFC Betty J. Benson
CPT Nancy J. Jurgevich
1SG Katherine E. Herney (deceased)
Admin NCO: SFC Margaret E. Gold
CPT Shirley M. Ohta
1SG Mary E. Manning (deceased)
Field First (Admin NCO): Bernice A. Myhrwold
CPT Marjorie K. Johnson
1SG Eleanor M. Strudas (deceased) / 1SG Mildred E. Duncan
Admin NCO: SSG Mary C. Aleshire
CPT Constance C. Seidemann
1SG Mildred E. Duncan
Admin NCO: SSG Casey Hickok