Have you ever considered choosing to enter a war as a nurse? For most of us, the answer is likely a resounding, "No." But, for one nurse - Sallie Cory - heading into a war zone in the middle of Vietnam was a dream come true.
In 1965, the world was a much different place. President Lyndon B. Johnson began his first full term, Malcolm X was assassinated, and over 3,500 United States Marines were sent to South Vietnam to fight in the war. In Boise, Idaho Sallie Corry graduated from Nursing School and began preparing to serve her country in one of the most controversial battles of all time.
Sallie deplaned in Bien Hoa, Vietnam in March 1967 and was ushered into the mess hall for breakfast. She was stunned by the constant booming of artillery and asked a mess Sergeant if they practiced like that all day. He responded with a droll huff, "This is Viet Nam ma'am... we don't practice". This was when she realized she might be in for a bit of a learning curve.
Shortly after arriving she celebrated her 24th birthday and just 5 short weeks later she met the love of her life which would then become her husband. Sallie spent one year of her 52-year nursing career tending to the wounds of soldiers. As I listened to her story, I could see the excitement across her face as she remembered a war she felt was her destiny. Here are three resounding lessons Sallie learned in the middle of war zones, helicopters, and red clay sand.
Healing is an Attitude
My best friend and I sat across from Sallie and her daughter while we ate lunch. Well, while three of us ate lunch and Sallie re-lived some of the best years of her life. While much of what she said resonated, uplifted, and motivated me, the best sentence of the entire 2-hour conversation was this - "I learned that I was a healer."
Sallie told of several young men she cared for in the middle of the war. She remembered stories of teaching a young soldier how to care for a colostomy, stabilizing many men before sending them on to Japan, and giving comfort to a man with severe Napalm burns. When Sallie spoke about herself, she recognized that in the middle of bombings, she learned that she was a healer and that people felt better when she was caring for them.
Her healing was not always done with high-tech treatments, but with her hands, heart, and words. She gave her patients her time and devotion. She offered reassurance to men she knew might not live to make it back home. Sallie prided herself on meeting her patients where they were physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
God's Protection Was All Around
Vietnam was a bloody war. But, when you hear Sallie tell her stories, you would think she was talking about a wonderful place. In fact, to her, it was.
After leaving Qui Nhon, Sallie was transferred to the 71st Evac Hospital in Pleiku, which was in the Central Highlands. While there, she became accustomed to frequent daytime artillery fire and all night rocket fire coming towards the military headquarters surrounding the hospital perimeter. She experienced the Tet Offensive at the 71st Eval and for the first time felt that she was closer to death than ever before.
There were areas of the war going on that were brutal, but she remembered that every place she served was precisely where she was meant to be at that time. She recognized that while she wanted to be there, she was also young, and believed that God used her where her gifts were best and kept her out of places that she wasn't quite ready to serve.
Service Was in Her Blood
Sallie comes from a long line of service men and women. And, this tradition certainly didn't stop her. As mentioned above, she married an American soldier who she met in the war and later had three children, one of whom went on to serve our great country too.
I remember asking her how she felt when her son told her he had enlisted. Very matter of factly she said, "I understood the good and bad things he would see. But, I was so very proud of him too".
A Nurse Comes Home
Once back in the states, she had to acclimate to civilian life. Sallie went on to serve as a nurse on hospital med/surg units, homecare. She also became a healing touch provider over the years, which connected her to those healing gifts she discovered thousands of miles away in Vietnam. She eventually went into case management, which is where I met Sallie in 2014. I knew her for nearly two years before we ended up on a road trip together and she shared some of her stories of being in the Vietnam war.
Today, she's retired, but nursing still runs deep in her blood. She has recognized that healing is a state of mind, and isn't dependent upon your physical capabilities. Being a healer requires you to think, act, and be a healing presence to ourselves and those around us.
So, this Veteran's Day, I want to thank men and women for the heroic efforts they give so freely for our independence and right. But, I want to give a little extra love to nurses, who like Sallie, might choose to serve their country in times of healthcare need.
Have you served our country as a nurse? Were you stationed overseas during a war? We would love to hear your stories of war and nursing so that we can celebrate you too.