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Compassion in chaos of war

Retired nurses share life lessons in group at Tallgrass Creek

Created date

March 24th, 2014
black and white photo of couple in their Army Dress Blues

Thirty-nine years ago, the Vietnam War officially ended. The date was April 30, 1975.

As our country’s first televised war, many Americans watched broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite diligently report the daily combat that took place during the controversial, multiyear conflict. But Creek resident Ann Brazil, an Army nurse at the time, watched it unfold firsthand from Qui Nhon, Vietnam, where she served at the 85th Evacuation Hospital.   

“Because of changes in the Army’s recruiting requirements, the 5,000 nurses who served in Vietnam throughout the entire war were younger and had less nursing experience than nurses in previous conflicts,” says Ann, who, along with husband Jerry, moved to Tallgrass Creek in 2010. “I’m proud to have been one of them.”

A new nurse and bride

Ann’s career began at the University of Oregon School of Nursing where she was recruited into the Army Student Nurse Cadet Corps at the beginning of her junior year. After graduating with a nursing degree, Ann attended basic training at Fort Sam Houston, Tex. Her first assignment was in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where she met and married Jerry. 

In August of 1966, Ann was deployed to Vietnam. She was 22, married just three months, and had been a registered nurse for only 14 months. She well-remembers her first impression of the war-torn, chaotic country.

“I got off the plane at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon and was hit with a blast of 120-degree heat,” says Ann. “I had just put my gear in temporary quarters when I was in my first mortar attack. I remember thinking, ‘This just isn’t happening to me.’”

Within days, Ann was flown out to the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon where she cared for several wards of malaria patients and other infectious and minor surgical cases. The hospitals were Quonset huts with dirt floors, tin roofs, and no attached toilet facilities. The patients were in cots and the heat was stifling. 

A nursing experience like no other

Scared and alone in a strange country, most of Ann’s patients were younger than she and looked to the attending nurses for emotional support. Though her training had taught her to not sit on a patient’s bed, she frequently did so to hold the hands and comfort her anxious, young patients. 

“There is no more appreciative patient than the American G.I. They are so grateful for the presence of American nurses,” says Ann. “I learned to watch men cry and not feel embarrassed. I was grateful that I could be there to comfort them.”  

Ann’s memories include one night when there was a snake in the women’s latrine and many nights lying in bed, listening to the giant insects crawl across the floor of her quarters. 

“We always put old newspaper in our boots to make sure critters didn’t get inside and surprise you when you put your boots on,” she says.

Though Ann’s tenure in South Vietnam lasted only a few months due to an infection that required two surgeries and a lengthy stay in the hospital, she views her experience as positive and life-changing. 

“The entire experience made me very confident of my nursing skills,” she says. “And I was honored to interact with and care for such incredibly brave and fine, young men.”

Ann continued to practice nursing when she returned home, completing her master’s degree in health care administration while on active duty. She enjoyed assignments in San Antonio, Tex., and Germany before retiring as a Lt. Col. in 1998 and worked an additional 11 years in civilian jobs before retiring her nursing license in 2008. Her entire nursing career spanned 43 years.  

Retired nurses group 

Today, Ann’s enthusiasm for nursing continues at Tallgrass Creek, the Erickson Living community in Overland Park, Kans. In May 2012, Ann invited other retired nurses living there to celebrate National Nurses Day. After having such a good time, the group began meeting on the first Friday afternoon of every month to talk about their beloved profession and listen to speakers talk about health care. The group formed a club called Retired Nurses Reminiscing, which Ann now coordinates. 

“There are 16 retired nurses in our group, and we all share a common bond,” says Ann. “Though our experiences are different, we’ve all seen a side of life that has shaped us into the people we are today.” 

Ann will always view her nursing experience in Vietnam as particularly rewarding. 

“A fellow Army nurse once told me that nurses bring compassion to the chaos of war,” says Ann. “I found that to be true.”