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1960s: In Vietnam

In 1965, United States involvement in Vietnam accelerated as two battalions of combat-ready Marines landed in Da Nang. Six months later, nearly 150,000 American troops were in-country, but except for a small cadre of nurses, none of them were female.

Military women were not posted to Southeast Asian combat zones in significant numbers for almost two years, despite servicewomen’s requests for deployment to Vietnam and despite the presence of civilian women in administrative and clerical positions or working with the American Red Cross and USO.

Ignoring women’s service records during World War II and the Korean War, the military argued that combat zones–especially in the environment of Southeast Asia–were inappropriate for American women.

A Pentagon spokesman told newspaper columnist Jack Anderson that women “cannot be employed at jobs that are not in conformance with the present cultural pattern of utilizing women’s services in this country.” The work must be “psychologically and sociologically” suitable.
Even Women’s Army Corps Director BG Elizabeth Hoisington discouraged sending Army women to Vietnam, believing that public controversy over the issue of women in combat zones would deter progress in expanding the role of women in the Army. Others maintained that only male nurses should be assigned to the combat theater area.
As male casualties mounted and demands to free servicemen for combat grew, the presence of nurses and other servicewomen increased in Southeast Asia. By the time American troops withdrew from Vietnam, more than 7,500 women had served. Almost 6,000 of these women were nurses and medical specialists. Seven Army nurses and one Air Force nurse died in Vietnam.