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Sister Soldiers

During the Vietnam War, approximately 700 WACs served in theater and as many as 75 of them were African-American.33 One of whom was WAC CW3 Doris “Lucki” Allen. Early in her military career, she asked for a transfer out of a dead end job in public relations at Ft. Monmouth, NJ, and went to the Army Language School in California because “it was the only place they would send me.” CW3Allen had encountered a typical problem women faced in the workplace during the 1960s. She was good at her job, so her supervisors did not want to lose her; however, they did not want to promote her either. “Had I gone out with my boss,” she said later, “I might have been promoted.” But because she spoke a foreign language (Spanish) and the Army needed linguists, she was able to devise an escape route that did not compromise her dignity.

Allen left the Army Language School with a working knowledge of French, trained in military intelligence, and ultimately ended up in Vietnam stationed at Long Binh from 1967-70. She recalled, “As a senior intelligence analyst in Vietnam, I was recognized for having been responsible through production of one specific intelligence report, for saving the lives of ‘at least’ 101 U.S. Marines fighting in Quang Tri Province.” In an interview, she said that she initially had difficulty getting her chain of command to take her report seriously. If she had not been persistent and pushed her report forward, it would have been buried.34

Intelligence (as long as it could be conducted behind a desk) appears to be one of areas to which women were routinely assigned. This is not surprising when one considers that the vast majority of intelligence work entails sifting methodically through large amounts of data, where success demands patience and persistence. Army WO Ann M. McDonough, assigned to the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam, worked as a polygraph examiner. She wrote, “I used my polygraph training to assist the South Vietnamese in their investigation of suspected double agents.”35

The Tet Offensive of 1968, a surprise attack on US forces in South Vietnam coordinated by Vietnamese communist guerilla fighters and the North Vietnamese Army, was one of the most dangerous time periods to be in Vietnam. Army SSG Edith Efferson was stationed at Long Binh as a supply sergeant during the Offensive. The ammunition depot at Long Binh, approximately 27 miles northeast of Saigon, was a primary target of the enemy, who attacked regularly with mortars. WACs on duty in the orderly room hit the floor frequently during the months of January and February to avoid the shattering glass, flying gravel, and other debris kicked up by the explosions. SSG Efferson’s calm demeanor throughout this difficult period helped the younger women in the office deal with their own concerns. WAC Director COL Elizabeth Hoisington later congratulated SSG Efferson, her commanding officer, and the rest of the women at Long Binh for keeping cool heads throughout the Offensive.36

Another Army woman, SPC Grendel Alice Howard, arrived in Vietnam in January 1968 in the middle of the Offensive. She was assigned to 1st Logistical Command Headquarters at Long Binh as the administrative assistant to the Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge. One aspect of her job involved traveling to subordinate units, interviewing soldiers, and writing stories about them for publication. By the end of SPC Howard’s extended 34-month tour, she had been promoted to sergeant first class. She was awarded the Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for her work in Vietnam and ended her military career as a sergeant major.37

33Bettie J. Morden, Colonel, US Army (Ret.), The Women’s Army Corps 1945-1978,(Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1992), 251-252.

34Doris Allen, Chief Warrant Officer 3, US Army (Ret.), Oral History Interview, 17 August 2004, Women’s Memorial Foundation Oral History Collection, Arlington, Va.

35Women’s Memorial Register, Ann M. McDonough, Chief Warrant Officer 3, US Army (Ret.), Registration #060492.

36Morden, 251-252.

37Women’s Memorial Register, Grendel Alice Howard, Sergeant Major, US Army (Ret.), Registration #043509.