"The Vietnam Women's Memorial: Better Late Than Never" (May) caught my attention and struck a deep chord. On June 28, 1969, a rocket grenade exploded next to me and my fellow soldiers as we slept in the countryside of Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam. I opened my eyes to see the bushes spinning and rising up to meet me. A small-arms firefight ensued; muzzle flashes were the only source of light. Behind me, our radio operator was crying and coughing; I could hear his chest wounds gurgling.
The corpsman crawled over to me, said he was hit, and asked how I was. I looked down and saw that my legs were on fire. Part of my foot had been shredded by the blast. The radio operator cried repeatedly, "Oh my God!" and then fell silent. The pain and distress were overwhelming. The firefight continued. Soon a medical evacuation (medevac) helicopter arrived, landing 50 feet behind us.
The corpsman, who'd also been wounded in the legs, and I ran a three-legged race to the helicopter. Seven of us got on board. When I could no longer hear the gunfire, I blacked out.
I awoke on a gurney in an inflatable field hospital to see a nurse cutting first my pants and then my boots, which were soaked with blood and pieces of bone. I asked if I was going to die. She mustered a laugh and said, "Of course not, you're going to be fine." I believed her.
After the debriding operation, my gurney was pushed to the edge of the room so the surgical team could work on the next soldier. I stared for a while at the ribbed nylon ceiling of the inflatable room. Then an explosion shook the ceiling, tearing a handful of holes in the roof. The inflatable hospital next door had received a direct hit from a mortar round.
A nurse ran into our room. Her green scrubs were torn, her face was blackened with burns, and her hair was smoking. With the utmost calm, she asked for help. Three of the six nurses followed her to the tent next door.
The other nurses stayed with us. One brought me a helmet and placed it over my head. She laid a flak vest across my torso and pushed my gurney against the wall. "There's a sandbag wall on the other side," she said. "You'll be fine." I believed her.
The next day I was flown to Saigon and eventually to Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. I never saw or heard about that army surgical team again. But I will never forget the nurses in Vietnam who bled and cared for me. Very few know of the depth of our gratitude for their work and for the emotional and personal sacrifices they endured, and still endure, to this day.
I hope to meet as many of them as I can, to thank them in person for serving in our hospitals and in the field; to thank all nurses for the amazing courage and dedicated service they provide.
Jack Campbell, Sgt., Ret., U.S. Army