THE country's most visible testimonial to sacrifices made by the nearly 11,000 women veterans of the Vietnam War is on its way to Washington for a dedication ceremony on Veteran's Day (Nov. 11).
The Vietnam Women's Memorial, created by local sculptress Glenna Goodacre, was unveiled in a weekend ceremony at the New Mexico State Capitol. Female and male veterans, including many who served in nonmilitary jobs as relief workers and air-traffic controllers, joined the state's congressional delegation and local residents bidding the memorial farewell on its journey across the heartland.
The Vietnam Women's Memorial will make day-long stops in 21 cities on its way to Washington, where it will be installed next to the National Vietnam Memorial, or the Wall.
Diane Evans, the Minnesota woman whose decade-long effort to privately fund and endow the memorial is nearing a close, says many women veterans have been reluctant to identify themselves as having served during the unpopular war. And, adds Ms. Evans, a former Army nurse who was 21 when she served for a year in Vietnam, identifying women veterans has been difficult because war records were not filed according to gender.
"Most of the women veterans we've located have been through what we call a 'Sister Search,' which we're still continuing," she says.
Her group, the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, has received cooperation from the military branches, she explains, but it has relied on word-of-mouth referrals and telephone contacts to identify nearly 10,000 women veterans it has reached over a decade. The memorial has a powerful meaning for women whose duty involved supporting hundreds of thousands of servicemen, she says.
"Too many years have gone by in which women veterans didn't have a place to connect with that period in their lives," says Karen Johnson, an attorney in Little Rock, Ark., who served as an Army war journalist. "Many of us were told we weren't really part of what happened in Vietnam. Eight US military nurses lost their lives in Vietnam, so this monument will do for us what the Wall did for soldiers.... It will help women come to grips with an extraordinarily powerful event that changed their lives."
Ms. Goodacre, who was once best known for Wild West portrayals, has created a four-figure bronze monument that captures emotions women veterans experienced in Vietnam. "My premise was that the memorial had to ultimately convey a feeling of hopefulness, which is why the wounded soldier looks like he's going to survive. He's surrounded by three women, one of whom is nurturing him, another who is looking skyward for help, and another whose expression is one of fatigue and horror," she says.
When she first saw Vietnam, grocery-store clerk Natalie Lucero was an 18-year-old Army medical technician. A Santa Fe resident, her reaction to the memorial is gratitude. "I never thought something like this would happen for us. It's nice to be recognized for the contributions you make in your life, and mine were made in Vietnam. When I look at it, tears stream down my face because I can still remember those moments of despair.... It's me and everyone else I knew over there."
Like many who have joined in the complicated efforts to fund, design, and install the memorial, Ms. Lucero, who served three years in Vietnam and Japan, will attend the dedication. "I'll probably be wandering around, looking for all those young faces," she says. "I keep forgetting that we're all middle-aged now.... It still seems like the war has only been over for a few years."