There is a feeling prevalent among some women veterans and volunteers who served in Vietnam. It is guilt.
"I wish I could make a big sign that says, 'I wish I could have brought more home,' " said Barbara Bond Fuscaldo, a 42-year-old mother of four who served in the Army Nurses Corps during the Vietnam War.
"I felt I should stay," Margaret Hodge, now a management analyst for the Environmental Protection Agency, said of her departure from Vietnam, where she served for a year as a volunteer for the American Red Cross. "I felt a lot of guilt and depression about not being there to help."
Today, people will gather for Veterans Day ceremonies to honor those who have served in the armed forces. Area celebrations include the traditional presidential wreath-laying at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery and a salute at the cemetery where 86-year-old Beaulah Cope, adjutant general of the United Spanish War Veterans, will represent some of the nation's oldest veterans. At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, engravers will inscribe 24 more names onto the black granite wall, bringing to 58,156 the total number of men and women listed there.
Women who served in Vietnam had hoped to celebrate today the approval of the placement of a statue of a woman at the site of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but the Commission of Fine Arts, which oversees the placement of national monuments, voted against the project late last month. The dissenting members of the commission felt the inscription at the wall and the existing statues of male soldiers nearby made the memorial symbolically complete.
"I hope a women's memorial is built," said Fuscaldo of Mount Vernon, who was 20 when she went to Vietnam in 1966 for three years. "I want to take my children to visit her. I want my children to know the country does have wars, that all people have fought, that some wars are worth fighting, that some are not."
At a morning news conference yesterday, held by the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, Loretta Swit, the actress who played a Korean War Army major in the popular television comedy "M*A*S*H," said, "To ignore the contributions women have given is an outrageous neglect, and it's really sad."
Sen. David Durenberger (R-Minn.) said he had introduced a resolution authorizing the statue. If the measure passes, a memorial would have to be established but the commission could still determine location and artistic considerations.
Supporters of the project believe the statue would help heal the mental wounds suffered by female veterans and volunteers who served in Vietnam.
"As far as nurses, we were in a position where we always had to remain the giver, the person that was the listener, the healer," recalled Fuscaldo, whose fiance was killed in Vietnam on New Year's Eve 1968, while she was serving there, too.
"What I craved, more than I craved a feminine-smelling deodorant, was a moment alone," said Fuscaldo, who arrived in Vietnam on the first night of the Tet Offensive.
"The whole place blew up my first night," she said. "There we were in hell and we were supposed to help other people get out, to save people when we couldn't even help ourselves."
Hodge had two older brothers, both of whom had served in the Navy, neither of whom had gone off to war. Yet, her sense of patriotism told her to quit her job as a secretary and join the American Red Cross recreation association as a volunteer in Vietnam. The year was 1966. She was 28.
She talked to soldiers and did a lot of listening. She distributed gifts and cards. She sometimes walked into zones that had just suffered tragedy and she talked to wounded soldiers, always trying to be "upbeat and positive," she said. "In retrospect, we couldn't always."