Lynda Van Devanter Buckley, 55, an advocate for women veterans whose influential 1983 memoir of her time as a surgical nurse near the Cambodian border, "Home Before Morning," painted a stark picture of the horrors of the Vietnam War and its psychological aftermath, died Nov. 15 at her home in Herndon.
Mrs. Buckley had systemic collagen vascular disease, which she attributed to her exposure in Vietnam to a combination of chemical agents and pesticides.
She was an Arlington native and a 1965 graduate of Yorktown High School. She served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 in a surgical hospital in Pleiku.
She described herself as an idealistic Catholic girl before she went over who thought, "If our boys were being blown apart, then somebody better be over there putting them back together again. I started to think that maybe that somebody should be me."
Her illusions were shattered by the ugly realities of the war, which she described graphically not just in her memoir, but in several other venues.
One of her letters home was included in a 1988 HBO documentary. In it, she described a Christmas Eve of amputations and death for wounded GI's.
"This is now the seventh month of death, destruction and misery. I'm tired of going to sleep listening to outgoing and incoming rockets, mortars and artillery. I'm sick of facing, every day, a new bunch of children ripped to pieces," she wrote.
She wrote that she and other nurses and doctors turned to drink and drugs and sexual liaisons to find distraction.
Her book, written with Christopher Morgan, was the first widely published account of the war by a woman veteran and among the first to deal with the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder, from which she suffered.
By her account, she developed a drinking problem and failed at a marriage and nursing jobs in California as she struggled with flashbacks and anxiety. One recurring image was the nightmare of a teenage soldier whose face had been blown off. Returning to the Washington area in the late 1970s, she finally found a counselor who diagnosed her with post-traumatic stress disorder and she began to heal, in part by writing the memoir.
It was a commercial success and still is used as a teaching tool about Vietnam, but it initially attracted fierce criticism from some veterans, including nurses she served with, who claimed Mrs. Buckley was embroidering the experience for profit and to burnish her antiwar stance.
"Lynda's exaggerations and the negativism of her book distresses me terribly," retired Army Col. Edith Knox said in a 1983 interview with The Washington Post. "This book makes us look like a bunch of bed-hopping, foul-mouthed tramps."
But still others supported the account. One, a former Army nurse, Lynn Calmes Kohl, told The Post that, "actually, what Lynda wrote was mild."
The book was inspiration for the television drama series "China Beach," which ran from 1988 to 1991.
Mrs. Buckley became first executive director of the Vietnam Veterans of America Women's Project in 1979 and retired in 1984. She continued to write articles, edit volumes of poetry, conduct seminars and give speeches after she retired.
Survivors include her husband, Tom Buckley, and their daughter Molly, both of Herndon; a stepdaughter, Brigid Buckley of Raleigh, N.C.; her mother, Helen Van Devanter of Sterling; and four sisters.