Many women who served in Vietnam were not just overlooked; at times, they were deliberately ignored. The Department of Defense does not know where their records are. The female nurses, who have a statue to honor themselves, would not recognize them. Yet over 1,000 women were assigned to that combat theater and there is very little information about them. One woman, Mary Bender, who was in a firefight successfully defended the hotel she billeted in during 1968 Tet attacks, with grenades and a carbine. Many volunteered to stay longer than the 12-month standard tour. There has been very little recognition given, even from the people you would think would be the first to do so.
Donna Lowery, Sergeant Major, US Army (Ret) is a Vietnam veteran, serving in country from January 1967 to August 1968. Her tour of duty began only after her flight’s landing into Nam was delayed for almost an hour due to ground fire. The following year, she sheltered in her office during the 1968 Tet Offensive until till it was safe. As one of Donna’s friends told her, during her time in Vietnam “… (she) went from a scatterbrained woman … to a committed leader.”
At night, she endured the incoming rockets, mortars, and snipers. – During the day, it was a class “B” semi-formal uniform, heels and a typewriter. If their base was overrun, she and the others were expected to fight though they had no weapons issued.
Donna recounts that she was the first soldier in her Vietnam unit to be promoted to Staff Sergeant (E-6) placed in charge of supervising men and women, some whom were older than she was. After Nam, she was assigned to the major Army hospital at Landstuhl, Germany holding the First Sergeant position at the Women’s Army Corp detachment (WAC). She was only 21-years old and still an E-6.
Some other hallmarks of her career after Vietnam were assignments in various places, multiple times from Germany to Korea, and back to the states. Her second tour in Germany placed her as the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of protocol for the United States European Command (USEUCOM), Stuttgart, Germany. Later she became the First Sergeant of Headquarters & Headquarters Company, USEUCOM. In other words, she had to take care of a lot of army brass and German VIPs.
Donna did a second tour in Korea as the Sergeant Major at the office of the Inspector General for the 8th Army. All totaled - Donna worked as a drill instructor, administrative supervisor for personnel centers, and supervisor for several offices of the Inspector General.
After the Army, Donna’s life continued in public service to others. She worked for several Washington State agencies such as the Administrative Assistant to the Deputy Director of the Washington State Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Another position gave her experience as an employment specialist working with dislocated workers who lost their jobs to overseas markets.
Now she is a sitting member of the Washington State’s Thurston County’s Veterans Advisory Board and the City of Lacey, WA’s project for a Veterans Services Hub. The Hub is a freshly conceived project to provide one stop, one building, resources to the veterans living in the county with services that include emergency shelters, mental health issues, veteran benefits, jobs search, and much more. Donna’s job is to organize all the volunteers. However, maybe the most notable single action of her life is the book, Women Vietnam Veterans – Our Untold Story.
Donna wrote the book with the assistance from a few other women, most were Vietnam veterans. It’s an exhaustive compilation of hundreds of stories shared by those vets. After initially scanning through the book, you realize, sadly, almost a third of those who served in Vietnam have already passed away. No one knows why.
One of the problems encountered while researching the book was the lack of documentation. Not only were women told that they are not veterans, but health and personnel records were lost. For years, Donna and the others on her team were told by the Department of Defense that 1234 military women (non-nurses) served.
Donna shared this months after I had started preparing this story, a DOD official admitted, the DOD does not know. ‘“Our country does NOT know who served.’ Hoo-ah for Col Franklin! COL (Ret) Mark Franklin, Chief, History & Legacy, The USA Vietnam War Commemoration DOD. I AM VERY PROUD OF HIM. “
Donna was told there are records and archives left at Hickam Air Force Base when the last woman left Vietnam. The documents if not found soon will be lost forever, if they are not already gone.
Her book can be purchased online at Amazon dot com. But I am quite sure if you wrote Donna, you could get it cheaper. The book never provides an opinion if women should be in combat or not. It is just a straight forward effort to tell their story – their untold story.