Women in country and their literature after the Vietnam War

Seminar Paper, 2003

28 Pages, Grade: good



1. ‘Hello David’ introductory poem by Dusty

2. The Vietnam War
2.1. General Aspects
2.2. Women

3. Literary Approaches
3.1. Poetry
3.1. 1. Dusty Herself Her poem ‘Like Emily Dickinson’
3.1.2.Emily Herself poem ‘kenny’
3.2. Short Stories
3.2.1. Dusty ‘Welcome Home I’

4. Bibliography
4.1. Books
4.2. Online Sources

5. Additional Texts for reading
5.1. ‘Please forgive me’
5.2. ‘Playing Games’


Hello, David--my name is Dusty.
I'm your night nurse.
I will stay with you.
I will check your vitals
every 15 minutes.
I will document
I will hang more blood
and give you something
for your pain.
I will stay with you
and I will touch your face.

Yes, of course,
I will write your mother
and tell her you were brave.
I will write your mother
and tell her how much you loved her.
I will write your mother
and tell her to give your bratty kid sister
a big kiss and hug.
What I will not tell her
is that you were wasted.

I will stay with you
and I will hold your hand.
I will stay with you
and watch your life
flow through my fingers
into my soul.
I will stay with you
until you stay with me.

Goodbye, David---my name is Dusty.
I'm the last person
you will see.
I'm the last person
you will touch.
I'm the last person
who will love you.

So long, David--my name is Dusty.
David--who will give me something
for my pain?

©1987 by Dusty
"Hello, David" originally appeared in "Shrapnel in the Heart," Random House, 1987.

Women In Country and Their Literature After The Vietnam War

The Vietnam War originally was a civil war between the Southern and the Northern part of Vietnam. The USA started being involved in 1954. They tried to support South Vietnam. The Vietnam War ended in 1975, when the communist troops invaded the South Vietnamese city Saigon, the last American soldiers fled and Saigon capitulated without any conditions. The American aim of the war was to combat communism, as the Northern part of Vietnam was communistic. The US government feared more Asian states would fall to communism and similar battles would break out between the states (like the civil war between the two Vietnamese states); if they lost the war in Vietnam, this was called the Domino theory. During the Vietnam War about 7 Million tons of bombs were dropped and other devastations were caused by herbicides, like Agent Orange. During the Vietnam War about 55000 (concrete number below) American soldiers died, half of them weren’t even 21 years old; many of them were blacks and/ or children of a working-class- family. All in all the Vietnam War cost 2,5 Million lives, 90% were civilians of South Vietnam, people that were to be protected by the US soldiers.

But not only men were in Country, “The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs knows exactly how many men served in Vietnam (2,594,200) and how many were killed in action (58,188). It can furnish all kinds of stats about those soldiers, like the percentage of men who worked in supply (between 60 and 70 percent) as opposed to combat (30 to 40 percent). But ask about the women who served in Vietnam -- women other than nurses -- and the numbers disappear. The records are muddled, they say; the files don't work that way. Yes, the armed forces sent women to Vietnam, but an official record of their presence there doesn't really exist. At least 1,200 female soldiers were stationed in Vietnam in various branches of the military as photojournalists, clerks, typists, intelligence officers, translators, flight controllers, even band leaders. They served prominently in Saigon, in the Mekong Delta and at Long Binh, which was, for a time, the largest Army headquarters in the world. They could not fight, nor were they allowed to carry weapons to defend themselves. Most were part of the pioneering Women's Army Corps (WAC), created in 1942 to integrate the armed forces. All of them enlisted for service in Vietnam, mostly in the early part of the war. Like a lot of Vietnam veterans, these women have been dogged by their experiences in country; unlike many veterans, they do not feel officially recognized and have been reluctant to seek help. Some have been plagued by symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome and exposure to chemicals. Others have harbored the fact of their service like a shameful secret.” (Bunn) “Women served in Vietnam in many support staff assignments, in hospitals, crewed on medical evacuation flights, with MASH Units, hospital ships, operations groups, information offices, service clubs, headquarters offices, and numerous other clerical, medical, intelligence and personnel positions.

There were women officers and enisted women; there were youngsters in their early twenties with barely two years in service and career women over forty.

Women suffered the same hardships as the men in many cases and were often in the line of fire from rockets and mortars, particularly during the Tet offensive with the Viet Cong attacks on Saigon. What is truly unconscionable in the annals of American military history is the fact that little or no data exists on the women who served and, yes, were injured or killed, in Southeast Asia during the Viet Nam era.

Accurate records on how many women were there, what decorations they earned, where they served - and most important - what after effects they have suffered - and continue to suffer - are nonexistent. However from anecdotal reports, letters, from books by those who were there, from research papers by military historians, and from the excellent text "Women in the Military - An Unfinished Revolution", by Major General Jeanne Holm, USAF (Ret), we can glean the following overview.

Over five hundred WACs were stationed in Vietnam.

Women Marines were in Vietnam.

Over six hundred Women in the Air Force were there.

Army, Navy and Air Force Nurses and Medical Specialists numbered over six thousand.

Untold numbers of Red Cross, Special Services, Civil Service and countless other women were there.” (userpages.aug.com/captbarb/femvetsnam.html)

And so was Dusty. Dusty had been in Vietnam for two years, as a military nurse. After Vietnam she changed her name, her profession and her past. (Palmer, 124). Dusty was her nickname. “ “Vietnam cost me a great deal: a marriage, two babies, the ability to bear healthy children, the ability to practice my life’s chosen profession, my physical health and at times, my emotional stability. After the weight of my postwar trauma reached a critical mass, I changed my name, my profession, my residence, and my past. Silence and isolation allowed me to rebuild a life that for years was outwardly normal.” It almost worked. She is a woman of graceful and angular beauty with a mind that cuts through superficiality as a diamond cuts glass. She is married to a businessman who has no idea that his wife was ever a nurse, in the Army, or in Vietnam.” (Palmer, 125)

Dusty wrote a lot of poems and short stories, one of her poems will be examined. It is called “Like Emily Dickinson”, written in 1968. In General it deals with the people she had to meet and how this influenced her emotional and psychological inside. She tries to compare herself to Emily Dickinson, like the title already makes clear. Emily Dickinson lived during the Victorian period and wrote poems. About Emily Dickinson can be said that she was an innovative writer for her time, she tried to break existing rules of writing. She introduced the “autobiographical, reality- open long-poem”[1], and she tried to create an artificial language[2], that has a rhythm emotionalizing and realizing sound[3]. Furthermore Emily Dickinson is described as lonesome and secluded. She only dressed in white and lived upstairs in the house of her parents. By doing so, she demonstrated “the isolation of the female creativity in a society where the role of the woman is still limited to the domestic, the private sphere.”[4] She used the language as a medium for finding herself, something she could not do in the social reality[5]. Dusty’s poem has 9 stanzas, with different numbers of lines. There is no regular meter. Dusty used only two periods, one after the first stanza and one after the last stanza. This evokes an image of a frame, something started and something ended, and in between there is a story without any stops or pauses. I think this might hint to the psychological effects one could have after being part of a war, one might be absent- minded or torn apart between two different worlds, one is the war and the second one is the life at home. Dusty also made use of enjambments, and I suppose that this also links to the state of mind that one is not himself anymore after returning home from war.

Therefore I think that Dusty also used a created language. Like Emily Dickinson she was aware of word soundings, and so she used a row of stylistic rhetorical figures. She emphasizes words by onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance. I think when one reads the first stanza of the poem the repetition of the sound of‘t’ and ‘c’ evoke a visualization of the way one tucks something. It sounds hard and hurting. Therefore I think Dusty makes clear that you don’t tuck away something, you tuck something in. A second hint for the ‘hard and hurting’ way the first stanza is expressed by can be seen in the usages of words. She uses synonyms (corners, crevices, crannies) and she uses inappropriate words together, e.g. the crenellated heart. The word “crenellated[6] ” refers to weapons, weapons are used for fighting and fighting is done during war. As one knows that she was in Country, this is a first hint for it. The stanzas 2 to 6 give examples of men she met, she had to care for as a nurse, Dusty gives examples of what had happened and how some of the men tried to cope with. The men lost their extremities, their eyesight, they didn’t want to live like that, and they wanted to have their mothers. In “Shrapnel in the Heart” Dusty says that dying is the most intimate thing one could share with another. She (and nurse in general) was the last person many men could see, could talk to or touch (being touched).[7] So everything was done by the nurses as the last thing they could ever do for them. Stanza 7 generalizes the stanza 2 to 6, this leads to the many men that died in Vietnam, the many men that died in her arms. She obviously could not mention all the dead people. Obviously because the poem would be quite long. The second thing that came into my mind while reading this globalized statement is that she now opens the sphere for all the dead people during the Vietnam War, people she might not have known. Another idea is that she hints to her nightmares of opening the fridge and seeing dead bodies, in these nightmares she also doesn’t know the names of the persons, they don’t speak with her and they don’t show their faces, the nightmares just consist of blood and bodies. This generalizing of the dead people she saw goes on in the next stanza when she says “all these and more”. In this stanza she again uses rhetorical figures, again it is a hard consonant, the ‘p’, (peruse, perhaps, perhaps, penance), used for an alliteration. In this stanza she also makes use of kind of a repetition and a use of two contrasting pairs. She repeats the beginnings of line 4/5 and 6/7, the first ones (4 and 6) give a positive meaning (to edit with the meaning of making public, telling her feelings to others) and the second ones (5 and 7) both give a rather negative connotation (to erase with the meaning of putting something away, repressing something). Stanza number nine again compares Dusty with Emily, Dusty wearing green obviously means that she wears/wore a army uniform while doing her job, nursing and Emily wore something in white while doing her job, writing. She remarks in her poem that both do their work endure and abide, this might refer at first to the fact that Dusty did a second tour to Vietnam and on the second view this might refer to the fact that the memories of Vietnam are enduring and abide, vivid in her mind. For Emily it might mean that she went on writing in her style and staying in the small rooms of her family’s house. In the second part of the last stanza, Dusty again uses repetition (when alcoves need airing- when corners need cleaning- when hearts need healing- when…). There she compares her heart, figuratively spoken to alcoves and corners. Then she goes on that one day there might be no more corners to fill, on the one hand this could mean that there are no corners left and the psyche/ the heart is saturated and on the other hand this could mean that there are no more corners needed to be filled because one could talk it over or cope with it without repressing one’s problems. Concluding one could say that Dusty tries to show some physical and some psychical effects of the Vietnam War. The physical ones are said clearly in the stanzas 2-6, and the psychical ones are hided behind the words, hided in the meaning of words, like the crenellated heart, the hard t- tucking away things/memories.


[1] Autobiographisch, realitätsoffenes Langgedicht, (Zapf, 144).

[2] Kunstsprache (Zapf, 144)

[3] klangbewusst- emotionalisierter Rhythmus (Zapf, 144)

[4] „Ausgrenzung weiblicher Kreativität in einer Gesellschaft, in der die Rolle der Frau nach wie vor auf die häusliche, private Sphäre begrenzt ist.“ (Zapf, 144)

[5] „Sprache als Medium zur Selbstfindung, die ihr die gesellschaftliche Realität verweigerte“ (Zapf, 145)

[6] mit Schießscharten versehen

[7] See „Hello, my name is Dusty“, page 2

Excerpt out of 28 pages


Women in country and their literature after the Vietnam War
University of Potsdam  (Institute for Anglistics/ American Studies)
"After our war how will love speak", WS 03/04
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Women, Vietnam, After
Quote paper
Désiré Arnold (Author), 2003, Women in country and their literature after the Vietnam War, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/22513


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