"Women At Risk" Excerpt
This page was last updated on 20 January 2016.
I heard "Colors" often as well as "Reveille" and "Retreat"!
Here is the Table of Contents and an excerpt from Women At Risk: We Also Served. Instead of the actual page numbers on the TOC in the book itself--here we have listed the branch of service, organization, or relationship of each person; the dates they served; and their original as well as current home states. Following the TOC is an excerpt from the book.
Foreword by Diane (Carlson) Evans
Introduction by COL Earl P. Hopper, Sr.
Appendix CóBuddy Search
Glossary with Historical Dates
Suggested Activities for Students
About the Author
John and Beatrice Mitchell both grew up near Greensboro, North Carolina. After getting married their first daughter, Doris was born. She was delivered by a midwife in her paternal grandparentís home in the small town of Sugar Creek. The family moved to Newport News, Virginia where Bernice Lorraine Mitchell was born in Whittaker Memorial Hospital.
John got a job working at the Newport News shipyard until he joined the Army. Following his Basic Training he went off to fight in World War II as an enlisted man. He was a member of the 24th Infantryóan all Black unit commanded by a White captain. The only thing Bernice recalls John telling her was that he was scarred stiff because he was behind a big stationary gun, similar to a cannon, and every time he would fire itóhis position would be revealed to the enemy. He fought in the South Pacific for two years.
By the time John came back from the war, Beatrice, Doris and Bernice were living at their maternal grandparentís home in Brown Summit, North Carolina. John never joined them there. Now that Bernice looks back at this time in her life she thinks that perhaps he was struggling with PTSDóbetter known then as Battle Fatigue. John and Beatrice divorced a few years later. Back thenódivorce was unheard of in both their family and communityóbut some things are necessary.
Meanwhile the two young girls grew up on their grandparentís ninety-acre farm. There they learned how to grow, produce, manufacture, or improvise just about any creature comfort available to most folks during the great depression. Their grandparentís taught them well just in case something like another depression should ever occur.
Since she and Doris rarely saw their biological father, Bernice didnít call him Dad but rather she referred to him as Daddy John or John Mitchell. John had a stroke awhile ago and only recently did Bernice and he begin to talk about their own family history as well as his military history. Meanwhile, Bernice has always referred to her stepfather, Paul Watlington, as Dad. So I was surprised when she told me she prefers using her maiden name of Mitchell rather than her stepfathers or either of her married names.
Berniceís stepfather didnít speak much about his time in the service either. He was a cook in the Army with the 3987th Quartermaster Truck Company. When he died in 1989 Bernice finally had the opportunity to look at his Department of Defense discharge paper (DD214). Thatís when she learned that he had received the Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal (EAMET) which had five bronze service stars attached to it. He had taken part in five distinct battle campaigns in Algeria, Africa; Rome, Italy; in Southern France; Rhineland (now called Germany); and in Central Europe and never really told anyone. He was discharged as a Technician Fourth Grade.
Other members of Berniceís family had also served their country. One of her uncles had served during World War II. Another uncle served during the Korean War as an enlisted soldier. One of her cousins served in the Army and was commissioned as an officer during the Vietnam era. You could say this was a patriotic military family!
BUT Doris had no desire to be in the military. She finished high school and then graduated from Columbia Law School. Doris now teaches law in New York City. However, Bernice wasnít interested in going to law school. She wanted to be a nurse.
Most of her family members had gone to college. However Berniceís mother had chosen marriage over college when it was her turn. Berniceís maternal aunts and uncles had graduated from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical College (NC A&T) now called North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. "It is a family legend." This became Berniceís Alma Mater also.
During her third year at NC A&T Bernice joined the military student nurse program. "My family flew no flags and highly discouraged my joining the military." Beatrice "strongly opposed" Berniceís desire to be an Army nurse. Bernice begged her mother and stepfather for three months trying to get them to sign on the dotted line. Then the women had to be twenty-one before they could sign themselves into the military.
She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from NC A&T in Greensboro in 1966. In August she was commissioned a Second Lieutenant (2LT) in the Army Nurse Corps. Her life was about to change forever. She was headed for Basic Medical Field Service School (MFSS) at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Bernice was at Fort Sam from August through September 1966.
Upon completion of Officer Basic Training Berniceís Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) became 2448 Medical-Surgical Nurse. She was then sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC from September 1966 to July 1967 where she honed her skills. It was a good thing she did!
Bernice arrived at the 3rd Field Hospital in Vietnam in August 1967. The hospital was located about one mile from Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base approximately ten miles northeast of Saigon. She was there for a year. Beatrice prayed everyday for her daughterís safety. What follows is just a part of Berniceís story.
The Tet Offensive began late on the night of 30 January 1968. Bernice was resting in her room when the phone in the hallway rang. She was Head Nurse on the Tropical Medicine ward and Relief Nurse in the Emergency Room (ER). This is what she remembers of that night.
Somehow, through the grace of God and whoever pushed her back inside the building, Bernice survived that night. But a few months later she became ill. Everyone in-country was required to take pills to help prevent malaria and other diseases. Bernice was no different but she didnít always do as she was told.
BUT while Bernice was in Vietnam many shows came to the hospital to help keep up the morale of the troops. "I was usually working and though I caught a glimpse of them I really cannot remember them." However she does remember meeting singer James Brown, thanks to members of his band. Bernice walked the mile to Tan Son Nhut to see the show. "I wasnít really a James Brown fan, but my sisters husbandís two brothers were touring with him." Maceo and Melvin Parker had also attended NC A&T with Bernice. She really wanted to see someone from home and this was her opportunity. Bernice also vaguely recalled that "Charlton Heston, Fess Parker, Bob Hope, and General Westmoreland visited my hospital ward at the 3rd Field Hospital in 1967." Iím sure that short reunion with her friends helped her deal with the loneliness she must have been enduring being so far from home.
Bernice was promoted to Captain while she was in Vietnam. Unfortunately she came down with FUO shortly before she was to leave Vietnam. Upon completion of her tour of duty she reported to her next duty station.
When Bernice returned home her mother was "relieved that the nightmare was over." Beatrice just wanted to go on with life and perhaps not think about the war or the danger her daughter had been in. On the other hand, according to Bernice, her stepfather was the only family member who really seemed to be proud of her serving. He would take her to football games and "insisted that I wear my uniform and this was after Nam. The rest of the family would rather pretend that I never joined the military."
Some of the people Iíve talked with have commented that the television show "China Beach" was nothing like the real thingówhile others said their experience was similar to itónot the layout but rather the showís premise. "China Beach" had even done a show or two about the Tet Offensive. Itís amazing how real life can be depicted in television programs and movies. But it was all too real for many men and women who were there. So I asked Bernice her thoughts on the matter.
Once Bernice arrived at Fort Lee, Virginia she was assigned to Kenner Army Hospital. She was there from August 1968 to August 1969. Bernice left the Army upon completion of her tour at Fort Lee.
While she was in Vietnam Bernice met Harvey Dority. They had "a very superficial romance and married in May 1969 after we returned from Nam." Their daughter, Dana, was born April 1971 at Fort Gordon, Georgia while Harvey was stationed thereóthen as a Major in the Military Police Corps. Bernice and Harvey were married until 1978 before divorcing. However, they remain friends and "Dana remains the apple of her fatherís eye." Although some children follow in their parentís footsteps Dana didnít. Instead she has become an Electrical Engineer.
Although Bernice grew up being called either Bunny or Bernie by her aunts and other family members, Dana provided her with a new name, Raine. She calls her mother that when she "wishes to get smart with me." Bernice decided to use it as her alter ego when she first got a computer and access to the Internet. Raine is who I came to know and Iím so glad I did. But on with her story.
Bernice went to work for the Department of Defense as a Civilian School Nurse. She was sent overseas to Stuttgart in West Germany from June 1973 to 1975. Then she decided to return to college. From 1975 to 1977 she attended the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, DC. Upon completion she received her Master of Arts Degree in Mental Health Administration.
In August 1978 Bernice reentered the Army as a Captain. Her first assignment was at Martin Army Hospital at Fort Benning in Georgia. "Once I was assigned to a ward where I out ranked the head nurse by nine months." It had to be an "oversight on someoneís part." While there Berniceís name was submitted for promotion to Major but she was passed over. "My name was sent to the board with less time in the military than my colleagues had spent in the grade of Captain." She went to MFSS at Fort Sam in 1979 for the Head Nurse Management Course. Upon completion of the course she returned to Fort Benning. She was assigned to the position of Head Nurse at the Family Practice Clinic/Residency Training Program. She stayed at Fort Benning until August 1981. She decided to leave the Army once again before learning the results from yet another promotion board. BUT she did not give up educating herself. In 1989 she went to the Birmingham Regional Medical Education Center where she completed a course called Advanced Clinical Skills in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
She was unmarried during her first time in the Army but married with a child when she entered the second time. Bernice feels that serving in the military had a negative impact on her family life as it related to her role as a mother. However she believes her expectations of military life were filled. "I was given the opportunity to care for many patients at a time when they needed me the most."
If given the opportunity Bernice would join the Army again. "I would not trade the nursing experience for anything. It has enriched my life, and hopefully made me a more well rounded person. It allowed me to travel to places that I otherwise would not have visited. I enjoyed the camaraderie of the military, the big family atmosphere, and the quiet serenity of living on the Army post."
In 1979 Bernice married her second husband, Charles Whiteside. Sixteen years later Bernice says she had a "big PTSD attack! I walked away from him and my home."
Bernice now lives in Greensboro, which is still a small college town with a strong history in textile and tobacco manufacturing. She enjoys traveling, gardening, singing with choral groups, aquatic aerobics, writing, and reading books about psychology, history and other non-fiction books. "I have always enjoyed the wit and wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the compelling words of courage in the poetry of Maya Angelo and the motivational writings from Joel Bryantís Journey Toward Greatness. Of course, the book, which has affected the greatest influence on my life, is the Bible."
Greensboro has also become home to many Vietnamese refugees. That is one of the many places that some of the Montagnards, many of whom had aided the American troops in Vietnam, were first resettled after leaving their homeland. Bernice said that when they first came to the area "it was rather difficult for the Vietnam Veterans who lived there." Even though the Americans never fought against the Montagnards, their mere presence caused many "incidents of flashbacks." The local Vet Center personnel were kept busy helping everyone adjust.
Iíve had the pleasure of meeting some Montagnards in my travels. They have been in attendance at some of the Veteran functions I speak at. They too have had to deal with their own forms of flashbacks and healing procedures. One way to do that is to visit The Wall whenever they can.
Bernice, like so many Veterans both male and female, has visited the Vietnam Memorial a number of times. She readily admits to being "overwhelmed the first time she went by the vast number of names on The Wall." Another time she went there on a foggy night and "felt haunted by the spirits of the dead." She was finally able to get etchings of several classmatesí names. "I wondered how many of them might have come past me in triage." I have heard the same sentiments from several other Veterans who were at Aid Stations, Evacuation Hospitals, Field Hospitals, and General Hospitals.
Once again I met someone who I thought for sure would know what a Gold Star Mother was. I was wrong! Bernice said, "I understand that they are a group of civilian ladies who served in Vietnam." I just had to tell her who they really were. Bernice responded, "Thanks for telling me who they are, I will be more attentive the next time that I meet one of them."
After meeting so many folks, both military and civilian, who didnít know about the Gold Star Mothers I decided to add another section to this book just about them. Everyone should be educated in some way about this band of women Iíve come to know and hold dear to my heart.
Understanding how Bernice felt about her mother Iím glad that Beatrice was never put in a position to join the Gold Star Mothers. She had her own battles to wage. Beatrice was "the glue that held the entire family together after the passing of my grandmother. She was a very strong and courageous woman who fought colon cancer and a quadruple heart bypass concurrently. She passed in August of 1996 and left a big hole in my heart."
I grew up in a predominately White neighborhood although I had a few Black friends both in and out of school. When I began working I found myself going to other communities where there were more Blacks. I never had a problem although there were times I realized I was in the minority for a change. When I went to Basic Training at Fort McClellan in Alabama I met many more Black women and made friends with them. Throughout my life Iíve had Black friends. Iíve attended their family functions and funerals. For some reason Iíve always come away from the funerals with a sense that the Black family is so much closer than the White families. I wonder why that is.
Meanwhile I never once considered myself a racist in any way. So I was bold enough to ask Bernice if she would address the issue about racism in the military from her point of view. She responded.
Iím so glad I met Bernice through one of the online Internet email lists that Iím on called The Sanctuary. This list has opened me up to women who served in the military and as civilians both in Vietnam and other places around the world. Some of them are wives, lovers, and children of Vets. Many are involved with the POW-MIA issue because their loved ones didnít come home yet. All these wonderful ladies have taught me a lot in the short time Iíve been corresponding with them. The Internet has indeed opened a New World to meówho hasnít been many places.
Not only has Bernice been around our country and to Vietnam and Germany but she has also been to Paris, Venice, and Hong Kong. Hmmóand all I can say is Iíve been to Germany and Alaska, as well as many of the other states in our country.
Bernice hopes that someday she will have grandchildren to spoil. She also wants to travel a lot more but most of all she wants to sit down and write her own book about her amazing life. I canít wait to see it in print myself!
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