Women In War: The Veteran In Me

Wednesday, February 14, 2018
A note from the Editor, Joan Furey, RN, MA: In the course of doing this monthly series for the YVN newsletter I have often found myself drifting back into the past, remembering those first few years after I returned from Vietnam.  I have often referred to them as the worst five years of my life, I never felt so alone or so alienated from my peers then I did at that time.   It was then that I took to writing.  Poems, prose, random thoughts. All focused on Vietnam.  What I had seen, what I had done, the people I served with, the soldiers, civilians and of course, the children, for whom I had cared.  I kept those writings in a little folder in my dresser and never shared them with anyone.  I was too embarrassed, thought that others would judge me poorly, for experiencing such extreme emotions, such personal pain, such confusion about everything that I had been a part of.  It wasn’t until years later I would come to find out that there were many other women who served in Vietnam experiencing the same thing.  Of the over 2 ½ million military personnel who were served in Vietnam, approximately 8000 were women.  I think that somewhere around ¼%.  Of 1% of the people who served.  No wonder we felt so alone.  It wasn’t until the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in November of 1982 that we really began to find each other.  Began to learn that we were not alone in our feelings and our fears.  I can’t begin to tell you what a relief it was.  I recall one friend saying to me.  “I can’t believe it, until I actually saw you I thought it was all a dream.  I must have made it up.”  
In the course of our researching of this book, Lynda (Van Devanter, Co-Editor) and I found a quote about Florence Nightingale in one of her biographies.  In in the author said: “She said she had seen Hell and because she had seen Hell, she was set apart.  Between her and every normal human pleasure, every human enjoyment, must stand the wards of Scutari.  She wrote the words again and again in private notes, on the margins of letters, on scarps of blotting paper; whenever her hand lay idle the phrase formed itself—–I can never forget.”
Like Florence Nightingale, many of the women in “Visions” had done the same thing I had.  Written poems and letters, musings and memories about their time in Vietnam and, just as I had done, kept them hidden, in dresser draws, shoe boxes, old desks.  Hidden from their closest friends and loved ones.  Afraid, of both the depth of their feelings and how others would respond to them.  In the forward to our book, Lynda and I said that this book is one of the earliest venturing out of some of those writings.   The courage the authors demonstrated by submitting their works for publication was a gift not only to each other, but to all veterans who have served, are serving or will serve, in the unforgiving scenario that is War.   I hope that those of you reading this will join me in saluting the courage they have demonstrated by sharing these most personal of writings.
This month I am submitting two poems by the same author.  Written at two different times in her own healing process I believe they demonstrate how once we are willing to confront the pain within, it may foster not only our own healing, but also that of our sister and brother veterans.
Oh, silent one inside of me, how dare you come around.
How dare you speak, how dare you shriek, how dare you breathe a sound
Of horrors that we witnessed then, amidst the frantic pace
Of twisted limbs and broken forms, and anguish in each face!
A million scenes of shattered dreams, young lives and goals and souls,
Just swept away without a sound, to rest beneath their knolls.
You promised to be silent, to live your life within
The gloomy depths of memory and never to begin
The torment that you I’ve left behind in pieces of my soul,
In bits of me I’ve long forgot, in parts that make me whole.
How dare you come around again, how dare you say my name.
How dare you speak, how dare you shriek, how dare you…..
But you came.
Diane C. Jaeger
I came upon the veteran about two years ago.
She probably was in there though, long before “Hello”,
I don’t know where she came from, nor where she hopes to go.
I only know I’ve missed her—the memories no aglow.
I didn’t always like her, in fact I shied away
from letting her express herself, in any worthwhile way.
She never got upset with me nor seemed to mind or say,
“You really should acknowledge me, you know the price I pay.”
Why did she come to meet me then, why did she reappear?
Why can’t I now ignore her like I did for all those years?
Why does she make me listen to stories she’s held so dear?
Why does she keep persisting, when she sees it draws my tears?
I came upon the veteran, about two years ago.
She’s been locked up inside of me, so no one else would know.
I tried to hide her presence, the pain and anger slow,
The bitterness, the feeling used, the grief that hurt me so.
It’s good to have her back again, it’s best to have her near,
To where I can discuss with her the many things we fear.
The way we used to act as though we didn’t ever hear,
The talk of the distant Vietnam Wall they built, and the dedication year.
And then we went to Washington, and later to New York.
We sat atop the Wall and cried and lost the bottle’s cork.
We waded into memories of people we forgot,
and now we sit and meditate about the War we fought.
I really do believe she’ll stay—-the veteran in me.
She says she’s really weary and it’s good to be let free
I don’t know how we’ll co-exist, with values all askew,
But one thing is for certain, we’ll find one way, not two!
Diane C. Jaeger
Diane Jaeger RN, served as a staff nurse and head nurse in the Neurological Intensive Care Units at the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, Vietnam in 1970-71.  Born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota, she returned there after the war and at the time of the publication of the book was married, had two children and was working in the financial services industry in Minnesota.
News Tags: