Kendall Gardiner Anderson: Another View Of Veterans Day

“06880” reader Kendall Gardiner Anderson writes:

I joined the Army in 1967, and volunteered for duty in Viet Nam.

I served most of my time as a combat nurse on the ground, treating badly wounded soldiers in what most people would call a MASH unit. We worked 12 hour shifts, 6 to 7 days a week.

Both the heat and the jungle were very intense. Every morning I had to shake out huge bugs that had crawled into my combat boots.

Medicine was completely different from anything in the States. Soldiers got sick with malaria (which I also had), blackwater fever and parasites.

Kendall Gardiner, in Viet Nam.

Kendall Gardiner, in Viet Nam.

A lot of people have asked me what it was like being a woman in Viet Nam. I tell them I don’t know, because I was a soldier.

Although I had extensive military and medical training prior to deployment, nothing could have prepared me for what I encountered .

Most of the soldiers were 18 years old. I don’t think “06880” readers — or anyone — wants to really know about those young men wounded and dying, crying out for their mothers. I wish I didn’t remember. I saw more death than any one person should see, and was never young again post-Viet Nam.

I can tell you, nobody knew or cared about the geopolitical reasons we were there. We fought daily to survive, for the soldier next to us, for our country. In that order.

Daily life during the Viet Nam war. (Photo/Kendall Gardiner Anderson)

Daily life during the Viet Nam war. (Photo/Kendall Gardiner Anderson)

I worked quite a lot in a Buddhist orphanage giving medical care to abandoned babies and children. Most of them were later killed in a bombing raid — punishment for accepting American aid.

I had a great deal of trouble adjusting to civilian life when I came home in 1971. In 1979 I moved to a house on the Mill Pond in Westport, where I could raise my 2 children and try to find some peace.

While peace has sometimes been elusive, what I did find was Gavin Anderson. I was renting out my upstairs apartment, and he answered my ad.

One of the bonds we shared was that he had served in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. He was badly injured by a hand grenade blast during the war with Cyprus.

I also had been injured, in Viet Nam, when our hospital was bombed. Gavin was one of the very few people I could talk to about the war.

A soldier during surgery. Doctors and nurses -- including Kendall Gardiner -- were removing a live grenade.

A soldier during surgery. Doctors and nurses — including Kendall Gardiner — were removing a live grenade.

It has been 44 years, and this is the first time I have ever shown anyone, other than Gavin,  any photos.

There is a ” dark side ” of Veterans Day no one mentions or talks about. The struggle to survive after the war — every combat vet has this struggle.

Sending out some photos helps.

Kendall Gardiner Anderson met a former patient at the dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial.

Kendall Gardiner Anderson met a former patient at the dedication of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. (Photo/Gavin Anderson)

19 responses to “Kendall Gardiner Anderson: Another View Of Veterans Day

  1. This is one of the best posts 06880 has ever done — imho. This makes visiting Winnebagos ruining the neighborhood problems pale. My childhood was spent in Westport at the height of the Viet Nam War and I remember all of the protesting, lively dinner table discussions with neighbors and friends and the music of that era. All reminds me of Westport.

    My husband and I are looking for ways to become more involved with returning vets as we’ve heard/seen so many sad stories. The stats of daily suicide attempts and actual suicides of our vets is staggering. 22 veterans per day succeed in suicide and many more attempt per day. We’ve now lost more soldiers to suicide than actual war. If anyone is interested, Joyce Riley, also a former Army nurse is working very hard to help veterans with Gulf War Syndrome and more. We’ve been in contact with her. You can google her. One can always work for a vet’s hotline too in your own area.

    It took a lot of courage for Kendall to write this on Veteran’s Day. I really applaud her. It was the universe’s grace that Gavin was sent to her very house. Very moving post from Kendall.

  2. I am moved by Kendall Gardiner Anderson’s account of her experiences in Viet Nam. I think the best way to honor our veterans is to value their lives more highly and not be so quick to send our soldiers to war, and when we do, to understand we have a duty to support them, truly support them, when they return.
    A very good depiction of the post-war stress upon our soldiers is in David Finkel’s latest book, Thank You for Your Service.

    • Mary Ann Valiante DeVries

      I am also moved my Kendall Gardiner Anderson’s account of her experiences in Viet Nam. I have to agree with you Maggie Mudd, regarding our troops.”we have a duty to support them, truly support them, when they return.” That is the number one thing that my husband John complained about when he returned from Viet Nam. It still bothers him today, that there was no support when they returned, no parades, etc..

  3. Thank you for your service. Thanks to all who have served.

  4. Alan M. Beasley

    Veterans Day, 2013.

    Our war expenses are vastly under-reported, in dollars and lives damaged or lost. It is known that our outlay for “defense” exceeds those costs for the rest of the world – combined.

    There is little doubt that our costs for the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have added more than $5 Trillion to our deficit in just twelve ears, with no end in sight. (This info is documented at Maybe wars should be “sequestered?”

    Our last military victory came at the end of WW II in 1945, (69 years ago). This country and our allies forced three axis members, Germany, Italy and Japan, to surrender, unconditionally. (During that war I served for almost three years, in the Army of the US, ages 19 to 21). Sixteen Million of our people served in uniform during that war, which we, and the Allied Forces, won overwhelmingly.

    In no conflict since has there been any benefit to our country, only worldwide conflict imposed by feckless politicians using false claims. And, the deaths continue and the mourning goes on, today and every day.

    This too, is something worth remembering on Veteran’s Day.

  5. Very moved by this post.

  6. Thank you so much, Kendall. I am not a vet. I was turned down for military service in 1967 because I have been blind in my left eye since birth. But I come from a family of vets. You are exactly right, Kendall: all combat vets, including medical personnel, continue for the rest of their lives to pay a price for their service. My dad was a WWII paratrooper. His brother was Army infantry in Italy and the Philippines. My other uncle was an Army doctor in North Africa and Italy and his wife, my aunt, was an Army nurse in North Africa and the Far East. My father-in-law was an Army battlefield medic in Korea and served two tours as a combat nurse in Vietnam. His wife, a therapist, spent her life working with vets with PTSD in San Antonio, Her daughter, my wife, spent hr high school years as a volunteer at Brooke Army Med Center in San Antonio, a major destination for Vietnam wounded. They all saw the face and result of war. None ever forgot. All were — and are — forever haunted by their brush with horror. In a few words, Kendall, you brought it all home. Thank you, again.

  7. Incredibly powerful. Thanks to Kendall (and Dan) for sharing this.

  8. Leaving the conflict and going to a military hospital was surreal. Beautiful “round eye” nurses, tables and chairs, good mess hall chow. It was like another world. The nurses were a breath of heavenly air.

    Thanks for your service, Army Nurse Corps 😉

  9. Happily, I never needed the services of Army doctors and nurses during my year in Vietnam, but I have great admiration for their work. Thanks for being there for us, Kendall.

  10. Thank you, Kendall, and all that made life possible for all of us today.

  11. Kendall,
    Your story is one that needs to be heard more often then it is!!
    I salute you, thank you and wish you everything good in your life.
    I salute, thank and send the same wishes to ALL that have served our Country and to those that serve our Country today.
    Thank You and God Bless You!!

    Tom Wall

  12. Thank you Kendall. Both you and Gavin have contributed so much to both our country and our town!

  13. Thanks for this post, Dan, and I’ve enjoyed all the comments. I made a small donation to Veterans for Peace today, as a way to support both the people who’ve sacrificed and my hope that we move away from this way of settling our differences.

  14. Kendall,
    Thank you for sharing your very personal story with all of us.
    Cathy Walsh

  15. Nancy Hunter Wilson

    Canada, too, thanks America. Friends.

  16. After reading your post Kendall, words fail. Thank you for your service to our country.

  17. Kendall, thank you for sharing a very moving and personal story. And thank you to Dan Woog for posting . The more the youth hear of the sacrifices, trauma and horror of war, the more likely we can hope to avoid war in the future. To all who have served. God Bless

  18. katherine hooper

    great piece. wow.