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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.

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)

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.

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. (Photo/Gavin Anderson)

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