When not in school, kids would gather to bum candy and cigarettes from the GIs. In turn, the kids provided GIs with questionable tips and reading materials.

Beautifying the latrine.

Local mama-sans help unload goods for the PX.

We never knew what kinds of bizarre creatures would be in the shower or the latrine. Each week seemed to bring a new plague of critters, including spiders, toads, gigantic rhinoceros beetles, and flying roaches called "nurse eaters." It was sometimes easier to evade the critter pests than the sex-craved enlisted men who tried every conceivable trick to catch a glimpse of a naked nurse.

Austere bunks were draped with mosquito netting.

The ground water on base camp was filled with chemicals and micro-organisms that would make a scientist squirm. All drinking water was hauled in by truck. Nurses daintily brushed their teeth, rinsed their mouths, and spat in the dirt.

Moths in the shower.

 Ambulances also provided crucial transportation.

Hooch adjacent to the officers' recreation hall.  

Over 200 wounded and dead soldiers were brought in on a single night during a search-and-destroy mission called Operation Attleboro in October. We ran out of supplies and linens. Surgeons eventually resorted to wearing bathing trunks and flip-flops.

Quonset during the monsoon season.

When we needed extra storage space, CONEX (Continental Exchange) containers came in handy. While their official purpose was to transport freight, they were used for every imaginable purpose.

We could call home periodically through the MARS (Military Affiliate Radio System) on base.  Connections were made by patching calls over what seemed to be a series of ham radios. A conversation would go something like, "Hi, Mom. Over." "Hi, honey. How are you? Over." 

We had to wait in line to make calls, which were limited to five minutes. The wavelengths could easily be tapped by the enemy, so MARS operators monitored all conversations to ensure security.

Austere bunks were draped with mosquito netting.

Off-duty ward nurse in hooch. Gotta love those curlers!

Our high-tech washing machine: scrub board and basins.

Wounds were left open following surgery to combat infection. Patients with major wounds were transferred to evacuation or field hospitals for further surgery and recovery, or on to Japan or back to the States. Patients with minor wounds were treated and returned to duty.

Simple wound debridement.

Dustoff choppers saved the lives of countless soldiers.    

Truck filled with potable water.  

   Scrub sink in the operating room

Austere bunks were draped with mosquito netting.

Vietnam War Nurse - MASH Hospitals: 7th Surg & 45th Surg

Hooch adjacent to the officers' recreation hall.  

Hooch adjacent to the officers' recreation hall.  

Sign at HQ, 7th Surgical Hospital (Mobile Army).

Mobile Army Surgical Hospital = MASH, but we called such a hospital a surg (pronounced surge).

CONEX shipping container. Used for every purpose. 

Officers' rec hall, with tape player and small, unmanned bar.

The majority of injuries were multiple frag wounds and traumatic amputations, the result of booby traps and land mines. The 7th Surg could usually operate on three soldiers at one time. A triage process assessed wound severity to determine the order in which patients would be treated.

Casualty situations were generally boom or bust. An OR nurse might work 72-hours without a break and then have several days to rest. Ward nurses worked 12 hours on and 12 hours off, six days a week.
Off-duty time was often spent sun bathing, napping in the hooch or making our area more livable.

Evening hours were often spent visiting with soldiers in other parts of the camp. Prime entertainment was watching bombings and firefights just outside the perimeter.
The hospital was subject to attack, as was the rest of base camp. A mortar blew up one of the two nurses' hooches shortly before I arrived. No one was in the hooch at the time.

"You buy, GI, I show you good place get boom-boom."

The 45th Surgical Hospital (MASH), Tay Ninh

I was 24 years old, had no prior Army experience, and had never even seen an evacuation hospital. Now, I was being asked to help set one up. The only hospital I had seen in Vietnam was my own. I had no access to pictures or guidebooks, so I set out to see how other hospitals worked.

One of my forays took me to the 45th Surgical Hospital (MASH) at Tay Ninh on the Cambodian border. That hospital was attacked shortly thereafter in November during Operation Attleboro, and the dead and wounded were brought to Cu Chi. The 45th Surg, which was an inflatable hospital for easy transport, deflated when it was punctured by mortar fragments.

Back at the 7th Surg, I had spent 72 hours nonstop on my feet in the operating room when my OR supervisor told me to get some rest. I was so exhausted I don't recall my head hitting the pillow. But something roused me, gagging, out of that sound sleep. I staggered out into the blinding daylight to see the corpses of three men who had been killed at the 45th lying next to my hooch. The bodies had been exposed to the hot sun for three days before being retrieved.

MARS station at the 125th Signal Battalion.

Click here to return to Vietnam War Nurse Topic List

The hospital was subject to attack, as was the rest of base camp. A mortar blew up one of the two nurses' hooches shortly before I arrived. No one was in the hooch at the time.

Firefight and flares at the base camp perimeter.

Rustic showers provided water with 55-gallon drums on the roof, with and a pipe leading down to a showerhead. The trick was to shower in the afternoon when the water was warmer, but before it was all gone. Soldiers on water duty delighted in filling the barrels when a nurse was showering.

The nice thing about the monsoons was that, if the water truck broke down and the barrels were empty, you could soap up and stand in the rain to rinse off. The rain was often warmer than the water in the showers.

Bringing wounded soldiers in via MedEvac chopper. 

The chief nurse of Vietnam told me when I arrived at Cu Chi I would be part of an advance party that would build the 12th Evacuation Hospital. The 7th Surg could not handle the number of expected casualties, nor could it house most of the wounded soldiers as they healed sufficiently to return to duty.

Hooch adjacent to the officers' recreation hall.  

The few items needed for daily living were available here.

Rules were lax or nonexistent, so it was relatively easy to hop aboard a convoy and head to Saigon or catch a chopper to Vung Tau for some serious beach time.

Inflatable 45th MASH. Bad idea in a combat zone.    

Nurses' shower. Sun, if there was any, heated the water. 

Banner photos above: A Visit from Santa, 12th Evacuation Hospital, Cu Chi, Vietnam, Christmas 1966 (left); Pat Wojdag (Coté), 7th Surgical Hospital (MASH), Cu Chi, Vietnam, 1966; Rocket's Red Glare, portion of the Vietnam Women's Memorial, Washington, DC, USA). All photographs © 2013 by Beth Parks, Ed.D. (All rights reserved.)

Three meals per day, plus a late snack, were available at the mess hall. Personnel ate indoors at picnic tables. The few necessities required for daily living could be purchased at the 25th Infantry Division PX. Items included soap, personal articles, and soft drinks and beer.

Choppers at Tay Ninh in front of Nui Ba Dinh

Transporting a soldier to admitting/triage.

Watching the war go by. 

We could also grab a jeep ride to the town of Cu Chi, about three miles from base camp.

The 7th Surgical Hospital (MASH), Cu Chi

The 7th Surgical Hospital became operational on August 14, 1966. The MASH was placed close to combat so wounded soldiers could receive aid quickly and have their chance of survival increased.

Soldiers filled the barrels, even if someone was showering.

Austere bunks were draped with mosquito netting.

Living quarters, called hooches or hootches, consisted of wooden bases with tent tops. During the monsoons, everything stayed laden with moisture. Combat boots and bedding readily mildewed. Clothes laundered in Cu Chi town smelled of rancid rice starch.

"You numbah one, GI. Give us American cigarettes." 

Next Page: 12th Evacuation Hospital (Page 4 of 11)​

OR Quonset. Barrels were used to soak bloody linens.

Hooch adjacent to the officers' recreation hall.  

The nurses' latrine was as rustic as the showers. Ours was a three-holer, with real toilet seats on top of a slab of plywood with holes cut in it. Half of a 55-gallon drum sat under each hole. The barrels were hauled out daily and torched with diesel fuel. The plumes of oily black smoke rising from the base camp could be seen for miles. Pilots used them to find their way home.

Austere bunks were draped with mosquito netting.

Van in front of command tent. Adequate for dry roads.  

Wounded soldiers received initial attention from combat medics in the field. They were then transferred to a MASH via helicopter or ambulance.