Valley women share their experiences serving in Vietnam

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Women were not allowed to serve in combat roles during the Vietnam War, but that didn’t stop them from serving in any role available.

Arizona PBS spoke with Patricia Little-Upah and Sue Wudy, two women who served in Vietnam as a nurse and stenographer. Their stories a part of the ongoing series, “Vietnam: Arizona Stories.”

Ted Simons: Ken burns' documentary on the Vietnam war began last night here on Arizona PBS. The series continues tonight at 7:00 conjunction with this special programming, we've collected stories from a number of "Arizonans" who served during the war. Most of the US Soldiers were men, but over 265,000 military and civilian "women" also served their country during the war. Producer Blakely Mchugh and photographer Sam Mendes have the stories of two Arizona women who helped soldiers get through some of the worst times of their lives.

Patricia Little-Upah: I was an army nurse during the Vietnam War. I served in 1968. Altogether there was between 5,000 and and 6,000 females which was a small number when there were 2.8 million males that went over. There were no combat roles open to women. 85% of the women were nurses. The other 15% were admin workers, headquarters workers. Interpreters, things like that. You didn't have the openings that you do.

Sue Wudy: It wasn't different than being a woman anywhere else. There were interesting side effects the women of today will say, really? One was that I was not allowed to carry a weapon. Because I was in Saigon, my barracks was a converted hotel. We had men on the first two floor, women on the third and fourth floors. The concept was that if anything ever happened, the men on the two floors would protect the women on floors three and four.

Patricia Little-Upah: Things slowed down a little bit after the ten offensive, and they then asked for volunteers to go north. They were building an army hospital in Deneg. Another nurse and I volunteered to go. That hospital was started in tents. We built a tent hospital. We lived in tents. We worked in tents. At one point the V.C. came down off the mountain okay and tried to overrun the marine base. That night we were taking fire directly through the tents. It was very frightening. Everything was dark at that point. I'll never forget. I was somewhat scared because one of the core men looked at me. He had gone back and gotten his m-16. Nurses could not carry guns. He looked at me and said don't you worry, Lieutenant Thompson. I'm standing by this door. They are not getting through.

Patricia Little-Upah: I don't think people even thought about women being over there. If they did, if I talked to someone about the war or whatever, they automatically assumed, you are a woman. We don't send women into combat. Therefore, you were safe behind the lines. There really were no lines in Vietnam.

Sue Wudy: On the rare occasion the conversation would come up and I would say something, I would have people look at me and say, oh, yeah, right. There's no way you were in country. No way you were in Vietnam. I didn't argument with them. There was no arguing.

Patricia Little-Upah: There was more deaths in a war from medical issues. We were in a jungle. There were wards full of malaria patients and jungle-type illnesses. We were able to treat them and save these young men's lives for the most part. They knew that and they respected us.

Ted Simons: Again, the Vietnam war by Ken Burns continues tonight on Arizona PBS at 7:00.

Ted Simons: Tuesday on Arizona Horizon: a closer look at the latest attempt by republicans to repeal and replace the affordable care act, and a new report shows that wages in the Phoenix area last year increased more than in any city in the country. Those stories on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Patricia Little-Upah: Vietnam Veteran

Sue Wudy: Vietnam Veteran

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