Women In Combat. A Combat Viet Nam Soldier Speaks
The Pentagon announces they are lifting a ban that kept women from direct combat, has me thinking. I served as infantry soldier as a member of the 101st Airborne Division, in Viet Nam, 1966-1969. In Viet Nam, the Viet Cong (the enemy), were very tough fighters, and I had a lot of respect for their abilities of making war.
I was a child of the JFK years “Ask not what your country can do for you, Ask what you can do for your country!”
So I knew I would join the Army, and eventually go to war. I put in for the Infantry, which the recruiter was happy to hear, since there was a draft, and not too many were keen on going to war.
The thing about the Infantry is that it attracts fighters. There are a lot of people in the U.S. Army, but not a lot who are guaranteed to see combat duty…I wanted to join for one reason, to learn how to shoot a weapon proficiently, and with greater accuracy, than kill the enemy I was shooting at. All so that I could kill him or her, and then move on and kill some more for my country. If that sounds cold, well, it was exactly what the Infantry wanted: people who were eager to fight!
The Pentagon’s announcement that it is lifting the ban on women in combat raises a host of questions that the military will have to address. I have thoughts on this, but not against women serving in combat.
History raves about the heroics of men in war…
but few instances are mentioned in which female courage was displayed.
Yet during every conflict, and the peaceful years between, (The women fighters), they too were there.
In October of 1778, Deborah Samson of Plympton, Massachusetts disguised herself as a young man and presented herself to the American army as a willing volunteer to oppose the common enemy. She enlisted for the whole term of the war as Robert Shirtliffe and served in the company of Captain Nathan Thayer of Medway, Massachusetts.
For three years, she served in various duties and was wounded twice – the first time by a sword cut on the side of the head and four months later she was shot through the shoulder. Her sexual identity went undetected until she came down with a brain fever, then prevalent among the soldiers.
The attending physician, Dr. Binney, of Philadelphia, discovered her charade, but said nothing. Instead, he had her taken to his own home where she would receive better care.
Another fairly well known story is that of Jennie Hodgers who served and fought for three years as Albert Cashier. Her identity wasn’t revealed until 1913.
1812 War: A farm girl from Massachusetts, Lucy Brewer was the legendary first woman Marine. The War of 1812 was raging when Lucy arrived at Boston. Friendless in the strange city, she met a woman who seemed eager to take a stranger into her home. Lucy was surprised that one woman could have so many daughters, but she soon discovered that home was just a house. Unsuited to a life of sin, Lucy fled her benefactress, donned men’s clothing, and found refuge in the Marine Corps. No one discovered she was a woman, and as a member of the “Constitution’s” Marine guard, she saw action in some of the bloodiest sea fights of the war. Her exploits came to light when she published an autobiographical account of her experiences. She described her heroism in the major battles of the “Constitution” with such details as manning the fighting tops as a marksman, taking toll of the British with musket fire.
We have to set aside the civilian idea that the job of a combat soldier is a job that is open to just anyone. As many non-fiction combat stories show, no job in the military is open to just anyone. Soldiers that want combat arms positions should have to qualify.
Psychologists find that particular personality-driven eagerness to fight and kill the enemy may not be as common to females as it is to males. If that is accurate, so be it. When we recruit women who are fighters at heart, let them be trained to do the job.
For most non-soldiers and some soldiers, the reactions mostly broke down into “at last” among those in favor, and a variety of fitness and safety concerns for those opposed, including worries about what might be done to them should they be captured in battle.
The female soldier is armed, trained, and she knows that being a prisoner of war is a great risk to her as it is to the male soldier, facing torture and degrading treatment from the enemy.
Many male soldiers said women simply wouldn’t be physically capable of doing the jobs, or some were in favor of letting women into the trenches so long as physical fitness requirements were maintained.
I agree for a number of reasons, I know women are tough, intelligent, cunning, and can do the job, but they must have the proper physical fitness.
Example; a female may have to save a wounded soldier that weighs 160-over 200 pounds? The female soldier in combat, will have to carry a lot of equipment, weighing 60-80 pounds. The answer more physical fitness would be needed, not less, for women or smaller men.
Then there is the “sexual thing!” Some people, wives, or girlfriends were worried about sexual misconduct in the battle fields by mixing the genders. Some forecast rising divorce rates if combat units were opened to female service members.
Automatically assuming that female service members are “home-wreckers” would be an insult to those who honorably serve their country.
I just hope that this is not a rush by our government to meet some theoretical, numerical equality — and get it — then we don’t end up with the right kind of well trained soldiers.
In our ever changing world, we need combatants who are aggressive and confident and can be trained to be the kind of skilled fighters who face the enemy, as those soldiers did in America’s past wars. And we need both males and females trained and able to do the job.
(C) James J. Alonzo
(COVVHA)Children Of Vietnam Veterans Health Alliance INC.