Army nurse remembers loss of town, keeps memory of fallen soldiers alive

Jane McCarthy is part of the 2018 Veterans Day program at the Vietnam Women’s Memorial in Washington. (Nikki Wentling / Stars and Stripes)

For Cohasset, Mass., 1969 was the worst eight months of the Vietnam War, when 5 of the town’s soldiers were killed in action, including three from the Cohasset High School class of 1966.

No year of conflict has taken such a heavy toll on the New England coastal town of less than 9,000 people.

Jane McCarthy grew up in Cohasset and was part of the Class of 1966. After graduation, she continued to serve as a Nursing Nurse at the 95th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam, one of more than 5,000 who served in the Army Nurse Corps. She spoke about her experiences in a 2016 documentary, “Maryland Vietnam War Stories”.

For years, she has participated in her hometown Memorial Day parade in honor of those who have died. In May, she spoke on the 50th anniversary of the 1969 deaths of the five soldiers.

McCarthy, now 71, lives in Olney, Maryland. Here are excerpts from his remarks.

That’s why we have Memorial Day.

This is why I walk in the Cohasset Memorial Day parade every year, to remember those friends – these young boys and citizens of Cohasset – whom we lost in Vietnam, the high cost of the war. To remember those days when we gathered here in Cohasset every time for the funerals of each of these boys – five boys in 1969 alone.

John Lyon lived in Joy Place. Graduated from Lycée Cohasset in 1962. Joined the Army in 1966. Captain, 1st Cavalry Division. On the morning of April 18, 1969, while on a revival mission in northwestern Kan Throng Province, as he moved to organize and guide his troops, John entered an enemy mine and was killed . Two weeks after his 25th birthday.

Craig Simeone lived near the old football field. Private First Class, 101st Airborne Division. Craig gave his life on Remembrance Day, May 30, 1969, in the A Shau Valley, while leading an ambush patrol to reach other wounded men under enemy fire. He was 21 years old.

Eddie Maree was a member of the CHS class of 1966. He enlisted in the Navy in 1965 and flew two missions in Vietnam, the last in the Gulf of Tonkin. Eddie died in service on July 11, 1969. He was 20 years old.

Allen Keating lived near the Veterans Project. 1966 CHS Class graduate. E-4 Army Specialist, 4th Infantry Division. After nine months in Vietnam, he went on vacation to Hawaii, where he married his fiancee, Anne Noonan. He was killed in action on October 19, 1969, while leading his squad and his armored personnel carrier. He was 21 years old.

Dennis Reardon lived on Elm Street (three houses down from where his Memorial Square now stands). 1963 graduated from the SCH; served in the Marine Corps as a first lieutenant. On November 29, 1969, his mission was to evacuate combat casualties from the Khe Sanh mountains, 32 km south of Danang. While co-piloting his helicopter, it exploded in flight, killing Dennis and his crew. He was 24 years old.

We are here now, 50 years later, to remember our loss.

We grew up going and being part of this Memorial Day Parade. I was a flower girl – like those flower girls here today – then a scout and a cheerleader in high school. And then to nursing school and the Army Nursing Corps. I served as a nursing nurse in Vietnam in 1970-71 – right after most of our Cohasset boys made this ultimate sacrifice.

I was not in favor of the war and I did not understand what we were doing there – but I knew that many of my friends were drafted and killed. I decided what would be more useful at this time of my life – as a new 21-year-old nurse – than caring for the wounded after being sent to war.

I was there in 1970-1971, second lieutenant assigned to the 95th Danang Evacuation Hospital, 35 miles from Laos and 40 miles from the DMZ.

I worked in the yard. The injured came by helicopter to a helipad just outside. I dealt with 18 and 19 year old young men – boys – shot down, scared, alone and scared of dying in a war they didn’t understand.

I have treated soldiers fresh out of combat – amputees, head injuries, chest injuries, treatment of hypovolemic shock due to blood loss.

We – the nurses, the doctors and the corpsmen – never spoke of the wounded that we saw day after day while we were there. I knew then that there would be a cost to that someday – that I would pay a price, emotionally and psychologically.

How does a 22-year-old girl from a small town in Massachusetts tell a 19-year-old soldier that he has no more feet or legs? And the head injuries – the patients expected to die, not the candidates for surgery – I just held them or sat with them until they died.

I wondered why we were fighting this war. I thought I would find answers in Vietnam but I didn’t. I have learned that war causes death and dismemberment.

I got home in August 1971 and started college 10 days later using the GI Bill. I was at home in Cohasset with my parents for a few days – crying all the time, not sleeping, not eating – my parents didn’t know what to do and neither did I.

Looking back, I had a classic case of post-traumatic stress disorder – or what has been called PTSD – I now believe that all of us who have witnessed the atrocities of war are suffering from PTSD – to one degree or another, at some point in our life or otherwise.

I had nightmares. I kept dreaming that they fired me and that I was taking care of a seriously injured patient in x-ray and I had to keep telling myself that I’m going to get out of here, I will be able to go home.

In December 1971, I returned home for Christmas and New Years, still depressed, without eating. I remember meeting my friend Dick Churchill, who was returning from his second tour of Vietnam. We didn’t talk about what we were doing – we knew what we were doing. Now it was about what to do with the rest of our lives. No one knew how to deal with it except to get over it. Go on with your life.

I returned home to Cohasset for Memorial Day 1972 and my father – Pat McCarthy – commander of that Legion post at the time – asked me to walk as a veteran. I didn’t want to like so many vets back then, but I did for my dad. So I pulled out my summer army uniform – high heels and everything – and walked. That year there were three of us Vietnam veterans wearing a uniform that I remember – John Morgan, Wayne Harrington and myself. Wearing a uniform on Main Street in Cohasset was not a popular thing at the time. But we did it anyway.

Every year I come back here to Cohasset to take part in this Memorial Day parade – to remember the loss of so many and especially those five who died 50 years ago in 1969, lost forever to their families.

I would like to end today by sharing a poem – “Angel in War” – written anonymously – by a soldier who must have been wounded in Vietnam.

Listen now, I have a story to tell, about some women who have been through hell. They fought in the war in a special way, Sometimes 16 hours a day. story I tell About these women who went through hell. ‘Cause they were young like you and me How much more special can they be? How many hands has she held through the night, While a young voice cried, I’m so cold.

How many faces does she still see Like the memories we have, you and me. Now listen to the stories they tell, They are women who have lived through hell They fought in the war by our side And like our sisters they often cried. Let us not forget these stories that they tell Because it is our sisters who lived the hell.

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