Beth Parks, interviewed by Laura Tucker, Part 1
Beth Parks, interviewed by Laura Tucker on June 11, 1999. Parks speaks about her early life, education, and marriage; becoming an “obligated volunteer” in 1966 for 24-months; the mistake of believing the Army recruiter’s promises; being trained for medical field service at Fort Sam Houston; going to Vietnam early in the war; mistakenly believing her husband was stationed near the DMZ, then learning he was in Thailand; asking to serve a unit near the action; receiving her duty assignment at the Third Field Hospital in Saigon before being moved to the 7th Surgical Hospital (a MASH unit) in the Mekong Delta, and her permanent duty assignment with the 12th Evac.; feeling disoriented in Tan Son Nhut; using a Vietnamese rest room for the first time. She explains a typical day as an operating room nurse with the 7th Surg; operating on canvas litters supported by sawhorses; sometimes working up to 72-hours straight on their feet without food. Parks describes what it was like working in a mass casualty setting and recalls patients she operated on; how a “hooch” was constructed; bartering for bamboo and matting to create privacy curtains between bunks; the male to female ratio and how soldiers who wanted to impress the women allowed the nurses to drive tanks and fly airplanes. She explains the tactics used by the 7th’s chief nurse to secure supplies from other units; going on R&R; discovering the unit’s own supplies were being diverted to the Asian black market; couples using the bunkers at the 12th Evac. to have sex; nurses who were dating doctors finding privacy for sex in an operating room closet; how morale was high at the start of the war when the medical unit lacked military structure and operations were ‘fly by the seat of [your] pants’ and declined as the military-imposed structure and discipline in the form of behavioral and procedural changes. She speaks about working with Vietnamese nationals, not knowing who was with the Viet Cong and who was civilian, and concerns about nationals aligned with the VC creating or using the tunnels and trap doors that ran under the camp to lay booby traps using grenades; poisoning toothpaste, food, or drink; stealing medical supplies; and having a Vietnamese woman steal a ring from the pocket of the fatigues hanging in her hooch. Parks tells of being apolitical at the time of the war and still not understanding the point of the war; believing that Americans were in Vietnam to protect the wealth of capitalists; leadership ensuring the camp was unnaturally clean when dignitaries visited; witnessing Charlton Heston interact with the wounded; going to the open-air market; contracting dysentery; the prevalence of parasites in Vietnamese children who were treated; the handling of bodies and amputated limbs; coming under mortar attack; an adjunct who tripped on the duck board when running for the bunker during an attack receiving a scratch and putting himself in for a Purple Heart; talk of the Tet offensive and wanting out before it happened. She tells of her flight home and the poor treatment received in San Francisco; being turned away from the Top of the Mark and having to find a public bathroom to change out of their uniforms to avoid being shunned and denied service; spending three years in Gerseveral; using her GI Bill to go to college at Wake Forest, then UMaine Orono. Text: 43 pp. transcript. Time: 01:28:40.
Military History | Oral History | United States History
December 27, 1941
Glen Falls, Warren County, New York
Nation of origin
Registered nurse; Wildlife biologist; Educator; Photographer
Branch of service
United States. Army
7th Surgical Hospital (MASH); 12th Evacuation Hospital
Dates of service
August 1966-December 1969, Vietnam, October 1966-October 1967
Location of Service
Cu Chi, Vietnam
Wars & Conflicts
O-1 2nd Lieutenant
“Madame Molly”; Father Peterman; Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller; Anita Bryant; Joey Heatherton; Vic Damone; Charlton Heston; Cardinal Spelman
Laurel, Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Saigon; Mekong Delta; Tan Son Nhut; Cu Chi; Vung Tau; Bangkok; San Francisco; Gerseveral; Wake Forest, North Carolina
Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Army Nurse Corps; United States. Army field hospital units; Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals; Dating; Sex; Theft; Black market; Rest and recreation; Booby traps; Mass casualties; Triage (Medicine); United Service Organizations (United States.); Dark humor; Sex workers; Dysentery; Medical Civic Assistance Program (MEDCAP); Mefloquine; Anti-war Protesters
Maine Vietnam Veterans Oral History
Parks, Beth, “Beth Parks, interviewed by Laura Tucker, Part 1” (2024). Vietnam Veterans Oral Histories. 53.
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