I am thankful for this day. I
am thankful for good health. Today, I will go through the day
inwardly relaxed and outwardly alert. I will pay more
attention to the things outside of me and less attention to
the things inside of me. I believe I will be given the
strength to meet whatever problems come to me. I will do my
tasks one at a time and not try to cross all my bridges at
once. --Favorite saying of Sharon Ann Lane
Sharon Ann Lane had been in Vietnam about seven weeks when a
Soviet-made 122mm rocket detonated in the Quonset hut complex
that was the 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai. Rocket and
mortar attacks were not infrequent, but this rocket came by
itself, a lone missile in the early morning darkness. It was
around five o'clock, June 8, 1969.
The next shift of nurses already was up and getting dressed
for the day. Sharon Lane worked in Vietnamese Ward 4, a
volunteer who chose to tend to patients most others avoided.
The patients included ARVN and civilians and children the
nurses loved; but the Vietnamese ward also included NVA and VC
prisoners. Medical personnel rotated quickly through the ward.
Most didn't care to stay long. Lane chose differently. She saw
only patients who needed her.
Her former head nurse, Jane Carson, who now splits her time
between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and her native South Carolina,
said: "She just liked people. She was color blind. She loved
the children. We all did. But a lot of nurses resented having
to work on the ward that had POWs, people who injured our
guys. But Sharon liked the Vietnamese people, and she wanted
to remain there.''
The rocket hit almost dead center in the Quonset hut complex.
It injured many patients. It killed Sharon Lane, the only
woman in the American armed forces killed by enemy fire in the
Vietnam War. She was a month shy of her 26th birthday.
"It was devastating for the hospital,'' Carson said. "Everyone
was in a stupor for a while. But we didn't talk about it. We
didn't grieve. We went back to work. Part of my difficulty was
that I was always afraid I wouldn't have the skills for the
next patient, the knowledge, the courage to do it. After a
while, you forgot about any concern for your safety, and it
was more being able to measure up when the time came. You went
on automatic pilot. You just didn't want to lose one of those
guys or one of those women or one of those children. It was a
defeat each time. Death was our enemy every day.''
Like so many other Vietnam veterans, Carson took the war deep
inside herself. It stayed there for a long time.
"It took me literally years, 17 or 18, to even start thinking
about it again,'' Carson said. "I met Sharon's mom at the
dedication of the Vietnam Women's Memorial in 1993. That was
the starting point for me to come to grips with some of this
In November of that year, Kathleen Fennell, another nurse and
Vietnam veteran, flew across the Pacific on the long voyage
back to Vietnam. She, too, had not spoken of it for years.
Then Fennell got involved in Operation Smile, a volunteer
surgical mission that traveled to the developing countries of
the world to repair cleft lip and palate deformities. In 1993,
she found herself headed to a place filled with memories.
She asked her husband, with whom she served in Vietnam during
the war, to accompany her. A medical technician during the war
and now a physician, her husband at first declined. He said he
didn't want to go. Later, he relented. They have been back
many times since.
"If the guys became invisible after the war, the women became
more invisible,'' Fennell said. "We simply put everything
aside as best we could and went on with our lives. You just
didn't deal with it.''
Someone gave her a book to read on the long flight--Hostile
Fire: The Life & Death of First Lieutenant Sharon Lane, by
Philip Bigler. Fennell didn't know Sharon Lane. But the story
of her life and death in Vietnam stayed with Fennell. The
following year, when she returned to Vietnam on another
medical mission, an idea germinated.
In 1999, she contacted Sharon's mother, Kay Lane, in Canton,
Ohio, and asked permission to name a clinic in Vietnam in
Sharon's honor. Mrs. Lane gave her blessing.
Construction began in 2000. The Sharon Ann Lane Foundation
www.sharonannlanefoundation.org was established in 2001.
In the spring of 2002, the clinic was dedicated.
"We decided to locate the clinic in Chu Lai, where Sharon
served,'' Fennell said. "Donations came mostly from veterans.
The clinic is now open and serving the population about two
kilometers from where Sharon was killed. Patients are being
treated in obstetrics, gynecology, and pediatrics. They want
us to develop a public health program that would take medical
staff into rural areas to deliver care on infectious diseases
and for elderly people who can't come into the clinic."
In May 2003, having been honored by numerous civic, military,
and medical organizations, Sharon Lane was posthumously
awarded the Ohio Medal of Valor and inducted into the Ohio
Military Hall of Fame.
Pat Powell, president of VVA Chapter 199, The Sharon Ann Lane
Chapter, traveled to Vietnam in 2001 to see the beginnings of
"She was such a kind, caring, compassionate person,'' Powell
said. "She was a true nurse. She didn't look at the face or
color of the patient. She looked at the wound and the person
who needed to be healed. When I went to Vietnam, the clinic
was just beginning to be built. I was just happy that it was
actually being put up. For the Vietnamese to allow us to
construct a clinic, there was a miracle in itself.''
Kathleen Fennell sees the clinic as the closing of a circle, a
continuation of the spirit Sharon Ann Lane infused into the
care of her patients.
"It was apparent this woman was like a candle in the
darkness,'' she said. "Her presence and example reminded us
all that it didn't make a difference which uniform a man or
woman might wear. They were all patients. She was there for a
purpose, I believe. She did something really positive, and we
feel she can be remembered best by a clinic that continues the
care she gave to people. She recognized the Vietnamese as
human beings, and she was regarded by her patients with a
great deal of love and affection. You can't make that happen.
Patients, regardless of what country they come from, either
feel that way about their nurses or they don't. She was
One particular visit to the clinic stands out in Fennell's
memory. She quietly played with two children, one suffering a
physical deformity, the other developmentally disabled. Two
Vietnamese teenagers came to join them. There was no
interpreter to bridge the language barrier, but none was
needed. Fennell said she had never felt closer to human
She thought it "weird'' being in Vietnam, the country in which
Sharon died, the country in which a medical clinic had now
been named after her. Vietnamese kids drew maps of the United
States; they played games and sang "Happy Birthday'' in
"It was a sad war and cost so damn much in human suffering,
but here's this clinic and what continues is Sharon's love.
We're just the instruments of it,'' she said. "This building
wouldn't be here were it not for the regard in which veterans
held this woman. A lot of guys, regardless of the severity of
their injuries, have said Sharon has become the nurse they can
thank, a kind of universal nurse.''
As she reflected on the continuation of Sharon Ann Lane's work
and the Vietnamese children played and sang their songs,
Fennell looked over her right shoulder. She saw nothing but a
"I had this distinct sense of a presence,'' she said. "But it
was just a wall. It was nothing. There was no one there. I
didn't see anybody. There was no weird Twilight Zone stuff or
anything like that. But I thought, you know, she's here. She
really is here. Whenever you step out of yourself and do
something for the other guy, you have a sense of this. It
doesn't have to be governments. It can be one person--Sharon
Ann Lane. She accomplished this.''