Unsung heroes of war have moment to pause
Jan McCarthy’s Vietnam service made up only one year of the almost three decades the Seymour resident served in the Australian Army, but its impact on her was great.
Ms McCarthy was a nursing officer with the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps when stationed at the 1st Australian Field Hospital, or ‘Callsign Vampire’, as it was referred to during the Vietnam War.
While in Vietnam, she oversaw the operating theatre for eight months before being moved into the intensive care unit “for a break”.
Speaking at the Seymour commemoration of Vietnam Veterans’ Day on August 18, Ms McCarthy said she witnessed some terrible trauma among her patients.
“You know, you serve with your colleagues and remember your patients … because a lot of them were very badly injured,” she said.
After returning to Australia, she remained in the army for another 26-anda-half years, but as the years pass, Vietnam Veterans’ Day grows in significance to her as it takes her back to the First Australian Field Hospital, the only Australian hospital in Vietnam to have medivac services.
“It was unique at the time because of how many companies would come in and leave their patients to, often, go back and get more
… with the chopper,” Ms McCarthy said.
“We were very lucky with that helicopter evacuation. A lot of boys survived because of that. They got to the hospital and then of course, got nursing and medical care help.”
Ms McCarthy said she
often wondered how her patients fared upon their return to Australia.
“Of course, they came back to Australia, but they went to different parts of Australia and so you could not find out how they got on, often because they went to repatriation hospital in Western
Australia or Brisbane and I came back here,” she said.
Reflecting on her time serving in Vietnam, Ms McCarthy acknowledged the tremendous effort that was required of her and her fellow medical staff.
“It was hectic at times,” she said.
“There were other times when it quietened down, but when we had casualties, you know, we were very busy.
“We were treated well, we were well looked after and we had very good support from our fellow colleagues, doctors, and everyone did a good job.”