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Interview with Ms. Frankie Zalaznik. Today’s date is January 22, 2003. I thought we would just get started if you just want to tell me a little bit about yourself. I know that’s kind of an imposing question [laughter] but you can just start wherever you like. If you want to just talk about…start with where you were born, when you were born, and….

Zalaznik: Okay, I was born in [ ] Pennsylvania, on October 9, 1949. And I went to high school, and when I graduated I was like seventeen, so I went in to nursing school, in 1967, and graduated in 1970. It was the Lee [ ] Kaufman School of Nursing, it was a diploma school nursing. No college credits—we were…

Foster:So when you finished, you didn’t actually have a degree, was it, or did….

Zalaznik:It was a diploma in nursing; there are still some diploma programs out there. There are some ABNs and [ ] masters, and PhDs. In my senior year in nursing school, I decided that I wanted to join the Student Army Nurse Corp. It was for monetary values—I wanted to help pay for my…I had a loan for my nursing, and then I wanted to help with that, so as a senior, I received pay like a PFC—eight and a half. I have a DB214 retire me from active duty as a student nurse before I went into the military itself.


Zalaznik:Which is strange [laughter]. It’s probably like an ROTC.

Foster:Okay, that’s the way I was imagining it, as ROTC.

Zalaznik:So it was special just for nurses.

Foster:Okay, and you did that—your incentive for doing that was primarily….


Foster:Money, to get your school paid for.

Zalaznik:Right. Well, I knew I didn’t want to stay in Pittsburgh to nurse, because still there—at that time—there were a lot of steel mills that were dirty. You had to drive anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour and a half, to come into town, and you know, there’s where the big hospital was. So I knew if I went to the military, I might get to travel a little bit.

Foster:The time period that you were in school, ’67 – ’70, I mean that was right in the height of Vietnam going on. What were the sentiments of your colleagues...the other students at the campus.

Zalaznik:Wasn’t a campus—it was a building, and seven stories, and you were locked in at seven thirty at night…study hour.

Foster:Very strict.

Zalaznik:Very strict. No men above the third floor, you weren’t allowed to be married and you couldn’t have children. .


Zalaznik:If you got pregnant, you got kicked out

Foster:Yikes…very strict.

Zalaznik:Yes, it was. At that time, that was normal for nursing programs, you know. You wore dresses. Nowadays, students have the opportunity to…let’s talk about this, about my grade. You didn’t then. I mean….

Foster:It was black and white.

Zalaznik:That was it—that was the way it was. And most of us…I don’t think what was going on in the world was really keyed in. We knew something was going on. I can remember the riots in Pittsburgh, in ’68, because we were locked up for a whole week. The only way we could get to the hospital was the underground tunnel. And, you were so into the nursing role, and studying, and the group peer of the good grades….

Foster:That you weren’t really aware….

Zalaznik:It was…at that point, no. It was like—every once in awhile, you’d see something on the news, or you’d hear about the rioting. Probably more about the rioting but the problem with blacks versus whites type stuff, in Pittsburgh, you know. Squirrel Hill, you know, was all Jewish; Oakland was maybe half Jewish, and then when you got in Fifth Avenue down and there was more blacks.

Foster:When you said you were in lockdown for a week, that was during when the rioting was going on, they actually wouldn’t let you leave?

Zalaznik:Yeah, we couldn’t go—no, see in nursing school in the program I was in, you were only allowed to have two overnighters a week. So if you went home on the weekend, that was it. And, not until you were a senior, maybe, did they let you out at night, during the week, because normally you had to stay up. Completely different than the way it is now [laughs].

Foster:Definitely. But, so then, your senior year you joined the Student Army Nurse Corp, and then from there, you actually went into the Army Nurse Corp.

Zalaznik:I had…yeah…when I graduated from nursing school in June, and then in July we took our boards, I actually had to wait until October, when I was twenty-one because they wouldn’t take me in, as a nurse, until I was twenty-one. San Antonio was basic, it was probably about two-thirty, to two-forty doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, nutritionists, veterinarian type people, so it was basic like normal basic; it was more of a fun-time [laughs]. I can remember there was a group of about six of us ladies, and probably about oh…seven to ten guys, that we were a clique. We’d hang out together all the time. And had to go to classes—they usually started at eight, and then until three in the Pit, which was the club there in the quadrangle, opened at three-thirty, so you had a half-hour wait before you went to club opened, and you usually stayed and partied and danced until it closed at night, and then you went out on the town, sometimes, and found another place.

Foster:Sounds like your basic training was actually more enjoyable than your school experience.

Zalaznik:Oh, it was. It was freedom for me, I mean, total freedom, and a lot of camaraderie with the opposite sex, because when I went to nursing school, most of, the majority of the time you were studying, you know. When I first started maybe I went to a frat party or two, and then I decided I didn’t like this at all, so you know, I didn’t go to too many of those.

Foster:So when you decided to actually join the Army, were you thinking in the back of your mind that you might have to go to Vietnam?


Foster:You were just thinking this was a logical place for you to be?

Zalaznik:Just because I wanted to travel, I wanted to do something different. No, I didn’t even….

Foster:You weren’t thinking about that at all?

Zalaznik:No, no. You know you have to realize that I was kept in kind of a naive world, if you were locked up, I mean. And if your main objective in life was to study and get good grades, you know, it’s like you didn’t go out and party a whole lot.

Foster:Well, I think there were probably a lot of Americans who weren’t really affected by the Vietnam War early on, you know. I don’t know, but I get that impression, that like my family, and my parents, they weren’t all that impacted by it.

Zalaznik:It’s also like, you know, World War II. We were isolated—we decided to isolate ourselves, and I perceive that a lot of people must of known somebody over in the war….

Foster:Right, that had a relative who was fighting—maybe they blocked it out.

Zalaznik:And you know, you didn’t get news coverage like you do now, with CNN. Back there, you know, if Walter came on with something, or Dan Rather, you know, there were news reporters at that time over there, well then, you’ve got somebody there. But still, you know, I just think people were still into that middle-class America. If you watch the new TV show, American Dream, that’s it. I mean, that’s basically what people were doing.

Foster:So, when you joined up, how did your family feel about you joining the military?

Zalaznik:Ah, my mother was not real happy…about it at all, but my dad thought it was kind of proud, because he’d been a 4-F, and could not go to World War II. He had busted eardrums, and how his other family…though he did help, because they worked on a farm, and they produced produce, and he talked about taking it into Pittsburgh for the…you know, during the war, to provide food for other people. So…my mother was not happy. At that point, she wasn’t going to care a whole lot about it.

Foster:So after boot camp, where…what was the first hospital?

Zalaznik:I went…my first tour of duty was Walter Reed Medical Center in DC, in the septic orthopedic ward in the back, it was forty-eight patients, and they were—majority had young men from seventeen—I think the oldest was maybe 34—had stepped on mines, or had booby traps of some kind, or bouncing betty’s, or had been shot by AK’s. The majority were amputees, not only one limb, two limbs, four limbs. In fact, they had the one guy…Kenner, I think was his last name…there who was a quadruple amputee and one eye gone, and they did a special on him on 60 Minutes, several years ago, because he ended up being the head of the VA in New York, and I can remember taking care of him. He had his girlfriend there, and she was very devoted to him. So, when you’re on a ward, with a young man who’s been to war, you get an idea what it’s like over there, because most of them didn’t sleep at night…they had bad dreams, a lot of pain.

Foster:So you worked in a hospital for a year, before you actually got your order to go to Vietnam, so after having seen all of that, before you ever went, how did that affect your attitude?

Zalaznik:Because…they were my men, and I had to go take care of them.

Foster:So you were happy to go?

Zalaznik:No, I wasn’t…I can’t say happy.

Foster:Okay. That’s not a good word?

Zalaznik:No, that was my job…

Foster:Right, you just felt like….

Zalaznik:That was my obligation.

Foster:That’s what you had been trained to do, and you could take care of them.

Zalaznik:I mean, you know…I felt probably more conditioned to know what I was going into than a lot of nurses, who joined up to go help…because they wanted to help. You know, there was a lot of nurses who got into the ambivalent part of…seeing Americans injured, and you still had to take care of the Vietnamese, or the VC, and got mixed messages, because you were expected to take care of both, and you didn’t want to take care of both. I mean…you know. Because when you were a …I can remember being in wards, like Quonset huts, and…. let me show you a picture. That wasn’t the first place.

Foster:When did you actually get your orders that you were going?

Zalaznik:Here’s the big picture.

Foster:Okay, we’re looking at a picture of the….

Zalaznik:95th Evac…it’s on the South China Sea. That is officially China Beach.

Foster:But this is not the first place where you went?

Zalaznik:No, no. So, these Quonset huts, is what…they’re big buildings.

Foster:They’re big white buildings. What were they made of?

Zalaznik:Tin. See how big they were.

Foster:We’ve got several pictures…aerials.

Zalaznik:Here’s one, like what the chapel looked like. So, one side—you’d have the Quonset hut, and then you’d have a breezeway, or walkway, in between. One side would be the GI side, the other side would be the Vietnamese side. And it’s real hard mentally to see the Vietnamese side, where they had the crackers and cookies and everything that they had gotten, when they came in to be unloaded to go to little PX and the GIs wouldn’t get it, and the Vietnamese would have that stuff. And so you, you know, there was a lot of mixed messages, and a lot of nurses who had a lot of turmoil with taking…you know you’re supposed to be taking people’s lives [sic], but you know these guys are killing your own guys.

Foster:Right, and you’re saving their lives and patching them up.

Zalaznik:And then where [ ] people want to.

Foster:Right. And then after you did that, they would be released to go back….

Zalaznik:Go back to….

Foster:…Hurting your guys….

Zalaznik:That’s right. That’s exactly what they would do. They thought nothing of throwing a…the law was at that time…I’ll give you an example. If a GI shot a water buffalo, then the government had to pay for the cost of the buffalo, at that time. All the heirs, or possible buffaloes he would have sired, and all the term of the life the buffalo would live, the Americans…the military had to pay these Vietnamese this money. Chickens, the same way. You kill a chicken, you had to pay for the chicken, you had to pay for all the eggs the chicken would have hatched, and out of [ ] the whole thing. But they thought nothing of throwing of their kids in front of an APC. Because they knew that the Americans would take care of the children, and they would be paid money also, because of the loss of the child, for the rest [ ].

Foster:They intentionally would put their own children to be taken care of?


Foster:That’s wild.

Zalaznik:[Laughs]. You know, when they had some of the VCs in there, they would be vigilant, and they would strike out at some of the nurses, and they…it wouldn’t be unlike some of the MPs would take hold of the prisoner, and maybe beat him up. Maybe take a knife and start stripping his hide off [ ]. But did I get upset? No, because, you know, it’s war.

Foster:What good would it do you to…?

Zalaznik:There was so much mutilation and so much pain that went on, that’s why you had some…a lot of people who did not tolerate it at all. The majority of the nurses that went over there, came back and got out of nursing, because they couldn’t tolerate it anymore [ ]. I have…let me think…I still keep in contact with several ladies that were nurses with me. One of them became a psych clinician for the VA; she also stayed in the reserve. One of them quit nursing, and then became a psych social worker. One of them stayed in the same-day surgery as a nurse. One of them was in the OR. Two of them have the [ ]. The other lady, she’s had five-vessel bypass surgery at age 55.

Foster:Okay. Well, I noticed in your biography that actually you were out of the military, when you came back to the states, you served another year in the hospital, and then you got out for ten years. Was that…

Zalaznik:Oh, when I came back from Vietnam, I was angry, hostile; I mean I really was, because of what was going on, and I didn’t know what the military was going to be like, coming back, because that year at Walter Reed, was not “normal” military. I mean, there was a lot of freedom in there, more so, because you were taking care of sick people, you know. You were a nurse—there was a little bit of deviation. Then you went to Vietnam and there was—what military regulations you had there—and come back stateside. When I came back they gave me—I was on a ward where the head nurse had been in the war too. She’d actually been one of the warrant officers. At one time they tried to make nurses warrant officers in World War II; she’d had that position. Now, she stayed there at Fort Meade Maryland, and was in charge of the surgical ward. So she was kind of…I must have intimidated her, because she put me on nights, to keep me away from her [laughs]. I didn’t care...these patients weren’t really sick, we took care of them. One of the corp man I had had been with me in Vietnam, and, you know, he did his…I knew he smoked pot. I didn’t care about it. Our working relationship was that you do my vital signs, you do your chores, I don’t care what else you do.


Zalaznik:And he would…we got along fine. So, that resentment kept building up, and by then, I said this is it. But I resigned my commission. I did the whole thing, when I did it.

Foster:And what was your rank while you were in Vietnam?

Zalaznik:I went over there as a “butter bar”—a second lieutenant, and then I became a first lieutenant.

Foster:Okay. While you were there?


Foster:Do you remember what your thoughts were as you shipped out? Do you remember when you first found out you were going, what your initial reaction was?

Zalaznik:It’s a…the day I got my orders, my mother yelled and screamed, “You volunteered, you volunteered.” No, I didn’t volunteer—it came down on a levy.

Foster:You didn’t volunteer?

Zalaznik:No…my number came up.

Foster:See, I thought that all the nurses in Vietnam were volunteers?

Zalaznik:No, no. Some of the nurses—my one friend had been in Germany before she went to Walter Reed. One of my friends had been at Fort Knox…I mean, once you get in the military, they can send you wherever they want to. Some of those, I think they did just sign initially to go to Vietnam, but that’s…at that point, I didn’t. So when I got my orders, I had a date that night. I went out…well it was a ward master background, and he was older—he was in his 30’s, a little older…and we went to see The Sand Pebbles…quite interesting. Because it’s a ….you know, it’s a war picture. The night we found on TV that we were going to Desert Storm, we were watching The Hunt for Red October [laughter]. The funny part about watching it—there were nine other people in my unit watching The Hunt for Red October that night—

Foster:Independently of each other?


Foster:That’s wild.

Zalaznik:So we’re all waiting, you know, for whatever movie. But so I was like, I knew what I was getting into. The guys had already warned me.

Foster:Right. And you had already seen a lot of the guys.

Zalaznik:Not fresh, I mean.

Foster:Right, but you’d dealt with the ramifications of war, type of thing.

Zalaznik:Right. So I got out and went to Travis and got on a plane—a big plane. I was…the only other women on the plane were the two hostesses.

Foster:You were the only one?

Zalaznik:Yes. We went to Hawaii for a stop, and then to Okinawa for a stop, and then we went to Saigon. From Saigon, you were in a little clearing station area—still the only woman—and then they put me on….

Foster:How did you feel about being the only woman? Did that…were you okay with that?

Zalaznik:Well…it’s like okay…I mean, the term “round eye” would be known to me very well, because I was a “round eye.” That’s what American females were, if they looked at you. So they put me on another big plane. You had to be on a manifest, you know. You had to sit there on the great big huge like warehouse Quonset huts, waiting to take off, and I had to go up to Da Nang, and stayed over there at the hospital, until I could catch the plane the next morning to go to [ ] to get up to Pleiku.

Foster:Nothing was easy.

Zalaznik:Nothing was easy.

Foster:So Pleiku, was the…

Zalaznik:The original place I started.

Foster:And you were there for two and a half months, or so?

Zalaznik:I got over there November 4. The first pictures I have of Da Nang was in February, so we were about somewhere in that—

Foster:A couple of months?

Zalaznik:Yeah, in that area. And, let’s see, these are just orders again.


Zalaznik:And this is Pleiku. This is the 14th Med Detachment. It was like…at one time, it had been the 71st Evac and one of the ladies who was with me in Desert Storm, had been here, the year before I got there.

Foster:Talk about an interesting coincidence.

Zalaznik:Small world.

Foster:Very small world.

Zalaznik:And this whole hospital had closed down to like one Quonset hut and that was…I tell people to think in your mind of barn stanchions, because there was like a brick wall down the middle, and one side was the American side, and the other side was the Vietnamese Montagnard side. And the first beds up front were like recover room, and surgery patients, then medical patients.

Foster:So you….

Zalaznik:There were only about seven nurses there.

Foster:And you just…did you have certain patients who were assigned to you, and you took care of them, or just whoever?

Zalaznik:You had four.

Foster:Wow, okay.

Zalaznik:This lady…I don’t know…yeah, I know where she is because she was at the dedication of the Vietnam Nurses Monument. See, her name was Abby, and Wilbur was the dog.

Foster:Wilbur was the dog.

Zalaznik:Fran, she was there at the dedication. She lives in San Diego. These two—this lady was married to a warrant, I mean another MFC officer, and there still in San Diego. One of the nurses still stayed in contact with these two, so we knew where they were.

Foster:The photo you’re describing is a black and white with three individuals in it.

Zalaznik:And there wasn’t anything, if there was no war going on, and you would, sometimes have to scrub in to help—hold a leg or something like that—I mean, even if you had duties out in the ward, because there just weren’t a whole lot of us. Because two of the nurses worked in the OR, okay, and there was usually just one for a twelve-hour shift, and you rotated around, that’s all. Some days we…. this was a med cap—this is one of the—a lot of the hospital places sent out doctors and nurses to take care of different people, like in the Montagnard, there was a lady doctor by the name of Pat Smith, and she had a hospital—she was civilian, she was American up in Pontoon, and people in America would send her supplies.

Foster:So the photo is of your group. And the vehicle in the back is you traveling with your supplies?

Zalaznik:Or helicopter. And he was just a civilian who worked with the doctor.

Foster:Can you explain what the Montagnard people are?

Zalaznik:They’re Aborigines—they’re like the Australian people, because they lived outside…this would be a basket that a child would carry, and everything they would carry would be in there, or they would fill it up with rice and hide it, because they were afraid the VC would come and steal it.

Foster:And the bracelet that you’ve donated to the museum…?

Zalaznik:That was a Montagnard bracelet. It’s one of the…got into be a ritual. The Montagnard chief would invite several people—the doctors, and stuff—to his village, and there would be a pot of rice wine. It was just a drinking ritual, to get you a bracelet.

Foster:Right [laughs.]

Zalaznik:It was quite—you know, we had good times, doing it.

Foster:Did the bracelet have any significance, any meaning?

Zalaznik:Just that the chief honored you enough to give it to you, is what it was. Most of the Montagnard, the ladies would have their teeth—their front teeth knocked out, because you knew they were married—so that they couldn’t ever remarry. You were there….

Foster:They were marked for life.

Zalaznik:Here was his Montagnard pipe that they would use to smoke. I didn’t bring back a crossbow; they didn’t use crossbows. This would be like one of the pouches, that would carry other stuff that they’d handmade—they’d weave it.

Foster:Wow, that’s nice.

Zalaznik:Here’s a necklace.

Foster:Would you say that your relationship with the Montagnard people was really good?

Zalaznik:Oh, it’s like any of the Vietnamese…

Foster:Did you trust them?




Foster:Not at all.

Zalaznik:The Montagnard—they had a pretty rough life, because the VC would come in and hurt them. These poor people were just after a living. They, you know…just were just trying like the Aborigines, like I said in Australia, they just wanted to be left alone, to run their normal life, and they’d be degraded and killed, or anything like that. So, they were really interesting people in the fact that their skin was so leather thick, it was really hard to put IVs in them because they lived outside all the time, in the sun and wind, and they did not do good inside. If you took them outside, they perked up, and they did better.


Zalaznik:So, we had a tent outside for a while for some of them, so they could live outside rather than live inside in the hospital.

Foster:And what types of injuries did you treat them for?

Zalaznik:Mines, landing on mines, AKs, the usual…burns. There weren’t that many, but you know, they still got filtered in. This is some contraband—that’s Ho Chi Min there, a Russian guy…. these were picked up in a raid, and given to me by another soldier. This is one of the belt buckles…as you can see this doesn’t have the red, but normally it would have been painted red I think, that they would have worn. And it was interesting where we were—Camp Holloway was across the field, of course we find out the field later on was mined….

Foster:Oh, and here you all are…. playing….

Zalaznik:Yes, having a picnic—we didn’t know it was mined until later on….

Foster:Oh my gosh. How did you find out it was mined?

Zalaznik:Just word of mouth came through…did you all know that place was full of mines? We said, “Whoops!” But anyway we would, you know, the work would go out…the sirens go on, you know that incoming was coming and so you’d sit up on the bunkers in your lawn chairs watching the tracers that they were shooting over Camp Holloway, where the helicopters were, knowing that at any minute, you’d got on red alert, and you’d have to head for cover too, but it was like a fireworks, because the tracers were so neat to watch all the time. But it’s the female in military—both wars I’ve been into—you’re pretty low man on the pole. You don’t get any vehicles.

Foster:Just because of your sex? Because you probably had a higher rank than a lot of men…

Zalaznik:In the military, there’s no reason to give a nurse a vehicle. It’s not in the [ ] Table of Organization Equipment, so to get anywhere, you had to hook a ride. And I’m not kidding—you had to beg, borrow, steal, to get a ride if you wanted to go anywhere, so it was…again, different types….

Foster:And did you…. [Tape interruption.]

Zalaznik:…Female if you’re a nurse, you’re not going to get any vehicles. Besides the Saudi people didn’t like women.

Foster:Right, that was a whole other issue.

Zalaznik:You know, they didn’t like us riding around on VDUs or anything. At the end, when we were finally allowed to go in town…the stores wouldn’t do anything, unless you had a man with you. They wouldn’t talk to a woman.

Foster:Well, I wondered what it was like to be in an Islamic country as a female.

Zalaznik:If you were over there, and even now, even before Desert Storm you [ ], and those nurses who go over there to earn money because it’s tax free, you live on a post. You’re not allowed off, I mean, it’s kind of a strict type of thing. But that’s okay, I mean, I’m not going back [laughter], so…. Again, this is going up to Compton by air….

Foster:Aerial photos. And this photo getting off the chopper….

Zalaznik:This was a…Lake Ben Ho, this was a Vietnamese Recreation Camp, and so I wasn’t that far away from them either.

Foster:What was your…the amount of casualties that were coming in…. how differently and how many men were you…

Zalaznik:At that point, you know, they had started the de-esculation, so…it would be more sporadic coming in. The worst I can remember was Thanksgiving Day. One of the companies had all gotten food poisoning, so you’re talking about over a hundred men coming in throwing up, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, the whole thing.

Foster:Oh gosh! That’s awful.

Zalaznik:Dysentery is probably one of the biggest casualties of the war—dysentery and dental problems.

Foster:Dental problems?

Zalaznik:Yes, people do not take care of their teeth, and they end up with a lot of dental problems when they go to war, and dysentery, because the food facilities…well, now that they’ve got….

Foster:And water, I guess.

Zalaznik:Yes, that can get you.

Foster:What are these?

Zalaznik:Well, these are just Montagnard, well, they’re not…

Foster:These are children?

Zalaznik:Some of them are…but these aren’t really Montagnard, these are more just Vietnamese kids, because the Montagnard kids, probably…most of them didn’t have any clothes on at all. These kids had been thrown in front of APC and these two….

Foster:By their parents?


Foster:That just blows your mind, doesn’t it?

Zalaznik:I mean…I had no respect for the Vietnamese family life—none at all, because of the way they treated the family [ ]. You could always get another kid. The Bedouins, though, who were….

Foster:Were girl children even considered less important than male, or where they all the same?

Zalaznik:They were all the same—you can always get another one.

Foster:You can always get more. And it’s probably just another mouth to feed for them.

Zalaznik:Well, yeah, half of them came from GIs, more because [ ] the way life was. But the Bedouins, over in Iraq, they had a better family life, because the kids were taken of…if the mother or father was in the military, the grandmother or grandfather would take care of them type thing. As far as casualties, it’s really hard for me to give you an exact amount…

Foster:Well, I’m not really looking for an exact amount, just an idea.

Zalaznik:I mean, you won’t see any American patients; you might just see a few. But I just think there was so many of them you just…you didn’t…what do you want to a picture of [ ] for?

Foster:That really would have been inappropriate.

Zalaznik:So this is a story about the 95th Evac—it was some stuff I shipped home.

Foster:So you were—what was the name of the first place you were again?

Zalaznik:14th Med Detachment, Pleiku.

Foster:Pleiku. So then you transferred to the…to Da Nang.

Zalaznik:Actually Pleiku was up in the Highlands, and I went down to Da Nang. Now, again, because there was de-esculation, they were starting to pull people back out again, and when I went to Da Nang, with the 95th Evac, well, I was probably at that time maybe seven hundred beds operating in February, and by August or September, we had moved the hospital over to the Air Force base, and were probably down to…thirty or forty beds. So it …was a constantly downsizing type thing.

Foster:So did you draw this [ ]?

Zalaznik:No, this came along with this history book, [ ] at the shows, where you…this is China Beach. Here’s [ ] and here’s the present site, and then you had to across the river to get to the air base. They would fire at you from here….

Foster:From Monkey Mountains?

Zalaznik:Monkey Mountains, and that here is Marble Mountain. See the POWs…you had a lot of ingoing and outgoing…ingoing and outgoing.

Foster:You said they would fire actually on your hospital?

Zalaznik:Yes, yes.

Foster:So you had to deal with that.

Zalaznik:They’d do the John Wayne [ ]. We had snipers that would come in through, and start shooting at you too, you know, so they’d put the alert on. Here would come fire, but you’d have to get over to the hospital, sometimes, because you had to go take care of people—there weren’t enough people at the hospital to be there.

Foster:As a nurse, were you allowed to have a firearm at all to protect yourself, if need be.

Zalaznik:[ ] the chief nurse and the assistant chief nurse were the only ones supposed to have weapons. That didn’t mean I didn’t have one.

Foster:How did you feel about it?

Zalaznik:I had one—there. Same thing going to Desert Storm, we weren’t allowed to have one because it wasn’t part of the [ ] and our commander would have known and we would have shot him too probably [laughter].

Foster:Liked him, did you?

Zalaznik:Here’s still here in Frankfort, thank you very much. Do you know Dr. Joseph Dobner, he’s an orthopod?

Foster:That name is really familiar to me.

Zalaznik:If you know him, he’s very macho [ ]; no, he’s too male chauvenist for me, thank you. Again, it was hard, I didn’t have one over there, but one or two of the other nurses I think, were able to stash one away. But it wasn’t instant access to be able to get hold of them, as it was when we over in Vietnam, okay?

Foster:It was easier in Vietnam; things were a little more lax.

Zalaznik:Yeah, because they were around everywhere. When you went home, there was Freedom Box; you just dropped them in; that’s all you did.

Foster:Were you in charge of other nurses while you were there?

Zalaznik:Well, yeah…usually, a lot of the time, you were the only nurse, so you had your corp men. I had…in Da Nang, at the 95th Evac, we had some Vietnamese nurses that had gone to nursing school in Saigon, but you never knew if the weren’t VC at the same time, so you didn’t really trust them.

Foster:But you had to work side by side.

Zalaznik:We had to work side by side, you know—that same Thanksgiving where all those people got sick, we had a fairly decent Thanksgiving lunch, and we all thought—the nurses thought, oh, [ ] leftovers. You saw all the leftovers walking out the gate before the end of the day. They would pick up, steal, take anything that they could get their little hands on, you had to make sure it stayed secure, tied down.

Foster:So the relationship was not good?

Zalaznik:[Laughter]. No, well, you knew that already. Same as they’d put grenades on kids to go into…see I told you they didn’t care about life. They could always get another person. That was the unit crest—for the 95th Evac, and again, there’s pictures of how big it was, how we started out. This back here are the hooches, or the living quarters that we lived in—this is like the mess hall and back here are the quarters…plywood, the majority of it. And here’s the officer’s club.

Foster:In terms of your creature comforts in Vietnam, what was…were there any?

Zalaznik:By the time I got there, you could acquire an air conditioner for your room, if somebody was going home [ ] you could buy it from them, so you could have it. That was probably one of the biggest thing we wanted. You might get to go to the PX, well it wasn’t that often that you got over there, because you were working seven days a week. Usually it would be seven days, seven a.m. to seven p.m. or seven p.m. to seven a.m. If you were going seven p.m. to seven a.m., they would give you a sleep day, and then a day off before they switched you back on days again. You know, you took your sleep day as a day to go to the China Beach….to…..

Foster:You were stationed pretty much right on the beach, right?

Zalaznik:Well, yeah, this was all concertina wire around here, and there’s a posts up there so they could watch you…see them up here, where they could for snipers and shoot at people. And so, this beach right here was actually the outhouse for the Vietnamese in around our area because they’d go back and squat and take a **** everyday. This part, no, was not safe. Now the China Beach that was the R & R Center…. let me get that picture back here…right here, see China Beach and PX? Okay, this was actually…had concertina wire and GIs watching so that you have like a day off. Actually it was an R & R Center in country, that some of the GIs after they came out of the field would get to go there for a day or two.

Foster:It’s kind of like what you see on the TV show China Beach. So is this what the show was based off of?

Zalaznik:I never watched it….

Foster:Why did you choose not to watch it?

Zalaznik:Because I didn’t think it would be healthy. When I came back home, I couldn’t watch M.A.S.H.—it was too close; I just could not watch it. Now, I love it to death. But it’s like, okay, why should I watch something that I might…not…I think would probably just make me angrier. Because a lot of the stories or the things they put…. movies that they had of Vietnam were so inaccurate, that it just makes you angry to watch it, because you go…nah.

Foster:Because that’s not really what happened.

Zalaznik:No, no. White elephants—this was…they thought that if they painted the helicopter’s medivacs white, and put a red cross on it, that the VC wouldn’t shoot at them. Well, that didn’t work. This is just the helipad, where the helicopters would come in with the wounded. One time we had a tidal wave scare. We were told there was a forty-five foot tidal wave coming towards us, and we had to get all the patients packed up to get ready to get medivacked out…I mean they were going to come down with helicopters. So, it was like, okay, what did you want to take with you? Because you knew you couldn’t take a whole lot. I took my cassettes, and my cassette player, because I thought, well, we could always have music. But, we pulled out IVs, deep lines, all this stuff and we were on the pad itself with these patients on litters, when someone called up and said it was a false alarm.

Foster:Oh, my gosh. How did that happen, a false alarm?

Zalaznik:Hey…hurry up and wait [laughter]. Get them off [ ]. But anyway, here you can see the concertina wire, right here, and the beach. This was at one time one of the clinic areas, the chapel—we had people get married there. Here’s a bunker, but no one would go in it, because half of the time, the rats or snakes were in there, so you didn’t want to go in there.

Foster:Rather take your chances outside the bunker [laughs]?

Zalaznik:Yeah. Here’s the guard tower—you can see him right there. Well around—you can see right here, around the hooches were barrels of sand and sandbags, so that if an explosion came in, you know, you were sort of protected. This is what they call a deer roast calendar. You got it for 365 days and you colored off a day—you knew how many days you had left before you went home.

Foster:Where is your last day on there?

Zalaznik:It’s back here. Well, somewhere around in here…we had to go down to Saigon, and got to the pee test, and all that stuff, to make sure that you weren’t on a lot of drugs, and stuff like that.

Foster:Right, I guess that was a problem.

Zalaznik:Oh, yeah, big time. This is my friend Gina, she lives in Beaumont, Texas. She’s the lady that’s had five-vessel by-pass surgeries so far.

Foster:Is she in a, in a…gown?

Zalaznik:Yeah, it’s a nightgown.

Foster:Oh, it’s a nightgown, okay [laughs].

Zalaznik:We were always getting in trouble; our chief nurses [ ] they were always going to give us an Article 15, a reprimand. We did things like…we got tired…her room was on the other side of mine…that hardwood, I mean that paneled wall stuff between us, and so I took a can opener and pried it open, and I said we have a door between our two rooms. Well, the chief nurse [ ] got all bent out of shape because that’s military property—you’re destroying military property. Next time, we were on a gurney, we had just taken patients out to evac, and one of us was riding on it, and we came around the corner, and there she was. She wasn’t happy with us on that one. Then we…the Godfather was coming to Da Nang, it was going to be at the air force.

Foster:The Godfather?

Zalaznik:The Godfather was just being shown.

Foster:Oh, okay, you mean the movie.

Zalaznik:And so, we wanted to go see it. We were all night nurses, and really wanted to go see it, really bad. So, we all got off at noon, and we hijacked the airvac bus to go over to the air force base, so we could watch the movie, and go back in time to work. Of course, we got in trouble for that one too, but…[laughter].

Foster:What kind of punishment would you get for something like that?

Zalaznik:Oh, just verbal…

Foster:Get on you, just verbally.

Zalaznik:You can see, here’s the sand barrel

Foster:There’s a perception, at least maybe by people of my generation, who grew up watching shows like M.A.S.H. and China Beach, that…that regulations were more lax among nurses and doctors, than with the other servicemen, and such. Do you think that’s accurate?

Zalaznik:Oh, yes that’s right, because people called each other by their first names…it’s a medical thing…I mean even in Desert Storm…you can call me by my first name, unless somebody of higher ranking comes around, and you’d have to… Most people when you enlisted were your buddies, maybe because you worked so hard with them all the time.

Foster:But did you find that it was more lax among the nurses and doctors, than it was among the other soldiers?

Zalaznik:Oh, yeah, yeah.

Foster:[ ] Morgan…


Foster:It says, “May God bring peace to you and yours, Vietnam.”

Zalaznik:She was there at Christmas time. There was a photo lab over at the air force base, so she just…

Foster:This is a postcard.

Zalaznik:Yeah. I don’t know where these two…this was when I first got there, and this was…neuro on one side of the Quonset hut, and then it was urology on the other side.

Foster:On this photo, “The Old Drinking Gang.”

Zalaznik:Yeah, she lives about three hours away from me now; we don’t know where these two got. She has stress syndrome; she doesn’t work at all now.

Foster:Is that something that developed soon after she got back?

Zalaznik:Oh…I didn’t hear from her—I didn’t know where she was, until we ran into each other at the dedication of the nurses’ monument.

Foster:In D.C.?

Zalaznik:Yes, so that’s like…well, almost thirty years, that I had no idea where she was, or what was going on with her.

Foster:What was that like…did you just see each other, and instantly…

Zalaznik:Oh yeah, oh yeah, we were just sitting around talking…na, na, na, na, na, just having the best of old times, and I’ve been up to her place, and she’s been down to mine, and we’ve done some traveling already together, so….

Foster:What do you think about the nurses’ monument in D.C.?

Zalaznik:Have you ever been there?

Foster:I’ve never been there.

Zalaznik:This lady—[ ] she’s retired, but she was the lady I told you that was in Pleiku a year before me. This is Fran.

Foster:What year was this, do you remember?

Zalaznik:Hold on, get my brain cells…I want to say it was ten years ago now. Here you go. There were about fifteen of us who wanted to go, and one of the nurses got hold of the air force—the air guard—and they were bringing the Marine Band to Louisville to play for Veteran’s Day, so we got rooms reserved up in Arlington, Virginia, and took the hop to Andrews and had a van waiting for us…went to the room, and then the next morning, the chief of the whole United States National Guard and her husband came and had breakfast with us, and then they took us to Pentagon City and [ ]; the Metro to go to where the parade was. And actually, we took Steve Collier’s, still with Channel 18, he was in the guard in pads, and talked him into coming along, to do video. I mean, he had…I did my fifteen minutes of fame on TV, because he was interviewing me there, and it’s just like the wall—when you go, there’s memorabilia all around it, and you know that they’ve got, I think, three warehouses now full of memorabilia, from the wall.

Foster:Seems like it was a long time coming, getting one for the nurses there.

Zalaznik:The nurses’ monument got there after the men, and the Korean Monument got there, and the Women’s War Memorial got there, but we still don’t have a WWII Monument.

Foster:That must have been a pretty emotional trip for you.

Zalaznik:Oh it was, it was. I mean, people that I hadn’t seen…

Foster:You were just running into them…

Zalaznik:Oh yeah, I was meant to run into these people—I ran into them, you know. And the men that were there, the people from Canada came, people from Australia came, who had served in Vietnam…these guys here, these are the three soldiers meant to represent all the men. [ ] deep valley, and in the evening it cools down the bronze, about ten or eleven in the morning when the sun hits it, it starts sweating, and it looks so real. I mean we’re talking about real, real, real.

Foster:You have names that you were looking for?

Zalaznik:Yes, yes. My sister won’t go back, because she’s seen it once, and that’s it.

Foster:Your sister was in Vietnam?

Zalaznik:No, she just knew some people who were there, and she won’t go.

Foster:She can’t deal with it.

Zalaznik:She doesn’t want to, doesn’t have to.

Foster:One thing that I wanted to ask you about. One of the uniforms that you donated, as I recall, the pant legs of one of them look as if they’ve been cut off, where they’re really frayed. Okay, so it was 1993, November 11, was the dedication, right?

Zalaznik:Yeah, it was too long for me [laughs].

Foster:Well, I wondered if you had just cut them off yourself?

Zalaznik:Yeah, because…one size fits all, on military uniforms.

Foster:Obviously that wouldn’t be regulation to cut off your pants. Could anybody get away with doing that, or was that, again, something that was more lax?

Zalaznik:They never…see, because you had a [ ].

Foster:Yeah, you had them in your combat boots.

Zalaznik:No, you had the rubber things, and you had them rolled up underneath, so no one knew.

Foster:No one knew, okay. How did the other doctors, or the doctors treat you when you were there? Did they treat you with respect?

Zalaznik:A lot of them were drunk all the time. Just like they do now…I mean, I’m in a university hospital, I’m not in a private hospital. In a private hospital, there’s a little difference between nurses and doctors, but in a university hospital, everybody’s kind of the same type thing. You party together and have a good time together.

Foster:Back to your uniforms. They’re in really good conditions. And I’m amazed that you had the foresight to preserve them. A lot of people use their uniforms to mow the yard in, or paint their house in, and they just end up being destroyed.

Zalaznik:It’s like these pictures. A lot of people got rid of their pictures; a lot of people went through the war, and the pictures got thrown.

Foster:Didn’t want any reminders?

Zalaznik:Well, you know, the wife was there, she burned stuff. The guys know they didn’t want reminders.

Foster:But you held on to yours, and preserved them.

Zalaznik:That’s because I’m a collector.

Foster:Okay, just your personality.

Zalaznik:I have the…when we were in Desert Storm…the dock…the warehouse we were waiting to go a staging area, and we took over one of the [ ] bathrooms for the ladies, and we cleaned it, and Cloroxed it, and everybody had a two to four hours tours around the clock to keep strangers from out of the bathroom—I have that list [laughter].

Foster:You’re a pack rat [laughter].

Zalaznik:Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Foster:We love pack rats in the museum field.

Zalaznik:Well, yeah, I realize that. That was from Desert Storm—it was a little cheat sheet for patients.

Foster:So you could communicate with them, they could see the image.


Foster:It’s in English, and then in Arabic. Great, that’s really great.

Zalaznik:So, yeah, I’m a pack rat.

Foster:Can you tell me what was…this is really a two-part question. Can you tell me, can you remember what was one of your most difficult days, and then what was one of your best days when you were there?

Zalaznik:It was one night, we had a lot of incoming, a lot of casualties were coming in, and I always had music playing, and you heard this same score from JC Superstar. We were working that fast, that we were right in tempo with the music.

Foster:How long were you doing that?

Zalaznik:I can’t remember now….

Foster:Would it have been hours?

Zalaznik:Oh yeah, had to be, because we had patients on the floor, we had to put mattresses over some of the patients, electricity went out, we didn’t have electricity for the ventilators. We had more wounded coming in… What did the…a good day….

Foster:A good day, do you have memory?

Zalaznik:Probably going to see the Godfather [laughs] and getting away with it. My friend Annie there, is in Indianapolis, tells people—we’d had casualties come in, and there was a pre-op holding—there were two Quonset huts, with just [ ] frames so you could put litters down, as they came in. Well, we had a whole bunch there, and this one guy—she was stripping him, and everything, and half of his finger was gone. So she just absent-mindedly picked it up and stuck it in her pocket. She said after that night, she went in, and stripped her clothes off, and they were all bloody, and gave them to mamasan to wash them, but she said she had just gotten off to sleep, and she heard this blood-curdling scream and she went out, and the finger was floating in the basin of water [laughter].

Foster:Oh gosh. And you said that the mamasan was the person who did the laundry?

Zalaznik:Yeah, you would hire them for so many piastres, that’s the money they converted, so they would wash and iron your clothes for you, but you had to watch your boots, because they’d rip them off, because they could wear them.

Foster:They could wear them. Are there any specific patients that you’ll never forget?

Zalaznik:Oh…trying to think. That’s are only…this is one of a few American little blond-haired boys we had, who had his tonsils taken out.

Foster:What was he doing over there?

Zalaznik:A missionary. He was with his family. Had a little baby that was newborn, and we all got to hold and take care of. We had one little baby that got frag in his belly, and we had to take care of it. Some of the guys, you know—the guys we had at Walter Reed would stick in my head more, than some of the guys over there, just because there were so many, that went through, because you patched them up, and then they got medivacked out, so you…. Some of them had to stick around, to go back to the field. One of the guys that I can remember—all right, Marcus Welby, you know was TV, right at that time—I was making a Morse phone call, a Morse phone call is you use an amateur ham radios throughout the world, patch you through—and every time you say something, you’d have to say, “How are you doing—over,” so it’s not like regular [ ], and I’m there talking and this one guy, he’s huge, big black guy, I mean we’re talking about 200 pound solid….