Nurse given chance to honor patient who lost his life in Vietnam

Last week VVMF hosted the Reading of The Names for The Wall’s 35th Anniversary. All 58,318 names on The Wall were read by volunteers, fellow veterans, and family members. Each name took on its own significance to the reader. For Linda Schwartz, a military nurse stationed in Japan during the Vietnam War, the names she read took on a special meaning. Linda read the names of Alfred Quiroz, one of her patients, and Russel Hewit Jr., who grew up in the same county as her.

 

“I always knew I wanted to be a nurse because when I was little my brother got hurt very badly  and I helped take care of him so well that when we saw the doctor he said, ‘Linda should be a nurse,” she remembers. “Ever since then, I knew I was going to be a nurse when I got older.”

 

Linda’s desire to be a nurse led her to enter and complete nursing school in Akron, Ohio. Linda also enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and upon completing nursing school was stationed at a hospital in Amarillo, Texas at the Air Force Base.

 

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Lt. Linda Spoonster during her first year in USAF

Linda worked at the Amarillo Air Force Base Hospital until the base closed and in December 1967 she was stationed at Tachikawa AB Hospital in Japan. While in Japan, Linda was tasked with helping wounded soldiers who were flown into the hospital due to injuries sustained in Vietnam.

 

“I did not handle that many battle casualties or treat as many soldiers when I was stationed in Texas and I was a little disappointed,” Linda says. “So I was glad I got the opportunity to go to Japan because I knew I would be able to help with the battle casualties and treat soldiers.

 

Linda was happy to be in a position to help soldiers, but her job as nurse was hard work.

 

“We worked 12-hour days for 6 days a week because casualties would come out of Vietnam to our hospital and it was our job to stabilize soldiers so they could travel home,” Linda recalls. “If a soldier had sustained serious wounds and could not travel home, they would have to stay the night. Back then, it was a long journey from the Pacific back to the states so the hospitals in the Philippines and Japan were very important.”

 

Linda was able to grasp the importance of her job from her first day where she was tasked with treating a soldier named Alfred Quiroz. Quiroz sustained serious wounds from being shot at close range and was in critical condition.

 

“On my first day of work I took care of a soldier named Alfred Quiroz who had been shot at close range and seriously wounded,” Linda says. “I spent the entire day treating him and talking to him and years later I realized that I never knew his name despite never forgetting his face.”

 

Alfred unfortunately did not survive his wounds and passed away on January 20, 1969. He is listed on Panel 34W, Line 43 on The Wall. Linda had never forgotten Alfred’s face and she did not know his name until years later when she searched VVMF’s Wall of Faces.

 

“I always had his face on my mind but I never knew his name, so years ago I decided to look for him on the Wall of Faces,” Linda recalls. “When I searched his casualty date and found his picture, I recognized that face immediately. I had finally found him and it was so important to me.”

 

Linda was able to honor Alfred by reading his name at this year’s Reading of the Names. Linda also read the name of Russel Hewit, who is listed on Panel 34W, Line 49.

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The east panels of The Wall.

“I did not know Russell, but he was from a small town in Seville, Ohio right near where I was from so I wanted to be able to read his name to remember and honor him,” Linda says. “Getting the chance to remember him and Alfred means a lot to me.”

 

Linda has many tragic and somber memories from her time as nurse in Japan, but she also has memories that give her hope and inspiration. One of those instances came when Linda was treating soldiers after the Battle of Hamburger Hill in May 1969.

 

“I remember seeing all of these horribly wounded soldiers walking down the hallway with their arms around each other. It was like something out of a movie,” Linda remembers. “All of these guys had serious wounds and one guy had a collapsed lung but all they kept asking was, ‘Is he ok? Is he ok?’ about each other. They were not even concerned with themselves they only cared about their fellow soldiers. They were warriors but they were so gentle with each other.”

 

Linda’s heart broke from seeing all of the wounded soldiers, but she became even more inspired to do more good for veterans.

 

“After seeing how the soldiers cared for each other and treated each other after Hamburger Hill, I decided I would never go back into civilian nursing,” Linda says. “No one understands just how much these guys cared for and sacrificed for one another.”

 

Linda’s time as a nurse in Japan ended in January 1971, but her career as a military nurse continued. After leaving Japan, Linda stayed in the military and served as an active duty flight nurse. Linda was stationed in New York and Europe until she entered the reserves when her daughter was born. In 1983 Linda suffered injuries from a plane accident and was forced to retire from the military.

 

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Linda as the Commissioner of Veteran Affairs for the State of CT

While Linda’s time in the military had ended, her involvement in the military community and advocacy of veterans’ issues had just begun. Since retiring from the military, Linda has testified before Congress on behalf of veterans and served as the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs for the state of Connecticut for 11 years.

 

“I really liked being the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs during the Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait conflicts because I felt like I could take the lessons from Vietnam and not repeat them,” Linda says. “I wanted to make sure that these young men and women did not have to wait until they are old to get what they need. I wanted to make sure we did not turn our backs on any generation of veterans.”

 

In 2014, she was confirmed as the VA Assistant Secretary for Policy and Planning.

 

Linda will continue to advocate for veterans and she will carry the love she received from the soldiers in Vietnam. Linda got to experience this love again when she saw The Wall for the first time.

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Dr. Linda Schwartz as the Assistant Secretary of Veteran Affairs

“I had donated to The Wall and was very excited about its opening, but I actually saw it before it was finished and before they had the walkways,” Linda remembers. “ I had traveled to the U.S. from having been stationed in Germany and took my daughter to see the Lincoln Memorial and once we finished there we went to The Wall. I just got overwhelmed with the magnitude of it. I began to cry and my daughter asked me why I was crying. I said that I might know people listed on The Wall but did not know their names. A group of veterans came up to me and asked if I had someone on The Wall, and once I explained I was a nurse they each gave me the biggest hugs.”

 

Linda hopes that the lessons from Vietnam will help guide future generations to understand and honor the sacrifice of those who decide to serve.

 

“The United States has been in war for many years since its existence and we might always be in war so we need to make sure that we honor and stand for the men and women who stand for us,” Linda says. “We make a promise to them that what happened to many who served in Vietnam won’t happen to them, and we do that by recognizing and honoring the sacrifices they make.”

 

This blog post was written by Scott Lynch

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