Remarks by Victoria J. Ransom
Colonel, Army Nurse Corps
Walter Reed Army Medical Center,
May 31, 2004.
LTC Sandra Lynch was an Army Nurse, a Vietnam Veteran, a mother, a daughter and my friend. Like so many Vietnam Veterans, she spoke very little of her time in Vietnam, even with those closest to her. Her experiences, though, made her the person I knew. Id like to share a little of her story on this Memorial Day, as we honor those who served our country.
Sandy was from the Florida panhandle, and spoke with a soft, Southern lilt. She was blonde and attractive, strong and determined. As a young nurse, she joined the Army and volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1968. She saw many injured, frightened young soldiers, and greeted them by saying, "Youre in an American hospital. Im an Army Nurse, and Ill take care of you." She cared for neurosurgery patients on one of the toughest wards in a field hospital. Far too many of the young soldiers in her care were too badly injured to go to surgery. Their traumatic head injuries were so extreme that treatment was hopeless, so they stayed on the wards. Sandys goal was that no one would ever die alone, so she made sure that a nurse or a medic stayed with every soldier. One soldier, blinded and hemorrhaging after stepping on a land mine, asked Sandy not to let go of his hand. She sat by him for many hours, with her hand under the surgical drapes, as both his legs and his other arm were amputated. He survived the surgery and was evacuated out of theater. Sandy said she always wondered about him and how he was welcomed home.
Her Vietnam experiences made Sandy love life. After Vietnam, Sandy became a maternal-child nurse. She married a young laboratory technician, and had two children of her own, Kathy and Kevin. After graduate school, she taught nursing students. Her passion for caring for mothers and babies inspired many new nurses. She returned to the Army in the 1980s and designed birthing units at Fort Benning and Fort Bragg, where I worked with her. Sandy loved her patients, especially those who needed care the most, those who themselves were faced with the death of a child. Again, she made sure that no baby died without being enclosed in loving arms.
When I think of Sandy, I smile about her attention to detail. She decorated Labor & Delivery for every holiday, and spent considerable time and effort painting, wallpapering and adding furniture to make every familys childbirth as welcoming as it could be. Neatness in her office was never her strong suit, though. Before an inspection or a visitor, she gathered immense piles of papers into boxes and deposited them in the trunk of her car, driving them around for days until the cleanliness crisis was over. Although she looked like all the rest of us in sloppy scrubs at work, her hair, makeup and nails were magazine-cover quality. Appalled at the way I served at hospital potlucks, Sandy chastised me to "Always use doilies!" I try, Sandy, I really do.
Not long after enjoying the role of "mother of the bride," this former neurosurgery nurse found that she herself had a brain tumor. Sandy faced chemotherapy and radiation with the same determination that got her through other challenges. One of her few complaints was that her blonde hair had to be shaved on one side, and as concerned about appearances as always, she asked her friends to wait to see her until her hair had grown back. Sandy loved life, but she didnt fear death, lessons she had learned in Vietnam. She was positive and funny until only weeks before she died in the fall of 2001.
An Army Nurse who calls herself Dusty wrote in Visions of War, Dreams of Peace, "There is nothing more intimate than sharing someones dying with them. When youve got to do that with someone and give that person, at the age of nineteen, a chance to say the last things they are ever going to get to say, that act of helping someone die is more intimate than sex, it is more intimate than childbirth, and once you have done that you can never be ordinary again."
Sandy thought of herself as ordinary, but her love of soldiers, mothers and babies was extraordinary. On this Memorial Day, when we especially honor "the Greatest Generation," we truly hope that no more young people lose limbs or lives in war. And yet, just a few miles from here, young people cope with the aftermath of traumatic head injuries and amputations.
As long as disputes between countries put the lives of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in danger, military nurses like Sandy will be there to care for them. No nurse has ever been drafted to serve. If nurses continue to volunteer, as Sandy Lynch did, to care for the wounded wherever theyre needed, that strong spirit of service will go on.
I now ask Motor Machinist Mate Two Howard Ransom, United States Navy, who served in the Pacific Theater in World War II at the Invasion of the Mariannas, and Master Sergeant Richard Ransom, United States Army, who served with the 101st Airborne in Vietnam, to join me in honoring LTC Sandra Lynch. Sailors and soldiers such as these are the reason that military nurses serve wherever they are needed. The eight trees surrounding this monument represent the eight Army Nurses who died in Vietnam. The eight red roses placed at the base of this memorial by this sailor and soldier honor those nurses. The pink rose is for their sister in service, LTC Sandra Lynch, United States Army Nurse Corps. She was proud to serve.