Anne Payne
'Am I Doing Enough?'

This article appeared in on August 23, 2002 as part of article titled "Pain & Pride" and was written by Tamra B. Orr. Used with permission of the author and - Thanks, the Webmaster.

Military and civilian RNs–the real nurses of China Beach–who served in Vietnam share war stories of their service to soldiers and the people caught in the line of fire. Here is the story about Anne Payne

Anne Payne'Am I Doing Enough?'
by Tamra B. Orr

Another struggling college student, Anne Payne, Ed.D., MS, RN, saw joining the Army as the solution to her problems. She signed up for three years and, in April 1969, found herself on her way to Vietnam. "I wasn't really scared until the plane was flying over the country-it was too much of a TV war, but now that I could see it, I was frightened," she recalls.

Assigned to the 24th Evacuation Hospital about 20 miles from Long Binh, Anne Payne was put in the neurosurgery center." The heat and the constant mortar shelling were tough, but the most difficult part of it all was seeing so many patients that we couldn't do anything for. If a soldier had a brainstem injury, there was nothing to be done and we just had to let him die."

When Payne remembers her days in Vietnam, her voice fills with emotion. "Four years ago, I would not have been able to even talk about it," she said. "I was such an inexperienced nurse and I kept asking, 'Am I doing enough?' This one young GI's lungs kept filling up and I kept suctioning them until the doctor stopped me. I just kept thinking, if I do better, I can save him!"

After her first year, Payne was promoted to captain. While she has kept in touch with some of the others she knew in Vietnam, she made a conscious decision not to remember the names of any individual patients. "It's the only way I knew to cope," Payne said.

When Payne's tour was over, she returned to a hostile America. "Our country didn't welcome us back," she said. "We had to be quiet about our time here. It was a pretty lousy thing the U.S. did to our generation. They shoved us under the rug; we were an embarrassment and so we were ignored."

Payne spent more years in the military. She was promoted to lieutenant colonel and served in Desert Storm. Later, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and spent several months in counseling to deal with the anger, guilt and rage she had buried for so long. In 2000, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but today is cured. She is an associate professor of nursing at the Boise (Idaho) State University Department of Nursing, and credits going to Vietnam with changing her life's goals to earn a master's degree in pediatric nursing.

When asked if she would go back to Vietnam and do it all again, knowing what she knows now, she surprised herself by answering, "Yes. I wasn't there because I supported the war," she said. "I was there to take care of soldiers and I would do that again. I did a good job and it was the right thing to do."

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Updated: September 25, 2003