Elizabeth Allen

Deep in the throes of memory, recalling the many lives she saved, the countless soldiers in Vietnam she nursed—and those who were beyond the skills of the finest field medics—Elizabeth Allen of Ann Arbor makes a startling admission:

“I never wanted to go into nursing,” she says.  “I was set on civil engineering—I wanted to build bridges.”

The Army Corps of Engineers’ loss proved the gain of numerous injured servicemen as ultimately, Allen understood that her caring nature might better used in a base operating hospital.  Having received her nursing diploma, Allen also went on to earn a dual Masters of Science in Psychiatric Nursing and Business Administration from Ohio State University.

Soon afterwards, she enlisted and was commissioned as a Captain by the US Army.  Although she could easily have remained stateside, she insisted that she was needed in Vietnam.  The Army, about to face the TET offensive in February, 1968, was more than happy to accommodate her altruism.

First assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi (the first hospital bombed during TET, and later, to the 71st Evacuation Hospital in Pleiku.  Throughout her year of service in country, she tended to hosts of patients, often working twenty-hour shifts.  Though it has been more than forty years, she tears up easily when remembering those young boys as they passed beneath her care, often bearing wounds of such horrific nature that she was forced to make the worst decisions of a triage nurse.

Captain Allen is quick to point out that although she may not always have agreed with Washington D.C in the decisions they made regarding the war, it is too easy to blame anonymous faces for the direction that Vietnam took.  “We elected these people to make decisions, then complained about the decision.”

Like many veterans, among the things through which she found strength while stationed in Vietnam was Motown music; in particular, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect.’

“Even today when I hear it, I am alive with it,” she says.  “It’s not a man/woman song—‘respect’ is generic.”

That may be so, but as a woman who displays astonishing gifts intelligence, ambition and compassion, Captain Elizabeth Allen has certainly earned ours.



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