During Women’s History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Virginia Lee Dornheggen, who served as a nurse during the Vietnam War.
Virginia “Ginny” Lee Dornheggen was born to a family with an extensive military background in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. When the Vietnam War began, she was working on her nursing degree and listened to news broadcasts about the war over the radio. During her junior year, Dornheggen spoke to another nursing student and became intrigued about using her skills to serve her country. This led to her placement in the Army student nurse program for her senior year of nursing school.
After graduating nursing school, Dornheggen continued her studies with a three-month intensive care, surgical care and coronary care course. Once completed, she went to basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Dornheggen’s first assignment with the Army Nurse Corps was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She was a nurse in the surgical intensive care unit’s recovery room. Though Dornheggen was fond of her time at Walter Reed, she received orders to deploy to Quy Nhon, Vietnam, in 1970. Dornheggen served with the 67th Evacuation Hospital, where soldiers arrived by aircraft when they received injuries on the battlefield.
In January 1971, the Viet Cong exploded over 5,000 tons of ammunition a mile away from the 67th Evacuation Hospital for 10 hours. This caused Dornheggen’s unit to use extraordinary measures to protect their patients. After serving with the surgical intensive care unit’s recovery room for the majority of her deployment, Dornheggen requested reassignment for the last four months of her tour. She was having difficulty dealing with the overwhelming stress of the unit. She went to the orthopedic unit for one month, and then to the emergency unit for her final three months in Vietnam.
After her year in Vietnam, Dornheggen returned to the United States, where she found herself dealing with memories of the war. Over the years, Dornheggen has visited the Vietnam Memorial Wall numerous times. In an interview with the Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association, she expressed how she felt at the wall: “Here, there were names and names with no graves. Knowing that I cared for so many men that did not get home was a realization that hit me hard.”
Once discharged from the military, Dornheggen continued her nursing work in the civilian world in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She worked for 18 years as a critical care nurse and 12 years as a home-health nurse. She also worked three years of urology and 10 years with wound care. Dornheggen has also spoken to high school students about her experiences in the Vietnam War. She later moved to Georgia with her husband who she shares two children with.
Thank you for your service!
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Amanda Baker
Editor: Christopher Wilson and Julia Pack
Fact checker: Hannah Bundschuh and Bhaavana Oruganty
Graphic artist: Katie Rahill