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“It was the only answer I could give him because I knew he was dying.” (Audio Interview, 13:00)

   Marion L. Birkhimer
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War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Navy
Unit: USS Repose (AH 16); Naval Hospital St. Albans
Service Location: St. Albans, New York; Oakland, California; Guam (Mariana Islands); Yokosuka, Japan, Portsmouth, Virginia; Bainbridge, Bethesda, Maryland; Vietnam; Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Pensacola, Florida; Naples, Italy; Corpus Christi, Texas
Rank: Captain
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A registered nurse in civilian life, Marion Birkhimer decided in 1957 to join the military and wrote to the three branches of service, thinking she would enlist in whichever first replied. It was the Navy, and that began a 27-year career that included duty aboard the hospital ship U.S.S. Repose during the Vietnam War. Birkhimer was in charge of the ship’s surgical ward, dealing with casualties from action on the mainland, including the Tet Offensive. She was sensitive to the morale of her colleagues as the needs of her patients, knowing the injured would get better care from medical personnel who were feeling appreciated.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (9 clips)
»Complete Interview | Complete Interview 
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Download: audio(2) (58 min.)
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»Women of Four Wars
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (9 items)
Difference between civilian and armed services nursing; latter is about getting the patient ready to return to duty as soon as possible. (01:19) Visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the early 60s and sensing the resentment of the locals. (00:54) Volunteering to go to Vietnam in 1967; stationed on the hospital ship Repose; conversation with a soldier about fear; changing the way shifts were scheduled on the ship. (04:13)
Treating the worst injuries; conversation with a soldier suffering from a severe head wound; running the surgical ward; remarking on the bravery of the men. (03:19) Going to the aid of the victims of the fire on the USS Forrestal in July 1967; seeing how dejected the survivors were; holding a service for the men on their ship. (01:50) Taking shore leave in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Danang; going in groups; eating procedures; training younger nurses and the corpsmen. (03:13)
Dating “flyboys” they would meet while on leave; going into port was a combination of duty and leave time; alluding to hijinks of the men. (02:31) Communicating with her family by making audio tapes; the importance of mail call; bucking up the morale of colleagues when they've received bad news from home; taking care of severely burned casualties from the Tet Offensive. (03:51) Decorating the nurses’ quarters on the ship; she got a letter of commendation for improving morale. (01:00)

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  October 26, 2011
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