On Veterans Day, a miraculous encounter

Photo: Zach Pierce mu-43dotcom

Photo: Zach Pierce mu-43dotcom

I grew up surrounded by veterans. My father, my uncles, my friends’ fathers all had served in WWII. Both grandfathers served in WWI.

A question never asked

When it came to my own generation, the Vietnam generation, none of us served. I remember watching TV, sick with anxiety, as a man drew the lottery numbers for the military draft – numbers that would determine whether my brother would stay or go. I would not have considered serving myself, but as the oldest girl cousin, the question did not even occur to me.

But it occurred to Chris Banigan. As a lieutenant and then a captain in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, she served two tours of Vietnam, from 1969 to 1971. Chris was the first veteran to read an early draft of Her Own Vietnam, and we shared a lively email correspondence, since we lived on opposite coasts of the country.

When we finally met on Veterans Day in 2003, she told me a story I’ll never forget. I’ve shared it on this blog before, but it’s worth repeating.

A miraculous encounter

That morning, Chris encountered at the Vietnam Wall a soldier who had been her last patient in Vietnam. He had been visiting the Wall for years on Veterans Day, walking along its gleaming black expanse and asking everyone if they knew a nurse named Banigan. Finally, he asked her.

She told me, “I remember when I took him to x-ray. He was terrified that his eye had been blown out, and he could not be reassured until he saw the reflection of his left eye in the x-ray machine. Odd, the things you remember.”

All gone now

On this Veterans Day, I remember my father and grandfathers, all of them gone now. And I remember Chris Banigan. She died suddenly six months after her encounter at the Wall, only in her fifties. I am sure a part of her died in Vietnam.