Vietnam War Commemoration Commission

Week of January 14

On January 15, 1965, Major Kathleen I. Wilkes and Sergeant Betty L. Adams of the U.S. Women's Army Corps (WAC) arrived in Sài Gòn. They were the second and the third women to serve in Vietnam as part of the WAC, and the first since 1963.

Wilkes and Adams served primarily in and around Sài Gòn. Their mission was to train members of the recently established South Vietnamese Women's Armed Forces Corps. Wilkes and Adams-along with Major Ann Marie Doering who served in Vietnam in 1962-1963-were some of the first of what eventually became some 12,000 American women who served their country in Vietnam. The precise number of women who served, however, is not known, due to the limited records kept during the period, as well as the multitude of women who served as civilians outside the regular military's structure. Eight women died while serving in Vietnam, each of them nurses, and have had their names engraved on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall, in Washington, D.C.

In December of 2015, the Department of Defense announced that all military jobs would be open to women, including combat roles, but the U.S. greatly restricted women's service during the Vietnam War era. Most who deployed to Southeast Asia did so as nurses. But American women found ways to serve in numerous other roles beyond the medical field, often challenging the limits placed on them by others and pressing against the glass ceiling in the process. They aided the war effort in clerical, administrative, finance, intelligence, logistics, training, and legal and civil affairs assignments, among others, throughout South Vietnam. Civilian women also served in Vietnam, especially as members of the Red Cross or as "Donut Dollies," who worked to improve morale for troops on bases and in the field.

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-130, finally removing promotion restrictions for women in the U.S. armed forces. Late in the Vietnam War and afterward, many inside and outside the Defense Department continued to work to increase equal opportunity in the United States military.1

1Bettie J. Morden, The Women's Army Corps, 1945-1978 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1990), 241-44, 242n68. Major Kathleen Wilkes and Sergeant Betty Adams arrived in Jan 1965, but Major Ann Marie Doering had been the first WAC officer, having served as a plans officer for MACV headquarters in 1962-1963. For a corroborating source on Major Ann Doering, see http://www.armywomen.org/wacHistory.shtml (accessed 1/12/16). The South Vietnamese Women's Armed Forces Corps formed in South Vietnam in 1964. Spencer C. Tucker, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History (2nd edition; Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2011), 1346-47.

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