Memorial to Fallen Vietnam War Hero and Dunmore Resident Dedicated

June 19, 2012 06:01 PM

Scranton The Times-Journal

by robbie ward (staff writer)

Published: June 17, 2012

Forty-six years after Dunmore native 2nd Lt. Carol Ann Drazba died while helping wounded soldiers to good health in Vietnam, her community honored her life with a memorial that included a statue of the hero who holds the distinction as the first American woman and nurse to die in the Vietnam War.

Ms. Drazba's family and friends joined veterans and supporters Saturday at the Gino Merli Veterans Center in Scranton for the memorial's dedication. Organized by Friends of the Forgotten Northeast Pennsylvania Wing, a missing-in-action and prisoners-of-war advocacy group, the celebration of Ms. Drazba's life took place just steps away from where she learned nursing at Scranton State General Hospital.

Ms. Drazba died with another nurse, a doctor and four soldiers while in flight when the helicopter carrying them became tangled in electrical lines.

The memorial cost about $90,000, generated through fundraisers and donations from community and veterans groups, schools and individuals.

Along with the bronze statue of Ms. Drazba, the memorial honors the others killed in the helicopter crash. A bench at the site also recognizes the four other Dunmore natives who died in the Vietnam War.

During the day's lineup of patriotic music, speakers and the unveiling of the statue, Ms. Drazba's brother and sister sat and watched a community of veterans, along with residents of Scranton and Dunmore, attend the tribute to their sister.

"There couldn't be a better day," said Joanne Drazba Katula, the nurse's sister.

During the celebration, friends and teachers shared insights about Lt. Drazba. Anne Domin, a close friend and nursing school classmate of Ms. Drazba, told the audience of many hundreds about the care her friend gave wounded soldiers.

Making rounds late at night at a military hospital in Saigon, Lt. Drazba discovered a man bleeding from a wound. He never forgot the nurse who saved his life, Ms. Domin said. After learning of her death, the wounded veteran sent Ms. Drazba's parents floral arrangements on Memorial Day for many years.

"She didn't look for glory," said Ms. Domin, who received her final letter from Ms. Drazba dated two days before she died. "She just cared about people."

Maj. Gen. Jimmie O. Keenan, chief commander of the Army Nurse Corps, said she admired the area for organizing the event.

"The sense of community I see here today is just phenomenal," Gen. Keenan said.

Kim Atkinson, special events coordinator for the local chapter of Friends of the Forgotten, saw her connection with Ms. Drazba as serendipity. A retired nurse and wife of a Vietnam veteran, Mrs. Atkinson said she and her husband nominated Ms. Drazba as someone who died in a military conflict and were struck by how few people know the nurse's historical significance. That's when Ms. Atkinson said she decided to help recognize the Dunmore native in a fashion she deserved.

"It's been my honor to bring this to you," Mrs. Atkinson told the audience Saturday. "She was our hometown girl."

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