|Co-author, Claire Starnes speaks at the Windham Veterans Center|
The veterans who gathered Wednesday, October 24, for their weekly morning coffee and camaraderie at the Windham Veterans Center, had the opportunity to listen to the co-author of “Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories” as Claire Starnes shared the story about the book and how it came to be.
The book chronicles the participation of American military women (other than nurses) who were stationed in the Republic of Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The book includes 863 out of approximately 1,000 women who served in one of the four Armed Forces (Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy). Of those 863, 403 women share their stories about their own experiences. “It is an anthology, of sorts,” Starnes said. “Each woman got to share their impressions of Vietnam and what happened to them while they were there.”
Starnes, who was born in Biddeford and grew up in Lewiston, enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in 1963, and in 1969 she volunteered for Vietnam. She was initially assigned to the U.S. Army Engineer Construction Agency, Vietnam (USAECAV) at Long Binh in February 1969 working as a translator. In June 1969, she transferred to the Joint Headquarters, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), for duty with the Office of Information until July 1971. In Saigon, as a Staff Sergeant, she worked to improve the MACV Observer, the official command newspaper published weekly, and eventually, became a photojournalist, earning the military occupational specialty of Public Information Specialist.
“Our Untold Stories” did not originally begin as a book. “There is little known about the women who served in Vietnam from 1962 to 1973 because the Army and Air Force didn’t keep active records of who they were sending,” explained Starnes. “Only the Navy had those records. My former roommate from my time in Long Binh and I wanted to change that, and so we decided to try and find as many women as we could and compile the information. At the time, we had no intention of creating a book; we just wanted to make sure these women were remembered.”
In February 1999, Starnes and that roommate, Precilla Landry Wilkewitz, co-founded the non-profit organization, Vietnam Women Veterans, Inc. (VWV). The organization’s purpose is to find all the line and staff officers and enlisted women who served in Vietnam throughout the war. By November 1999, more than 700 deceased and living of these women had been found.
“I had started the search in early 1998 and continued almost non-stop doing research and making phone calls,” Starnes said. “I only slept three to four hours a day. Also, back then, we still had landlines and had to pay for long-distance calling. My telephone bill would run up to $400 per month.”
In 2012, after the names and stories were compiled, the others who collaborated with her on this project decided it was important to publish the book - to not only share the stories they gathered but to offer a reference to future researchers.
Although it was difficult to find a publisher who would allow them to edit the book themselves, “Women Vietnam Veterans: Our Untold Stories” eventually was published in September 2015 with AuthorHouse Publishing.
Starnes stated that historians and government officials have begun using this book as a source of information. “There is no doubt that there will ever be another book like this,” Starnes said. “This is the only book of its kind that gathers names, facts and data together in one literary work.”
Starnes has travelled the country since the book was released in 2015, sharing its important information about the many women Vietnam veterans who would otherwise be forgotten. Although this book has been published, there is more work to be done.
We are still searching,” Starnes said. “We aren’t done yet.”
Starnes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.