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Interview with Marion L. Birkhimer [5/30/2004]

Lauren Smith:

It is Sunday, May 30, 2004. We're in Ocala, Florida at Veteran's Memorial Park. My name is Lauren Smith, interviewing Marion Birkhimer. And Marion, if you'll give us your birth date and current address, war and branch of service and rank and where you served, and then we'll go from there.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

All right. I think I have those written down there, yeah. Okay. My date of birth is 2/8/32, branch of service is United States Navy, I was a captain in the Navy, I have served in 13 duty stations. You want me to tell you what the duty stations were?

Lauren Smith:

Well, tell me the latest one, I guess. Where did you end?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

In Corpus Christi, Texas.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

That's where I retired. In 1985, I retired.

Lauren Smith:

Okay. And your rank when you retired?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I was a captain.

Lauren Smith:

Okay. Tell me --tell me about --how did it begin? Did you enlist, or were you drafted?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, no. What happened was I'd always wanted to be a nurse. Back in '41 I was 9 years old, and I thought, "I am going to be a Red Cross nurse," and so that's where it all started. And so I --I just, through the years I grew up, and I took courses. And I thought I was going to be a nurse. And so then they had started a cadet program for the Korean War, and I thought, "This is my opportunity. I am going to go ahead and join." But by the '50s, they had already stopped the cadet program. But I thought, "Well, I am still going to join the military, but I really don't know when." And then I went into civilian. I became an RN in '53, and then in '57, I decided that I was going to apply for the three branches of service. It was either going to be Navy, Air Force, or Army. And I wrote a letter and sent them all at the same time. And I decided that the one who responded first, is the one that I would select, and the Navy responded first. And so I joined the Navy in '57. I went into indoctrination in Saint Albans, New York, in 1958, February. And from there I went to Oakland, California, and it was --it was different than what I had thought it was going to be. The way that they treated patients was different than civilians.

Lauren Smith:

How?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, number one, civilian patients -they didn't do anything except lay there and get well and for greater lengths of time than the military. And so it was very strange to me because we had these fellows up the next day, or two or three days afterwards, and they were doing work. They were making their own beds and stuff like that, and just --I had a hard time with that to begin with, but then as I realized that, "Hey, this is the way they have to do in caring for these people because they have got to get them fit to return to their duties." Where in the civilian hospital, it was a little bit different. They weren't going back to work or anything like that, so it was strange at first. But then as I moved on in my career, I began to understand what they did, and why they did it, and I went to Guam. That was very interesting. I mean, they had --there was a Japanese prisoner. He was --he didn't know he was a prisoner, but he was found in Guam. And he didn't even know the war was over. And this was back in 19 --the late '50s or early '60s. I am not sure of the exact date, but that --that was itself very interesting. He had lived in the caves and that in there. And then -

Lauren Smith:

He was in the caves in -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Guam.

Lauren Smith:

--in Guam throughout the entire '50s?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah, from the -

Lauren Smith:

Wow.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--yeah, from the end of the war through the entire '50s. It was really interesting. And then I went to Yokosuka, Japan, and that was an experience. That was really very, very interesting. I went to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and I saw what the Atomic Bomb did to those areas. And that was --it's very interesting.

Lauren Smith:

What was it like after so many years?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, they had the memorials there in both areas. And the people still would look at us with resentment and that was okay, but it was a necessary thing that we did. And so therefore, I didn't feel --I mean, I could feel for their pain, but I felt that we needed to do that to save lives. So I didn't think that was bad for the United States to do something like that. We needed to do something like that to end that war. So then from there I went to Port Smith, Virginia.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And that was an interesting duty station. That was right at the shipyards.

Lauren Smith:

Uh-huh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was good. And then I went to Bainbridge, Maryland, and that was the station hospital, and that's where I did a lot of my OBGYN.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And I decided, "You know, I could do this in a civilian hospital."

Lauren Smith:

Uh-huh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And so I decided I was going to go to Vietnam, and I did. I volunteered to go to Vietnam.

Lauren Smith:

What year was this?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

1967.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And I went aboard the ship the USS Repose. And that was an experience. You just don't ever forget some of that stuff.

Lauren Smith:

I bet.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I will never forget, you know, I would totally --I didn't have any knowledge of what I was getting into or anything because I'd never experienced anything like that. And so there was this Medical Service Corps Officer, and we had land at the same time. And so we took a chopper up to Da Nang, and it was --it was --we went up to Da Nang from Dong ha to pick up our ship which was going in through the I Corp. And it was very interesting because there was this young soldier, and I was sitting beside him, and I was ignorant to --really to the fact of what was going on --and he looked at me, and he said, "Are you afraid?" And I looked at him, and I said, "Not really." I said, "But are you afraid?" And he said, "Yeah, I am afraid." And I said, "You're going into a different area than I am going, and perhaps you know that fear is justified." But I still had no fear. In fact, the whole time I was over there I had very little fear.

Lauren Smith:

Really? What did you --what were your thoughts?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, I knew that if I die, I was going to go to heaven, and I wasn't worried about it at all. I just --I was there to help and that's what I did. I did help. And so whenever I --when we went aboard the ship, we had flight quarters because we were taking on casualties as well as we were coming aboard to serve. And so it was interesting going that way. And then, you know, they were working --they'd work 12-to 14-hour shifts, and sometimes it's back-to-back 12-hour shifts. And then they'd sleep for eight, and then they'd work another 18-hour shifts or something. And I felt that they were --this was after I'd been there for a while and was doing this --I felt that this was not good because what we'd do is we'd serve in the wards for eight hours, and then go to triage for eight hours. And I felt that we were jeopardizing patient care because we were so tired by the time we got to triage, and we should have been alert -

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--and really being able to do it. And after a while, I think it was a problem. About a month later, I talked to the Chief Nurse, and I told her --and I said, "There's a better way to do this." I was a Lieutenant Commander by then so it was a little bit better to talk to --and she --she said, "What would you plan?" And I said, "Well, I'd, you know, if you work your eight-hour shift, and then you go back to bed, and then you work your shift down in triage. You'd be ready, then, the next morning to do your ward again, and you'd still be doing your 8 or 16 or your 18 hours, and you'd be doing it in a divided way because there was really nothing else to do aboard the ship, anyways."

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And so they adopted it, and it was really good. I was pleased, and I know that the rest of the nurses were pleased too because it was very draining.

Lauren Smith:

Wow. Did they adopt it on just the post or all ships or -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, I don't know about the sanctuary. I don't know about the sanctuary whether they did that or not, but from the time that I got there --I got there in April and --no, I got there in March, I guess. I got there in March and by April, the end of April, we were on a different hours of work, and I was pleased because I really --I really felt I was doing a disservice to our boys whenever we did triage. Do you know what I mean by triage?

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm. Taking the most injured first?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Right. That was --and every nurse had triage. They had usually eight hours of triage, and then they'd have eight hours on their wards, and it was the way it was put, though. Rather than working the full 18 hours at one time, it was just too much, and so that was good. And then we saw an awful lot of critical patients down there.

Lauren Smith:

I bet.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

One of these young men came in with head injury. We only had one neuro surgeon there, and he could only do so many head injuries at one time, and a lot of our boys had head injuries. And so they brought this one in, and he was very lucid, and he knew what was going on. I mean it. His brains were oozing out of his head, and so he was put on the delayed because they didn't expect him to live. And so we had to -we had Ace Bandages, and we had to wrap his head with Ace Bandages to keep the brains from coming out. And that was just --and he said to me -he said, "Am I going to die?" I said, "You know, we don't know when we're going to die, do we?" And I said, "You know --"

Lauren Smith:

It's a good answer.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, it was the only answer I could give him because I knew he was dying, and I just told him, "We just don't know when we're going to die in this world, so we just have to have faith that everything will be okay." But he did die, and these were the type of injuries that we got. And some of them were just the patients --were, you know, they died down there --a lot of them. But we did do a lot of good work down there. In that our brain surgeon, he worked continuously. A lot of head injuries, a lot of fractures, a lot of shrapnel, wounds, broken bones, we were always, you know, the bullets and the shrapnel would go through them --the bones. And so we had a lot of that type of things -arms and legs --and I was surgical nurse.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I ran the surgical ward there, and we -I will tell you the men were so brave. You would have had to have seen that to see how brave they were.

Lauren Smith:

I bet.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

They just --it was, you know, we had our room --the surgical treatment room --and we would take the men in there. And we had a big picture on the wall, and you'd never find this in another surgical area, but in this surgical area the surgeons and everybody else said, "Yes, we needed this." And we had a tiger there, and it says, "Every man a tiger." And you'd be surprised how some of those boys really felt that. Yeah, they were tigers, and very rarely would you hear them in there screaming and hollering, and you knew that they were in pain.

Lauren Smith:

Really?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Uh-huh. And they were ready to go back to their duty as soon as --"when's time? When am I going to get out of here? You know I need to get back to my unit." And it was amazing, and we sent a lot --medivac too --we sent the medivac from the ship to Clark Air Force Base via helicopter most of the time. There's --we took care of Vietnamese too.

Lauren Smith:

I was going to ask. By Stenograph 13

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yes. I have a picture of one.

Lauren Smith:

Oh. I'd like to see it.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

We are in a picture with one. He had a tracheotomy, and he could speak, but he'd have to hold the little trach tube, and he was cute a little old man. He apparently had been injured, and we had children, but not on our surgical ward. We had a ward just for Vietnamese.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And that ward --we would deworm the children, and when they'd go to the bathroom, they'd evacuate all these worms. They'd crawl around in the toilets. It was just terrible.

Lauren Smith:

Unbelievable.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was, but we had to be very careful because you can't deworm a child, and then send them back out again.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Because they would just --their system would be all off again, so it was really something to see that.

Lauren Smith:

How did you communicate with the Vietnamese?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

They did not speak English.

Lauren Smith:

Did they speak French --some of them?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I don't know. We had a nurse that could speak a little bit of Vietnamese, and she helped us communicate with them. I rarely went to that ward. I relieved on it periodically --the nurse was going on a break or something.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I stayed mostly on the surgical unit the whole time I was there. I worked the eye, ear, nose, and throat a little bit. But then I went to the surgical ward, and I stayed there. I --one of the things that was really very interesting was when the Forrestal had their fire. We went up there, and we cruised at night, and we had two destroyers on either side of our ship. We were completely blacked out. We were going at a high rate of speed, and we had to tie down all of the oxygen tanks and everything that would be moving because it was just at top speed. We were moving, and we got up there, and we thought we'd be able to help a lot, but by that time --by the time we got up there, most of the ones were dead or the seriously burned patients had been evacuated. But it was really discouraging to see the men. They were --they were setting along the fantail, and we could see them from our fantail, and they were setting there, and they were so dejected. You could just see it in their faces, you know, and some of them, you know, that weren't really badly injured were there. But when we got up there, there --a lot of it had been taken care of. We did have a memorial, or it was kind of like a memorial service for the men to come over and everything. But it was just a terrible, terrible --that tragedy --that bad fire. And John McCain was in that.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, really?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Mm-hmm.

Lauren Smith:

He was in that unit?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

He was onboard that ship when that happened, yeah. So that was interesting.

Lauren Smith:

Did you meet him?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No.

Lauren Smith:

Of course, you wouldn't have known who he would turn out to be.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No. We did have a lot of famous people coming aboard. General Walt was aboard. He was a Marine incumbent at that time, and we had -what the heck was her name? Martha Raye?

Lauren Smith:

Oh?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

She was aboard, and some of the other famous movie stars were aboard, and they came.

Lauren Smith:

What did you do for --tell me some specific medical things --what did you do for pain for -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well

Lauren Smith:

Tell me --infection control?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, of course that was always a problem. As I said, they would be into the treatment rooms, and they debris their wounds and everything, and we gave them pain medicine before they went in.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And then when they came out, why we would care for them. They were, you know, they had the racks, and on the bottom ones --there were four tiers --three or four tiers --and on the bottom ones were those that could hardly get out of bed. And then the next layer they could, and then the third layer they could also. And we would move them up and down as they needed. Just the normal nursing care. That pretty much was -we did have that movie picture that was filmed there.

Lauren Smith:

Hmm?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was on the Repose recruiting nurses

Lauren Smith:

Hmm?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--into the Navy, and it was very interesting.

Lauren Smith:

Oh. How did supplies get to replenish?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Right. We had --we'd take on supplies --there was certain times we would get them, and it was usually at sea that we would take them on.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And we also had a real bad thing happen to our ship two times. We had an oiler that we were taking on oil fuel -

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--and they rammed our front end of our ship and put a six-foot gash in there. And everybody went to flight quarters, and it was really something. We did have to go into the Philippines, Subic Bay. And when we went in, we took --well, we evaced the really bad, bad patients off the ship. And then we took a whole bunch of them with us into Subic Bay. And when we got off, I had pictures of them laying --they were laying on stretchers out by the ship where they were picked up by ambulances and taken to Clark Air Force Base.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

So that was interesting. And then another thing, you know, we were stationed in the I Corp, and this one place, Chu Lai, they would actually put rounds of ammunition that --the Vietnamese would do this, and they didn't hit the hospital over there. But they would just do rounds of firing on them. So it was really interesting. You could sit on board the ship and watch the war.

Lauren Smith:

Wow.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

You could see them bombing. You could see the eight-pound bombs -

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--and things like that. It was really very interesting to see that, and you knew when flight quarters was going to be. And they'd call for flight quarters, and we had a squad of people that would go to flight quarters, and then the nurses would go there --we're nurses on that too --and then we'd go down to the area to take care of them whenever they were going to surgery.

Lauren Smith:

And you, yourself, did that sometimes?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh, yeah. As I say, every nurse was assigned to that. There were duties that we would go to as well as taking care of the ward patients, so that was really interesting. Their wounds, they were just like anything else, you know. They were real bad ones. They needed debrised and soaks and things like that.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I never --a lot of our men were on intravenous fluids, and we were giving blood and things like that, so.

Lauren Smith:

How did --is blood and plasma shipped wet? I saw this poster from the American Red Cross with dried plasma. Their donors would donate the blood here, state side, and then they would ship dry plasma. This was during World War II.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I don't

Lauren Smith:

What's that all about?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I don't know about that because our blood bank nurse --we had a nurse in the blood bank, and we got whole blood or either plasma or whatever. We never had to do anything like that.

Lauren Smith:

So would it be from donors here and -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh yeah, uh-huh, yeah. I am sure that a lot of the sailors and the soldiers from the different ports were also donating blood, and we never ran out of it.

Lauren Smith:

That's good.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah. So --and we took on fresh spores. What was really hard was watching these corpsmen who really did a lot of the work as well as they --the --their duties for eight, ten hours too. I mean what they would do is, when we took on spores, these corpsmen had to take off the ship supplies and stack them and take them where they needed to go. And they worked very, very hard. So that was interesting. Of course, we got our liberty too. We would go into the different ports.

Lauren Smith:

Oh?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

We would go to Singapore, Hong Kong -the Philippines, quite a bit. And then we --we stayed sometimes at Da Nang. Da Nang was fairly safe, but we would watch them bombing up Marble Hill, and those places. I mean, it was --you could just see them doing it and especially at night. And so that was interesting.

Lauren Smith:

What was it like to go on leave in other countries? Would you go with girlfriends, other nurses, or - By Stenograph 21

Marion L. Birkhimer:

We usually grouped up together.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm. What would you do?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

We'd do everything. Yeah, it was really good. Yeah, see the men onboard ship

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--would take us to

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--you know, we'd go in groups.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

You know, it was fun. It was a lot of fellowship. One of the things that's very interesting is how we ate onboard ship.

Lauren Smith:

Oh? Tell me.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

They would have --you would either have first call or second call for your eating time, and you were only given so long to eat and get finished so that the second group could come in.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And you'd have your napkin ring with your name on it and a napkin and used to have problems after about 3 or 4 days before --or maybe even longer --before they changed it. So you had to be careful.

Lauren Smith:

Oh?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was interesting, and you'd have your By Stenograph 22 chow time.

Lauren Smith:

Oh. How was the food?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Excellent. I never complained about the food. It was always good. We had good chefs, and most of the chefs were Philipino's.

Lauren Smith:

I see.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And they were very, very good so -

Lauren Smith:

Now, you were an officer, so did you have duties as an officer for nurses under you?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh, yeah. I was the head nurse.

Lauren Smith:

Oh. What was that like?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, it's like anything else. If you were in the unit anywhere --I had something, like, I guess, six or eight of the nurses were in the surgical ward, and we had a lot of corpsmen.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And we just assign them, and you made out their hours, and you were just responsible for those nurses and their learning. You taught them how to do things if they didn't know. You made sure that what they were doing was the proper thing. The corpsmen, you made sure were adequate to go into the treatment room and assist the doctors. And you made sure the nurses were adequate to go with the doctors for dressing changes on the ward, and things like that.

Lauren Smith:

Were nurses always female and corpsmen always men?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

At that time, yes. Because, see, the male nurses never came into the service until the late '60s and early '70s. We didn't have male nurses. They were all female nurses. So there was a big difference there, and it was just really a very rewarding type of duty because you were helping people.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And it was a wonderful thing to be able to do that.

Lauren Smith:

I bet. Tell me about --how did you keep in touch with your family back here, or did you have a sweetheart or -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

We had them over there.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

They were Fly Boys, yeah. We had - see, when we go to Subic Bay or one of those areas, we always --the men were there, and we'd date them.

Lauren Smith:

How fun.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah, it was. It was a lot of fun, and we had a lot of good times -

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--and then when we'd go back to sea. Well, then we'd go back to sea, and we went to work.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

But we worked also. We didn't have the whole time that we were off -

Lauren Smith:

Right.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--to do what we wanted to. We would have our duty hours, and sometimes you were working, and sometimes you were on duty. And so, you know, a lot of times when we'd go into port, you had duty.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And you couldn't get off there, so your your days were finished, but we'd go into port usually about seven or eight days or, like, whenever we were under, you know, went into dry dock to repair that. We spent some time there in Subic Bay, so we got to know the people and got to do a lot of things there. That was a lot of fun.

Lauren Smith:

Did you talk to any native civilian Philipino's?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh, yes.

Lauren Smith:

And do they speak English?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh, most of them do, especially in Subic Bay. They were so used to American people.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

When we got there, they were Americanized, more or less. Yeah, it was interesting. Some interesting things took place there, but some of them were rather risqué. We were talking to the MP's, or the officers that went out with the MP's. Some of the things that our boys got into it --it was just amazing. And you could see --you could understand why they did do that because the --the women were very enticing. And they would go on --I forgot what the name of those trolleys that they rode -but you could --if you went, you could see the people taking their money and that right from the --they would rob them right there. It was really something. They'd get into problems that way. They trusted them, and you couldn't trust the natives. And so it was interesting, and, of course, you had your alcohol problem.

Lauren Smith:

Anything more on that --on those shenanigans?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No. I think we'll just let those go.

Lauren Smith:

All right. What about --how did you stay in touch -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Okay.

Lauren Smith:

--with your loved ones back here?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, I had a tape recorder.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Lauren Smith:

And I had bought them tape recorders before I left. And see, we'd tape back and forth. And also, I was dating at the time, and I would tape my friends, and they would tape me -

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--and so that was nice. And writing letters --mail call was extremely important. You know, people don't realize how important mail call is to those men and woman that were onboard those ships. You just don't realize it until you're part of it. You think, "Well, if I write them once a week or once every two weeks, that's just fine." But it just isn't. They need to hear from people over here in the United States. I think about the men and woman over in Iraq right now, and I think what --I have my brother's granddaughter is over there in Iraq, and my other brother's son is over there, and so I can relate to them. And I send them e-mail. Some of them --it's hard for them to get their e-mail because --and just like mail call, it takes so long for them to get their mail. But I think it's so important that we write to these people.

Lauren Smith:

For their moral.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And also is to keep up an uplifting message to them. They so --we got an awful lot of "Dear John's" and whatever over there, and that was so hard for the men and woman, especially the corps people. I really felt bad for them a lot of times. And so our job wasn't just taking care of the well, it was taking care of our nurses, making sure that they were mentally and spiritually taken care of, and our corpsmen because that was not an easy job taking care of the wounded like that. They were hurting people, and to do that daily and to do triage where people were dying, it was just really hard on them, mentally and emotionally.

Lauren Smith:

I bet it would be. How --what did the Navy do for moral, and what were your chaplain services like for faith?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh very, very good. We had some really good chaplains, and they went out on R & R with us when we'd go out. And so we got to know them real well. And they got to know --and they pretty well could tell that someone was discouraged or whatever. Whenever we were there, they would --I was there for the Tet Offense in '68. It was in the first part of the year '68, and a lot of our Korean soldiers were burnt, and they were all dying, and they were all in ICU. Of course, as I said before, we relieved the nurses on different areas, and one of the things I asked one of the ICU nurses was, "This man is lucid, we know he's dying, why can't you tape him a message from him to his wife and whatever?" And she said, "No, that's not a good thing to do because it would be too hard for the person." But I still felt that they should have done that and --but that was me.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And I guess they just didn't feel that it was a good thing. But we lost a lot --an awful lot --of our burn patients. I mean, we just couldn't keep the fluid inside. They were just so totally burnt from the napalm -

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--and things like that. So that was really hard. But there's a lot of things, and, you know, I forgot. I chose to forget an awful lot, and so it's hard to recollect all the things that we did do. We had to --we had to get our patients ready for flight quarters whenever they were being evaced because we couldn't keep them on the ship.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Whenever they were capable of being transferred to another hospital or whatever, we had to prepare them. And that was an expensive preparation. You had to get them clothed and everything for the helicopters. There was a certain procedure that had to be done before they could be medivaced. And then they were stacked out on the decks, so when the choppers would come, our corpsmen would then take them to the choppers. So it was really interesting.

Lauren Smith:

Hmm. It sounds like it. Did you -Back to moral a little bit because it's so interesting. You said that Martha Raye came on?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh

Lauren Smith:

Was that USO?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was goodwill on her part.

Lauren Smith:

Did you ever have any USO tours or visits?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No. We had entertainment USO. We just had different people come aboard ship.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

What we did was we had performances that we did. We had shows.

Lauren Smith:

That you put on?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Like fantail shows. Like when we were going to Singapore, we had the --oh, what the heck do you call that where you get over the border? I forget what some of the stuff is called. I can't recall real fast.

Lauren Smith:

The visa stamp?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No, no, no. This was whenever we, you know, this is --it shows you on these pictures how they were taken care of.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, I would love to see -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

This is triage, but we went over the equator.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And so this --we were initiated, and we got our -

Lauren Smith:

Can I look at every single one?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Absolutely. Q This is fascinating.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I took pictures of the different, like --that's the triage area where they're holding the hand up.

Lauren Smith:

It might even be after the tape because this -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Pardon?

Lauren Smith:

It might be after the taping because, if I look at the -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, that's so many --we became trusty shellbacks.

Lauren Smith:

Oh?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah. We went through that, and we got our -

Lauren Smith:

What does that mean when you go over the equator?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, you're a pollywog, I think, and then you become a trusty shellback.

Lauren Smith:

How cute.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And what wasn't cute because it's a terrible initiation. You have to go through garbage and everything. They put us through a tube of garbage, and it was really scary and funny. And then you had to kiss the belly of the baby, and then it was really very interesting. And, of course, it was very official because you were going to --to be taken in as a shellback. So that's some of the things that we did when we went to Singapore. And it was an interesting, different place.

Lauren Smith:

Very exotic?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was. And, of course, the British had ships in there. Her Majesty, both our ships, you know, and I dated one of the guys off of the British ship.

Lauren Smith:

Oh?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And that was very interesting. And he wrote me periodically; that was really nice.

Lauren Smith:

What about other ally countries? Did you have contact with -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Hong Kong --we went to Hong Kong twice, and that was interesting.

Lauren Smith:

Did you meet other ally --ally service members?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No, not really. The British were the only ones that we met because we were really at sea rather than land.

Lauren Smith:

Right, right, right.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And so, of course, we did know there were ships that came into Subic Bay for replenishing and different things, repairs and that, but it was completely different. We didn't get to meet any foreign-type except the British. See, these were some of the - Now, Bob Hope, of course, he did a lot of service over there. Oh my, he was in Chu Lai, and we were in, you know --we'd go up back and forth along Chu Lai, but we never --he never came aboard the ship. But he did go to the base there in Chu Lai. These are Vietnamese children.

Lauren Smith:

They're so cute.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Uh-huh.

Lauren Smith:

Delicate looking.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah, they were. And I have all their --these are the doctors that took care of them. They took care of the children, and then they'd be sent to us after they were taken care of by them. And, of course, this is the services. Let's see --that's not it there, but you can't really see half this stuff.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, I'd love to look at that.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was interesting. These were the flight quarters and triage area, personnel stations, and this tells you exactly what they would do. Like all personnel assigned to the triage, including medical officers, chaplains, and so forth will take stations in triage 4 and 5B and remain there to receive the patients, and then they'd be transferred down to the surgical unit where the nurses were, and corpsmen would be stationed there to take the patients down. It was all well organized. There was a physician in charge of --of -at that time we changed commands while I was aboard ship, and we --we had a captain that was so over protective of the nurses. We wanted to go to see the different places in Da Nang because we were right off there, and there was no reason --there wasn't anything going on at the time, and he wouldn't let us go. But finally the next CO did leave us to go, but we used to call him --I'm going to tell you this, I guess. I wouldn't --anyways --we use to call him "Captain Nad Bag, Chicken of the Sea" because he would not let us do what we wanted to do. But finally this Dr. Markowitz, Captain Markowitz, he let us go off the ship, and we lowered in a chair, you know, on a pulley and into the boats. And then they'd take us over there, and I did get to see Marble Mountain, and I did get to see a lot of places there in Da Nang, and that was good. We also went swimming in one of the bases there. He let us do that, but he was the only one that would let us do that. The other captain would not.

Lauren Smith:

Hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

In no way was his nurses going off that ship.

Lauren Smith:

Wow, that's -A So it was really very interesting. But this --this is --we wore our uniforms. These were our nurses' uniforms, but when we were off duty, we wore our blues.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

But this was our nurses; this was one of my corpsmen.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I was in charge of this ward. This was our quarters onboard ship. Each one had a bunk that would be either upper or lower, and then you'd have your desk area.

Lauren Smith:

Did --everything is so white. Did it get covered in blood while you were working?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, yeah. Like, he's removing a dressing.

Lauren Smith:

You're --you didn't where khaki or green scrubs?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, when we were in the ward --we wore our scrubs in the emergency room, sometimes. But you could see she's not in hers. It would depend on what you're doing and what kind of casualty helicopter coming in. And this is medivacing them out of the ship. And there's the doctor, and there's the triaging them, and these are wounds care afterwards.

Lauren Smith:

Fascinating.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It was. It was very good. I got a letter of accommodation when I was aboard the ship. We went to Hong Kong, and I really didn't have anything to do. I wasn't interested in buying anything, but our nurses' quarters there --there was no interior decoration whatsoever. It was just a Navy ship, and that was it. So I went shopping, and I bought all different kinds of drapes for the windows, the port holes. I bought furniture for our lounge area, and so I refurnished everything. I was always trying to upgrade our conditions, so the people would be, you know -they'd come in and relax, and they could do things. And so this was what I did a lot of to try and improve moral. And so I got accommodations for that, and that was very nice.

Lauren Smith:

That is nice --good work.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And this was our ship.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

That's a picture of it, but these here were the best pictures. That's Captain Nad Bag, that's Martha Raye here; she is with one of our doctors. And this was another doctor, and we were on one of the things --we were in -

Lauren Smith:

What kind of animals would you see in villages?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well - By Stenograph 38

Lauren Smith:

In other --in Vietnam --livestock?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

This was in Hong Kong. We didn't really see much in Vietnam because, as I say, the only place we got off was in Da Nang and that was because of Captain Markowitz?

Lauren Smith:

So there weren't much to see?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No. But this was all my corpsmen, and these were not. The nurses --we had a lot of nurses, and then we changed doctors too. A lot of people came, and they went. You know him; he played on The Untouchables. I forget his name.

Lauren Smith:

I do too.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Anyways, these were all my nurses, here. And this was our whole nurses onboard the ship.

Lauren Smith:

The movie with Kevin Costner? The movie about Eliot Ness?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah.

Lauren Smith:

The Untouchables?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah. He's the one that played that part. I forget his name.

Lauren Smith:

I will have to look it up.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And here's --they gave a lot of Purple Heart's onboard ships, and you could see he was getting a Purple Heart, and we have cakes and ceremonies. This is one of our doctors. Here he was leaving. This was our -there's a tiger.

Lauren Smith:

Oh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And this was the room that he did a lot of work on there. It was really interesting.

Lauren Smith:

Is that you?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh no, no, no. This is my boyfriend and that time we had our Red Cross. We had two Red Cross nurses aboard ship.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And they did all this decorations. They made stockings for us at Christmas time. They were really wonderful to us.

Lauren Smith:

Sounds like it.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

There's the Vietnamese young man.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And this is going down the ladder into the boats. This is Hong Kong, so it was really very interesting.

Lauren Smith:

It is. Well, tell me about your departure. How did --where did you leave?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Vietnam?

Lauren Smith:

Yes.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

We were extended a month. We were supposed to leave in March. The Tet Offense really was bad, and they needed as many nurses as they could get. So we were extended until April --end of April. We left, and as I say, when we left we took a bunch of patients over to Clark Air Force Base. The Air Force had the --they were the ones that evaced --medivaced them, and we just went with them because we were going to get a ride from Clark Air Force Base to the States. And that's how we went over. We usually would try to make sure that we were doing something, and the trip was necessary unless -

Lauren Smith:

Uh-huh.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--it was a necessary trip, so -

Lauren Smith:

You consolidated?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Right.

Lauren Smith:

What did you think and feel when you were leaving? Did you -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, I really don't know. I've forgotten.

Lauren Smith:

I was wondering --did you feel that "I am ready to go home" or "I am homesick" or -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No, I was never homesick.

Lauren Smith:

That had been your family and become your norm?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah, I think so.

Lauren Smith:

Maybe it would be an adjustment to leave?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I just always had good feelings about being aboard that ship. As I said, I was never afraid.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I just had good faith, and I tried to instill that into my nurses, corpsmen and patients. The whole time I was aboard ship, I would try to get them to understand that their faith was very important. So I think that that really was a great thing.

Lauren Smith:

Well, it sounds like you had a tremendous career. Is there anything you'd like to add for posterity for future young Americans? What would you -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, I think that military nursing is one of the best rewarding things that a nurse can go into. I would recommended it highly for any of them. It was a tremendous experience for me. I had --I have much more compassion for our men that are wounded for their mental abilities and the emotion and spiritual things that they have to go through in their fighting a war. Like they're doing, I mean, right now. I know that it must be terribly hard for them.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I mean, seeing them gathered around a wounded or dying person, and you can just feel for them so much more because you were there, and you know what it's like. I think it's just a wonderful thing.

Lauren Smith:

I forgot to ask, Marion, did you keep up with any of your shipmates or -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I have.

Lauren Smith:

Or do you now?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Whenever we can. We had two in '93. We had the memorial that was dedicated. We went up there, and we met every one of them, and it was just a great reunion.

Lauren Smith:

The sculpture for the nurses?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Right, right.

Lauren Smith:

It's my favorite -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Isn't it beautiful?

Lauren Smith:

--thing in Washington.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Mine too. And that was one really terrific thing. When we went up there, we got to talk to a lot of the nurses that we knew aboard ship -

Lauren Smith:

That's beautiful.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--in the Navy, so that was good. And then when they opened the Women's Memorial, the one at -

Lauren Smith:

Arlington. I have been there.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--Arlington, I went up there when that was dedicated.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And that is really good. Now, we did put something in there in writing. We had, you know, that --we had talked about --and our experience.

Lauren Smith:

Hmm. I'll have to check; right?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah.

Lauren Smith:

What name is it under?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It's under our name, and anybody can call it up when they go in there.

Lauren Smith:

Under the names of your units, you mean?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No. Marion Birkhimer.

Lauren Smith:

Under your name?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Under my name.

Lauren Smith:

I will have to look that up.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And what they do is, you go in there, and ask for Marion Birkhimer, and it draws it up. And it shows our picture and the different experiences that we -

Lauren Smith:

Oh, okay. So like a personal cataloging?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

It really was nice. And we also were able to put other people in there that weren't alive now, and that was interesting.

Lauren Smith:

Are you in any veteran's organizations or retired officers?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

That's where I belong --to the Retired Officers Association, here, at this time.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And I was the first female president of that unit. And that is really something because now it's broken. It's not an all man's thing.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And so there are more women becoming presidents, and it's kind of nice. We do a lot of big things. Like right now in Ocalla, we're operating Stop the Bus.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, I brought some school supplies.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh, did you?

Lauren Smith:

Yeah. By Stenograph 45

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Fantastic.

Lauren Smith:

Uh-huh, I heard about it from -A Uh-huh?

Lauren Smith:

--from Hank, so I -A With you?

Lauren Smith:

--in my jeep?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Uh-huh, yeah. And we are in charge of that.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

There's a certain committee. In fact, we're meeting on the 18th of June for our next to last meeting before we go into operation. We'll be doing Stop the Bus all of July, after the 4th

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--every Saturday. And the 7th of August, also. So we're really going to be working hard for our homeless children here in Ocalla. Yeah. See, we do good.

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

We also have some awards. Not a wards --let me see --scholarship programs for people in our end, ROTC.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Schools ask --they are giving scholarships from our area, so --and there's a lot of things that we're doing that is kind of nice. And plus getting people together -

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--the military together. We supply, like, some of the older woman and men -

Lauren Smith:

Mm-hmm.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

--that have lost their spouse, and they don't realize some of the benefits they can get.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, right.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

And so they can get information.

Lauren Smith:

Okay.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

So we do a lot of good for the community, so that's good.

Lauren Smith:

You were a walking history book -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I don't know.

Lauren Smith:

Fascinating.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

I don't know about that, but I enjoyed my duties, and the military has been good to me. It's just been a really beneficial-type thing. As I say, I haven't looked at these things for a long time. When we were aboard ship, we all had a cap, and everybody wore that cap. And see, they had the names on the back. Yeah, really different. But that's about it. I did --I was in the who's who in American Nursing.

Lauren Smith:

Wow.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

1984, I was in there, so -

Lauren Smith:

Did you have any Citations -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Yeah.

Lauren Smith:

--from the Navy? Any medals?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Oh, yeah. I had six ribbons. Yeah, I had those logged in there.

Lauren Smith:

Oh, that's right. You brought -

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Six ribbons and -

Lauren Smith:

Anything else you'd like to add?

Marion L. Birkhimer:

No. I think that's it. I think I've covered just about everything.

Lauren Smith:

You are --this is wonderful for history. Thank you, Marion.

Marion L. Birkhimer:

Well, you're quite welcome.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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