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Interview with Linda Schwartz [4/15/2004]

Eileen M. Hurst:

Today is April 14th, 2004. I'm at the Rocky Hill Veterans Home and Hospital in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, interviewing Commissioner Linda Schwartz at the veterans home. Interviewer is Eileen Hurst Downey, from Central Connecticut State University. Commissioner, would you state your full name, your birth date, and your current address?

Linda Schwartz:

Linda Spoonster Schwartz. My birthday? 16 July, '44. And I live at 384 North Anguilla Road in Pawcatuck, Connecticut.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Which war did you serve in and which branch of the service?

Linda Schwartz:

I served during the Vietnam war, and I was in the United States Air Force.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what was your rank?

Linda Schwartz:

I retired with the rank of major.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Linda Schwartz:

I enlisted.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where were you living at the time?

Linda Schwartz:

I was living in Wadsworth, Ohio, which was my home for most of my life.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Why did you join?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, at that time I had just graduated from nursing school, and the Vietnam war in 1967 and '68 was really heating up. And every night on the television we saw the war in our living room. And at that time I just felt that it was -- that I was so blessed to be here in the United States, that I had a skill that could be used, and I -- I -- I did join. But an interesting part of that is that when I joined and volunteered for the Air Force, I received a notice from the draft board of my county, Medina County. And the letter, I thought it was pretty interesting, but the letter said because I had joined, then one less man from our county had -- I had helped meet the quota for that month.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow.

Linda Schwartz:

And at the time I had two younger brothers, and I was hoping maybe my service would count so that they wouldn't have to go. And although they were young, it was very interesting that my brother Tim was eligible for the draft because the war was ten years long.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow.

Linda Schwartz:

Yep.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Why did you pick the branch of the service that you picked? You said you joined the Air Force?

Linda Schwartz:

Right. I wanted to be a flight nurse. There had been an article in the "Readers Digest" about flight nurses bringing casualties back from Vietnam, and I just really felt that that was what I wanted to be. And I -- so joining the Air Force was very different because my father was a Navy man, and it really -- eventually I actually got to know some of the people that were in that article in "Readers Digest" and worked with them. But it made a real lasting impression about the challenges of taking care of patients when you are flying at 30,000 or more feet and over long periods of time, because there were no doctors on these flights. The nurses were able to have a great deal of latitude in taking care of the patients. So --

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you recall your first days in service?

Linda Schwartz:

Actually, yeah, I do. I joined -- I joined with a friend, another nurse, Sherry Renny, and we were -- we were sent to Sheppard Air Force Base.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember the date?

Linda Schwartz:

It was March of 1968. And at that time the Tet Offensive had just occurred in Vietnam, and so we had joined -- actually, we were sworn in in '67, but at that time, because the military's only allowed to have -- two percent of the people in the military could be women. And although they needed nurses, more than two percent, we had to wait to come in. And we were actually contract nurses, which meant that we were there for a specified period of time. So when we went to Sheppard Air Force Base, it was our kind of initiation to the Air Force, and everything -- an interesting thing is when I joined the Air Force, I sold all my clothes. I gave them all away because I thought I'd be wearing uniforms. And then it just got so bad that you couldn't wear your uniform on the streets. That was kind of a downer. I had to buy new clothes. But Sheppard was -- it was a little bit like a country club and a lot like girl scout camp. So it was -- it was an interesting thing. And then we were sent to Amarillo Air Force Base, Texas, which was -- in its heyday, was World War II. So they were the old cantonment-type hospitals. And there were 16 second lieutenants, maybe a couple first lieutenants, and then we had a colonel. So it was like -- the saying at the time was rank among second lieutenants was like virtue with prostitution, because what difference does it make, you're all at the bottom of the heap.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What was your rank at that time?

Linda Schwartz:

I was a second lieutenant.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What kind of things did they train you in at Sheppard and Amarillo?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, at Amarillo -- at Sheppard it was basic training, and they taught us -- they tried to teach us how to march. And they did teach us about -- you know, one of the big things was a night exercise where they had a hull of an aircraft that was like on fire and they had some of the people in the class were casualties, and we practiced that triage, you know, in a field situation. And then the other one that I remember was that -- was tear gas. What they did is they had you go into a tent where they had tear gas. And we had -- we had gas masks, but they wanted us to really experience it, so they had us sing "Yankee Doodle." And we all sang, but the lieutenant that was running the exercise said we weren't singing enough, he wanted to hear it again. So, of course, then we started choking, put the gas masks on, and everybody was, you know, like, oh, gosh, did we really have to do that? But you know how they say what goes around comes around? About three years later when I was stationed in Japan, that very same lieutenant that made us sing "Yankee Doodle" was my patient. And I was supposed to be give him a pre-op in the morning. And I said -- I said, I think I'll introduce myself, but before I go into the room. So I started singing "Yankee Doodle." And Lieutenant Forester was -- he said, "Oh --"

Eileen M. Hurst:

I remember you.

Linda Schwartz:

"-- we've met before."

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember any of your instructors?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, Lieutenant Forester and Captain Andrews, they were both very good. And then, of course, the nurse who was the class -- in the class was very, very -- Major Colavito, she was just very -- what do I want to say? She was a great role model, and that was before role models were invented. Because she was down to earth, she really took a great pride in her uniform, and was very interested in encouraging us as we were beginning this new kind of life in the military.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, you had already received your nurse's training. Were you an RN at this point?

Linda Schwartz:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Which war did you serve in?

Linda Schwartz:

It was during the Vietnam war. And then it went through peace time because I stayed in the military.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where did you go from Amarillo?

Linda Schwartz:

I went to Tachikawa Air Force Base in Japan. And that at that time was a battle casualty staging area, which meant that casualties coming out of Vietnam were air evaced into our -- and stayed with us until they were stable enough to make the long journey back to the United States. So we had -- we had the experience of actually seeing what kinds of casualties were coming out of Vietnam. And I was stationed there for two years.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What was a typical day like for you at that hospital in Japan?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, it was varied, because at times when there were a lot of casualties coming from what we call "down south," we actually at times were working twelve hours a day, six days a week because the need was there. And, of course, you didn't really mind that because you were -- when you saw the kinds of wounds and the kinds of disabilities and the casualties, really, you couldn't do enough for them. And so in a typical day, we didn't -- you know, we didn't work just during days, we had to work evenings and nights. So probably one of the best examples was in the evening shift, which started at 3:00, maybe around 4:00 or 5:00 you could get a new load of people from the air evac missions. And I -- in the beginning I was stationed -- I was assigned to a unit where a lot of people who had traumatic brain injuries and facial injuries were assigned. So a lot -- because it was a big center, some of them would stay there for treatment for us before they would go on. Also people who were blinded or had eye problems. And it was -- as I said, you know, a new group of people would come in. We were lucky because some of ours stayed longer, but maybe they had to go out the next day to go back to the United States. So it was -- I really consider myself as being lucky, because at the time there weren't that many nurses in the Air Force stationed overseas, and to able to -- actually, the reason I joined was to actually take care of casualties, and to be able to actually do that, I guess I didn't realize till much later that some people spent their entire time in the United States, never really saw the casualties. But it was -- it was both a humbling experience -- and I -- the -- the -- if you're going to ask me what was the most outstanding, I will tell you, there was a battle in the A Shau Valley called Hamburger Hill in the spring of '69. And we, at Tachikawa, there were so many casualties coming up from down south that we were actually getting casualties that still had their field dressings on. They had -- they had gone through the system, but it was so quick that they were just reinforcing the bandages rather than taking the time because they had so many more people that really needed it. And then that night, we had to clear out the hospital of people that could actually, you know, be taken -- you know, not need hospital beds, and that was kind of deciding who would be discharged. But then to make up the beds, and then there were over -- I'm trying to think -- there were over 500 casualties within an eight-hour period. And the first ones that came to my ward, I was kind of stunned because they had chest wounds and they had chest tubes in, but they were walking because they were not the worst casualties. Their buddies were helping them. And that -- really, that experience of people with such really bad gunshot wounds and injuries walking and their buddies helping me, it really changed my life forever; that night changed my life forever because I knew I could never -- seeing this great spirit and this taking care of each other as they had, that I would never be able to go back to civilian nursing where, you know, little old ladies need their aspirin and they can't wait five minutes. That -- that is when I really kind of decided that I wanted to make the military my career.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And you were two years at that hospital in Japan. What was your life outside of work like, or was there no life outside of work?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, we were not -- you know, Japan -- we were young, and one of the things was that some of the patients as they were getting better, it was an R&R center that some of the people from Vietnam would come up. And I think the nurses took it upon themselves to make sure, you know, that they saw the countryside, because for us, for me, there was a hotel in downtown Tokyo, we had to take the train in to Tokyo, but it was called the New Otani Hotel. It had wonderful Japanese gardens. And even though, you know, you couldn't go away, it was almost like going to another world. And so we -- actually, I think I got to experience Japan more trying to help some of our patients, some of our servicemen were there for R&R, to take them to places that they could really experience the culture and the people of Japan.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How did you stay in touch with family when you were overseas?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, we -- at that time the big thing was to tape messages to send them home. And then if you wanted to call your family -- there was such a time difference, almost -- almost 12 -- it was off kilter. And I come from -- I have two brothers and two sisters, and they were all still in school while I was in Japan, so it was a big deal to call home every now and then. And then letters, letters that we wrote back and forth. But I would say that the taped messages are kind of the things that are -- because you could hear your younger brothers and younger sisters, and they didn't have to take the time to sit down and write, they would just, you know, send off a message.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What were the living conditions like for you as a nurse, the food and the supplies and the living quarters?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, I -- as I said, I was still -- I eventually was promoted to captain, but when I first came, I was the only second lieutenant, and it was like -- they had like over 200 nurses, and I was the only second lieutenant, so I really didn't qualify for the housing that the other nurses did. And in actuality, my quarters were a barracks for kamikaze pilots. Now, that doesn't really sound too good, but let me just say this: I'm only five foot tall. So I could reach the back of the closets. Everything was just my size. And I -- in actuality, my first roommate, because I had some -- there was another room there, was -- had been in my basic training base. Her name was Cynthia Yamamoto. And when we were marching, she was the person next to me, so we knew each other already. And so because Cynthia was of -- she was from Hawaii, but her heritage was Japanese, she was all for let's try this and let's go here. And so she helped me see it as more of like an adventure rather than, you know, I gotta stay here and I don't want to go off the base. So it worked out well. We -- we climbed Mount Fuji, when you could actually climb it, which was a unique experience. And I think that it was a good time of life to be doing something like this, because you could work long hours, you could really see that your work meant something, and also had that opportunity of the great adventure of learning about another country.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How did you deal with the stress of seeing the horrors of war?

Linda Schwartz:

I don't -- I don't think that we actually knew that our partying -- I mean, we would party every day. In retrospect, we didn't know anything about post-traumatic stress, and so it was just the way of life. And although we did some really weird things, weird in that -- we were officers, but across the parking lot was a group of marines. And for their -- they wanted to take us to the Marine Corps ball. We didn't -- you know, we thought, oh, this is really great, however, officers don't go with enlisted, even if they are Marines. And when they had the Marine Corps ball, of course, they all came home pretty liquored up, and they took an ambulance from the front of the hospital, and it ended up in the swimming pool. And then they came to see us when we got off duty. So that kind of weird things. You know, doing things you would never think of doing. That is probably -- I don't think that people really talked about it because at that time for nurses it was just not the thing. If you couldn't handle it, it was your problem. So if you had a patient, a young soldier that was -- you know, only had one arm, all of his limbs -- his legs and his other arm was gone, and you could not bring yourself to control your emotions while you were taking care of him, that was considered your problem. So I think that -- that mentality in nursing really created a wall, because young men did die, and they died there of horrendous injuries and diseases. And I don't think that we as nurses, at least I didn't, you know, really allow myself to think about it. You just did it.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where did you go from Japan?

Linda Schwartz:

From Japan I went to Plattsburg Air Force Base in New York City -- New York state. It was a SAC base, and that was a strategic air command. It was a whole different kind of ball game. It was pretty low key compared to taking care of casualties. And it was there that I began my bid to go to flight school to become a flight nurse, because it was pretty -- it was pretty sedate compared to Tachikawa.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did it feel like a letdown to you after being --

Linda Schwartz:

It was, it was. And it was almost like hard to get used to. The -- but some of the nurses that I'd been stationed with at Tachikawa were also sent to Plattsburg, and so it was -- for us it was like, you know, this is a cake walk compared to Japan. However, I did meet my future husband at Plattsburg Air Force Base. And on next Tuesday we will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow. And at Plattsburg you decided to train to be a flight nurse?

Linda Schwartz:

Right.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Was your intention to go back to Vietnam?

Linda Schwartz:

Actually, at that time I thought I would, but that was 1971, '72, and we were actually winding down. Even though the war would not be declared an end till 1975, there was a big -- when I went to flight school, there was a shift to Europe. And so when I got my orders for Germany, I was very -- I was kind of like, wait a minute, you know, this isn't what I wanted, however, people did assure me that it would be exciting, and it was.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where did you actually do your flight school training, right there in Plattsburg?

Linda Schwartz:

No, you -- the School of Aerospace Medicine is at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. And the course was six weeks long, and it was a lot of practical experiences and learning how to take care of people at altitude, the physiology of flight.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And how long did you spend in Germany once you were shipped there?

Linda Schwartz:

Eight years.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Oh, wow.

Linda Schwartz:

Well, originally it was supposed to be a two-year tour, and then, because we were changing aircraft and expanding the mission of my -- I was in the second aeromedical evacuation group, I was extended for -- for two more years. And so when I married my husband, the reason I was -- when I married my husband, I was still flying, but then my daughter Lorraine was imminent, she was about to be born, and I left active duty because, really, at that time, although you could stay on active duty and have a child, there wasn't a lot -- I mean, there was like -- you didn't -- I did not know how I could possibly handle the responsibilities of motherhood and the responsibilities of a military career. So my husband was stationed there, and so that's why I stayed in Germany for eight years.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you do? What were your duties while you were stationed in Germany? Were you actually a flight nurse and in the air?

Linda Schwartz:

Right, yep. We flew -- first of all, we flew the C-9s, and I have one of those over there (indicating). We flew 141s. Our mission was basically the entire European theater, Russia, and the middle east. And then when we went to a new aircraft, I was again extended and went into 141s, which would bring injured and sick from Germany, from Europe back to the United States.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what would your duty as a flight nurse be? To accompany the patient?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, actually, the flight nurses are the -- were the senior medical authorities on these missions. And the missions in Europe, you know, our day would be like we'd start out and go from Germany to Scotland, pick up some patients from Scotland, to Ireland, pick up some patients from England, and then bring them back. We would -- our days then were 16 hours. And then if we had to go down range to places like Bahrain and Tehran and Ethiopia, those are very long missions, you know, six, eight hours. So if you had patients who were, you know, critically ill, it really did take all of your time to take care of them because you could have up to 60 patients on an aircraft, and you would have two nurses and three medical technicians; and, of course, you have to take care of everybody. You have to feed them, you have to -- so it was -- those missions were very, very busy and sometimes very, very challenging because when people would get at attitude, they would have changes or, for example, I think one of the more -- there was a bus accident in Spain with a lot of college students. And what had happened was this bus had been hit by a truck on a very old road. And the -- the students were being taken care of in a 400-year-old convent. And the state department asked our squadron to go and to move them so that, first of all, they could get to a better center, they could get to somewhere where there was an American hospital. There was only one -- in this whole town, there was only one X-ray machine, so -- and one doctor. So it was pretty limited. And so we launched what we call an urgent, myself and another nurse, and we had -- it was nice that we had three medical technicians who all spoke Spanish, so -- but the town had really come to help these Americans. Some of their families -- it had been several days since the accident had occurred before all the paperwork and red tape could be done. And, you know, it was like when we came, we brought a lot of medications with us to be able to medicate and to help them before they came on the aircraft so that they -- we could relieve their discomfort and so forth. Some of the families were there. It was almost like we were Mother Teresa or something. It was just like this -- the nuns, although I didn't speak Spanish and still don't, they had done a fine job. And they would -- they would show you, you know, they would know you needed to know something, so they would show you what they had done or what was the problem so you would know. And there were -- I think there were about 20 -- 20 litter patients on that mission. And that was -- we brought them to a center, to Madrid; and, you know, then they were met by -- first of all, you had the University of Madrid and you also had some Americans. So there was more possibilities for the care of these. That was probably one of the more dramatic missions.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you recall any other memorable experiences on your flights or your experiences in Japan?

Linda Schwartz:

I think going into Iran during the time of the fall of the Shah, and the anti-American sentiment, the fact that we -- it's very reminiscent of what's happening now. We were not even able to stay in hotels because we were like -- although we didn't wear our uniforms, we were taken to what they call "safe houses" that were guarded by marines in civilian clothes with all kinds of weapons. But we actually did have Americans there assigned to the embassy. And in Iran -- that -- we were there to help evacuate out the people who needed evacuation, but, of course, we were also a ride back to civilization, and so sometimes families, they could go with us too. But that was kind of a -- it was memorable in the fact that I -- it was a safe house guarded by Marines in civilian clothes, but it was also memorable because there were only two beds and a couch, and there were two nurses and three medical technicians. And so we drew straws. And I got the floor. So there was -- rank did not have its privileges that day. But it was a pretty tense situation going to the aircraft. Even the aircraft was not safe, actually. So --

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?

Linda Schwartz:

The humorous event I remember most I will tell about Japan. It was a very serious business with these casualties and coming in every day. And I was at that time on a unit that would get 30 to 40 new people every day, and, you know, we would take care of them, they would leave the next day. And so my medical technician came running to me and said, "Captain, you've got to come here right away, you've got to see this patient, they are just in real dire straits." And they were in a -- we had a room that had two beds in it. And so I walk in there, and there's a Christmas tree in the bed. It has IVs running. It has the record that says, you know, that they're trying to get it back to Colorado because of its failure to thrive. Everybody that probably touched this thing wrote a note on it. So I thought -- I called the physician, called the doc. "Doc, you must come down. I don't know what to do about this, I've never seen anything like this." And he comes rushing in, you know, and he looks at the Christmas tree; failure to thrive. So everybody got into the act, I mean. But it was -- it was a humorous little thing that had started in Vietnam and touched everybody along the way. And so everybody had to come and see. And then, of course, we made our notes and got it ready to go back to the United States to Colorado.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Linda Schwartz:

I was awarded a commendation medal. I also -- let me see. What else did I have? I have the combat -- while I was in the reserves, I was in the reserves when I returned from Germany. I had the Meritorious Service for Reservists, the Combat Readiness -- Combat Readiness Medal. And I also, because our unit was in direct support of the Vietnam war, we -- units in the Air Force were awarded the Republic of Vietnam Medal with Palm. And that was because we were in direct support, even though we weren't in Vietnam. So a lot of units that did the flying in and out and, of course, with the casualties, Tachikawa and our hospital.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you do anything special for good luck?

Linda Schwartz:

No, but perhaps I should tell you how I left the military. When I returned from the -- after my daughter Lorraine was born and we were coming back to the United States --

Eileen M. Hurst:

And you were actually still in the Air Force?

Linda Schwartz:

I had -- I had not resigned my commission, but I was not on active duty, I was in the inactive reserves.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were you a major at that time?

Linda Schwartz:

No, I was still a captain. The 69th Air Evac Squadron at McGuire was a group that I had flown with when I was on active duty, and they heard I was coming back to the United States, so they called me up and said they were recruiting and would I like to join them. So it was very nice, because a lot of the people that I had grown up in the Air Force with were part of this. Some of the people I was stationed at Tachikawa were in this squadron, and so it was a nice fit. Even though I had to travel from Connecticut to New Jersey, it was definitely worth it because we had a live mission, we serviced -- you know, a lot of reservists just fly around the flag pole. We actually did do the same mission I did, Germany and back, we also did the Azores and Iceland. And I did this for several years. I was promoted to major then. And actually, my Air Force career took a turn for the worse. I was on a training mission, and the door blew off of our aircraft at 30,000 feet, and I ended up with decompression sickness of the brain and spinal cord. And that was in 1983. And a lot of people thought that I was going to go out the hatch that blew.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where were you? What was the mission about?

Linda Schwartz:

It was a training mission, but we were 500 miles off the coast of Virginia. And the 141 was supposed to practice a rendezvous for refueling, but something went terribly wrong even before we got there. So when the hatch blew, the -- I was eating an apple, and it went right out the hatch, and the paper I was writing on went out, the pencil, everything. It was -- it was a pretty profound -- although you didn't realize it right away, it wasn't till the next day that I realized I had no feeling on my left side. And when people asked me what my telephone number was, I didn't know. So I went into the decompression chamber at the University of Pennsylvania. I was there for several days. About 12 other members of my crew joined me in time. Many of us had to leave the service because of our injuries.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you leave the Air Force because of your injuries?

Linda Schwartz:

I was medically retired at the rank of major. And for a very long time afterwards I really did not -- I had no idea what the VA would do for me. And as you can imagine, it was just -- for a long time it was hard because you were a reservist, your unit was in New Jersey, and you lived in Pawcatuck, Connecticut. And there was just no -- the Navy base at Groton really did help a lot. And eventually it was -- you know, it was decided I really couldn't continue. And it took a long time. And it was not till I really started to start to feel better was maybe three years after the accident that I could actually stay out for part of a day or so. And I wanted to go back to work, but it was really severely difficult for me. And that's when my husband called the VA. So I had had this accident and I had been at home and I had been discharged for three years.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What date were you discharged; what year was that?

Linda Schwartz:

Actually, the accident happened in 1983. I was on temporary duty retirement in '84, and then my discharge was final in '86.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So the three years that you were at home, did you have a child at that time?

Linda Schwartz:

Yep. Lorraine was -- when I had the accident, Lorraine turned seven just about the time I had the accident.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you were home. And how disabled were you?

Linda Schwartz:

Let me say this: Lorraine was the adult supervision for a long time, and that really did not go -- I could not even -- there was a great deal of pain associated with this because it took several days before they actually -- well, it took a day and a half -- you know, when you have the bends, they say, oh, put 'em in the decompression -- well, they didn't decide to do that till the next day. So the damage, the tissue damage had already been done. So there was a great deal of pain and difficulty walking and so forth. So it was difficult. Let me say it was a difficulty for my family, my husband who has a restaurant, it was difficult for Lorraine because she was in, you know, that kind of -- I think that she began to realize I was not -- I was not the one in charge, oh, because I would get lost a lot. And so once we got tied into the VA, marvelous things happened. They sent me back to school for my doctorate; it took me a long time to do that, and they gave me a lot of good support. I got hooked up with Vietnam Veterans of America, because for a long, long time, those three years it took the Air Force to accept responsibility for the accident. That's what took so long. And at that time it was not a good time to be a woman veteran. There was nothing for woman veterans. And when I would go to the V.A. hospital, there was no bathrooms for women. And really all I wanted to do was to be sure that if this happened to someone else, they didn't have to go through what I did. And it's almost -- to bring us to today, I just -- as a commissioner of veterans affairs, my newest constituents are our reserves and guards who have been activated for Rocky Freedom. Right now at Rocky Hill we have some of those veterans. And it's my job with the returning units from our national guard to make sure they don't go through what I did.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did your military experience influence your thinking about the war or the military in general?

Linda Schwartz:

Probably. I would say that I -- I have come to understand that people who serve in the military, and I believe that's why I'm very valuable as the commissioner, is it really doesn't matter when you served, we all went through a very similar experience, just as I've recounted here. We left our families, we went out to something that was terribly unknown, and we challenged ourselves; and sometimes we found that we were bigger or smaller than we had in our mind's eye. And when I talk to these veterans here, the men and the women, you know, there's just a certain way that I appreciate greatly what they did, what they gave up in their lives; and they know that I not only can talk the talk, I walked the walk.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you join any veterans organizations?

Linda Schwartz:

Yes, I did. I am a member; I joined the Disabled American Veterans. Actually, my husband joined them for me, because someone told him that they would help me. We didn't know what they would help me with. But then I became terribly involved with Vietnam Veterans of America because on the day that I -- I actually went to Congress to testify about my experiences as a woman veteran, there was another woman veteran in the room, and she was the president of Vietnam Veterans of America, and her name was Mary Stout. And she was just very good. And when I finished my testimony, I was like, really, like I couldn't believe I had done this. And I went to the ladies room, and she followed me in and said, "I can't believe what you just said." But it was -- it was -- it almost signaled a new era, the president of a veterans organization followed me into the women's room and she was a woman. And she said, "We need you. We need you to help." So for my education, as I -- as I went through my doctoral program I learned that there are ways to be able to deal with problems that don't rely on just sentiment or I served during Vietnam; that we have data, that we have statistics. And Mary Stout, who was the president of the Vietnam Veterans of America, she, she had an organization that marched then and is still marching to be sure that the veterans of today have what they need. Their first founding principle says it all. "Never again shall one generation of veterans turn its back on another."

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you attend any reunions?

Linda Schwartz:

Actually, the Vietnam Women's Memorial reunion, yes. And I think in a way, Vietnam Veterans of America is a reunion because I have been able to meet patients that I took care of at Tachikawa, men and women.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow. What's that like?

Linda Schwartz:

It's like they can describe you, or you -- they say, "I was at Tachikawa." Nobody ever says they were at Tachikawa. And you say, "Well, when were you there?" And you say -- and they said, "Well, I was on that unit then. I was the one in the circle electric bed." "Oh, I remember that, we had a hard time with that." You know, it was -- and for some, I think the first time I met one, I was like, oh, my God, I'm so glad, I am really glad that you're doing okay.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you make any close friendships while you were in the service?

Linda Schwartz:

Yes, I did. I would say Joan Seba, who was the second second lieutenant at Tachikawa, and then eventually she was my flight nurse instructor at the reserve squadron. We have -- we have maintained that -- we still communicate and so forth.

Eileen M. Hurst:

That was my next question. Do you have any other continuing relationships from your time in Japan?

Linda Schwartz:

Not -- I have seen some of the people I was stationed with, and it's always like old times. It's my reserve squadron even more so because a lot of them live around here. And when they dedicated the Women in Military Service to America Memorial in Washington D.C., that was fantastic, because so many people from all of my -- one of the people that I actually met had the apartment next to me. One had been a med tech of mine who left the military, went to school, became a nurse and came back in and was now a major.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow.

Linda Schwartz:

She said, "You don't recognize me, do you?" And I go, "No." And she goes, I was airman so-and-so.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How did your service and experience affect your life?

Linda Schwartz:

Well, actually, I think my service has greatly enhanced my ability -- when the governor asked me what was my experience as far as management, my answer was, "I was an air force officer." He didn't say anything after that. But it is true that all of this being able to have visited other countries, experienced other cultures, to understand that war has consequences that politicians don't even think about that affect the daily lives of families. And we're certainly hearing that now. But to have -- to have that idea in mind that it is a great honor to serve your country; and that the time in which I served, it's gone from not being able to wear your uniform on the streets of the country to now being part of celebrations and honoring of our troops that are coming home. So from my perspective I see that we made the world a little better than it was for us, and that we're giving a fine legacy to the troops that are coming home today.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't covered in this interview?

Linda Schwartz:

I think that the preservation of oral history is an important thing. War will never be the way it was when I was there, but it is important for people to know that that is what war is really like. Because we have the technology of dropping bombs down a chimney, doesn't mean that there isn't somebody down at the bottom of that chimney bleeding. And it's an unfortunate thing now that we have to learn that on a daily basis, but that we -- I think that's what people are saying right now, this war is half-hearted, it's like it was during Vietnam, we weren't serious; because if we were serious, we would have more people there and we would be doing more things. That's the tragedy of this war.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Commissioner, I'd like to thank you for your time today and thank you for your service.

Linda Schwartz:

Well, thank you. (End of Interview.)

 
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  October 26, 2011
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