Colonel Patricia D. Brown is a retired United States Air Force officer who served as a nurse during a tour of duty in South Vietnam from August 1966 to August 1967. A member of the Air Force Nurse Corps, Brown was among the first female air force nurses to be assigned to Vietnam. As a captain at the time, Brown was in charge of Inhalation Therapy Department #12 at the 12th United States Air Force Hospital, Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of South Vietnam.
The Air Force Medical Corps mission at Cam Ranh Bay was “to support army, air force, and civilian personnel while they were constructing airfields and shipping docks and setting up air evacuation capabilities.” The hospital also serviced the Air Force Tactical Air Command fighter wing of F-4Cs that flew bombing missions into North Vietnam. (Gruhzit-Hoyt, p. 82). Colonel Brown was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in Vietnam, being cited for her leadership and organizational abilities.
Born on January 17, 1929, in Mount Vernon, New York, Patricia Dorothy Brown was educated at Northfield School for Girls. Following high school she completed a RN diploma at Mount Vernon School of Nursing in 1951 and a CRNA-Anesthesia Certificate from Duke University Anesthesia School in 1957. In 1964 Brown received a BA in Biology from the University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, and in 1969 an MS in Biology from Trinity University, San Antonio, Texas. She also completed coursework at Texas Woman’s University, in Dallas, as well as correspondence and continuing education courses in her field.
After retiring from the United States Air Force Nursing Corp at the rank of colonel in January 1976, Patricia Brown taught as an assistant professor at Texas Christian University from 1976 to 1978. She is a member of a number of professional organizations, and served on the educational committees of the American Cancer Society and the American Red Cross. After moving to Wilmington, Delaware, Colonel Brown has volunteered with Hospice, the AIDS Research Group at Wilmington Hospital, and for veterans groups.
Gruhzit-Hoyt, Olga. A Time Remembered: American Women in the Vietnam War. Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1999.
Notable Women of Texas. Limited first edition, 1984-1986. Irving, Texas: Emerson Publishing, 1984. p. 66.
The Papers of Colonel Patricia D. Brown related to Service in Vietnam provide a visual record of Colonel Brown’s tour of duty as an Air Force nurse stationed at Cam Ranh Bay in 1966-1967. Consisting of 1 linear foot of photographs, lists describing the photographs, a map, a vita, a videocassette, and three books, the collection documents an Air Force nurse’s work and life at the U.S. Air Force Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay during the Vietnam War.
Two hundred and thirty-nine photographs, mostly black and white, taken during Brown’s tour of duty in Vietnam, comprise the bulk of the collection. Housed in four albums, the photographs have been identified by Colonel Brown in lists found at the beginning of each album. For preservation purposes, the photographs have been removed from the original, acidic albums. The photographs have been retained in their original order and rehoused in new, archivally sound, protective enclosures. The original albums have been retained as well.
The photographs picture the work, everyday life, and recreational outlets at the 12th USAF Hospital at Cam Ranh Bay. Supplementing the photographs is a map of Vietnam, annotated by Brown “areas I was under mortar attack.” (F9)
Work in the hospital is recounted in images of the medical facilities, military personnel, recuperating patients, and an aerial view of the base. Operating rooms, hospital wards, and the Inhalation Therapy Department in which Brown served are some of the medical facilities highlighted.
Military personnel represented in photographs include doctors, nurses, and support personnel on duty in the hospital and at the base. Colonel Brown has identified most of these individuals.
Images of USO shows, baseball games, trips for “R and R” to Hong Kong and Bangkok, Thailand, and informal gatherings in the nurses’ quarters illustrate recreational life at the base. The photographs also depict everyday life from the popular mailroom to outdoor laundry facilities. The photographs chronicle the development of the base, from tent hospital and living quarters and dirt roads evident in 1966 to the more permanent Quonset huts and paved roads constructed in 1967. When Brown arrived at the base in 1966, she was one of thirteen female nurses. By the end of her tour in 1967, the base had grown to accommodate 113 nurses.
Photographs taken in the local vicinity offer images of the indigenous culture, including Vietnamese homes made of tin, horse-drawn transportation, a Buddhist funeral, and groups of children. There is one image of a Vietnamese prison camp.
A videocassette narrated by Colonel Brown provides further information and images related to her service in Vietnam. A joint project with former colleague Eileen Gebhart, who also served at Cam Ranh Bay in 1966-1967, the video combines old home movies with still images (many found in Brown’s albums). The video begins with Brown’s flight “in country,” from Hawaii to Vietnam, and from there continues a commentary on images from the hospital, Cam Ranh Bay area, including the town of Nha Trang.
The film records visits to Cam Ranh Bay by President Lyndon Johnson, General William C. Westmoreland, the Reverend Billy Graham, and USO entertainers Bob Hope and Phyllis Diller. For Brown and Gebhart, a highlight of their Vietnam tour was the appearance of a television crew to tape performances by the base “Choraleers” for the Ed Sullivan Christmas show of December 1966. Gebhart played piano for the “Choraleers” and Brown was one of the singers.
Like the photographs, the video records images of the medical facilities and personnel, but also films the local area. Several minutes of aerial views, taken during a helicopter flight, highlight the panoramic beauty of Cam Ranh Bay and the South China Sea. These views contrast dramatically with the film’s images of the barb-wired security perimeters of the military base.
Colonel Brown’s commentary describes the images on the film and conveys stories or information based on her experience in Vietnam. In pointing out a naval vessel in the film she explains how she obtained her first ice cream in Vietnam, using her helmet as a dish while on a visit to a ship. On another occasion she observes that most local Vietnamese homes were built predominantly from tin cans and occupants kept valuable possessions out in the yard instead of inside the structures.
The video includes some scenes not represented among the photographs, such as footage of an air crash, the ammo dump, the military dog cemetery, the naval base, a supply route, and an old Japanese bunker.
Colonel Brown’s vita and three books that tell the stories of other women who served during the Vietnam War complete the collection. Olga Gruhzit-Hoyt’s A Time Remembered includes a profile of Brown’s close friend and colleague, Eileen Gebhart, who served with her at Cam Ranh Bay.
Colonel Brown’s papers highlight the life and work of a Vietnam veteran, but the papers are also inclusive of the work and life of the hospital community and support services at Cam Ranh Bay, South Vietnam.