Lt. Susan Petersen of Grand Palm subdivision in Venice was Army nurse in Vietnam

Susan Petersen of Grand Palm subdivision in Venice graduated from St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo, Ohio in 1967 with an RN degree. The Vietnam war was heating up.

“The military services were heavily recruiting nurses at that time,” she recalled. “I didn’t like the idea of spending the rest of my life in the little Ohio town where I grew up. I wanted to see the world. So I signed up for the Army Nurses Corps.

“I went to basic training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. We learned how to march, that was fun. We learned how to shoot a pistol. We also learned how to set up a medical evacuation center. We got some medical training, too.

“But you never know what it’s like being an Army Nurse until you’re there, until you’ve
experienced it,” Susan explained.

“I went from basic training to Fort Dix, N.J. I worked at a hospital near an evacuation center. These evacuation centers are where everyone who was wounded in Vietnam went when they came off the plane. I was there a while, but then I got orders to go to Japan.

“All of the military hospitals in Japan were overcrowded. I ended up in the 7th Field Hospital outside Tokyo. It was set up in two great big empty warehouses. We had patients in two categories: physically wounded and malaria. Most of them were battle wounded patients. We had one ward filled with nothing but abdominal wounds. Another ward was full of orthopedic wounds and amputees.

“During the height of the war we would take in 75 patients on any one day. Once we had them stabilized we would ship 75 patients daily back to the States.”

“How did you get involved with Roger Petersen?”

“He happened to be a patient on my surgical ward,” she said. I didn’t know him very well while he was my patient. We were told not to get involved with our patients. After he was out of my ward and recouping near by, before he was shipped back to Vietnam, I got to know him a little better.

“When he went back to Vietnam he wrote me. He came back to see me one time when he got R& R,” she said. Then once he got out of the service and I was discharged we got together when he was attending Buffalo University. He had the G.I. Bill and was going to engineering school and when we got closer together. Eventually we got married.

“I stayed in the Army Reserves for a while. Then I was going to have a baby and had to get out of the Reserves. That was their regulations back then, but they’ve been changed since then.

“The first hospital I went to work for when I got out of the service was Buffalo Veterans Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. It was a good transition from the Army hospital in Japan.

Susan met her husband, Roger Petersen, while treating him for war wounds at the hospital in Tokyo where she worked for two years during the war. Photo by Mary Auenson

Susan met her husband, Roger Petersen, while treating him for war wounds at the hospital in Tokyo where she worked for two years during the war. Photo by Mary Auenson

“When Roger started his own construction firm I went into real estate and started helping him sell the homes he built. I took a break from nursing for about 10 years. Then I went back into nursing again.”

When they moved down here 18 months ago they both decided to retire.

Susan had finished her military story when she added, “I forgot to tell you my tiger story.”

“Have at it,” I replied.

“It was during the first year I was out of the regular Army Nurses Corps. I attended a friend’s house party back in Ohio. During a conversation with my friend she happened to mention her younger brother was treated in the 7th Field Hospital in Japan where I worked for two years.

“My younger brother had a severe ankle injury from a Bengal Tiger attack. It grabbed his foot and tried to drag him into the underbrush while he was sleeping in the forest,” the friend said.

“Was your brother’s name Jeff?” Susan inquired.

“It was,” the friend replied.

“I treated your brother while he was in Japan,” Susan concluded.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, and is republished with permission.

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