By Connie Jozwiak-Shields

I see her photo each day as I wait for the elevator to take me up to my office where I teach at D’Youville College School of Nursing. Her name is Eleanor Grace Alexander, a captain in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps, when she died at age 27 serving her country during the Vietnam War in 1967.

She was a D’Youville College School of Nursing graduate earning a bachelor of science in nursing in 1961. She enlisted because: “Our boys are dying over there, and they need more nurses to care for them. I want to go.”

Alexander was stationed at the 85th Evacuation Hospital in Qui Nhon and had gone with three other nurses to assist at a hospital in Pleiku. On the return trip, their plane crashed into a mountain in bad weather.

I think of her as I wait for the elevator, what it was like those 50 years ago for a young nurse from New Jersey to travel halfway around the world, to give up life as she knew it to serve her country in a devastating war.

Recently my nursing colleagues and I had the opportunity to attend a nursing conference in Washington, D.C. During some free time, we took a tour of the monuments at night. Our visit to each of these monuments brought to mind the thousands of men and women who so bravely gave up their lives to protect our freedom as citizens of the United States. It is the utmost sacrifice one can give. They gave their lives for our freedom. Each one of these memorials is a testament to the bravery and dedication of our military men and women.

Our last stop on the tour was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Unlike many of the other monuments and memorials we saw on our tour that evening, this one was very simple and almost austere – no imposing structure, columns or gigantic statues. It is a very solemn and very moving memorial, a wall of endless black granite inscribed with the names of more than 58,000 brave and proud Americans who gave their lives for our country.

The tour guide asked if any of us had a name that we wanted to look up. Five very excited voices readily said in unison: “Eleanor Grace Alexander.” The guide quickly put the information into a phone app and told us, “she is panel 31E, row 8” on the wall.

We moved very quietly as we passed panel after panel inscribed with names until we approached panel 31, counted down to row 8 and found the name: “Eleanor Grace Alexander.” We reverently stood with bowed heads, said a prayer and took a picture of her name.
We were then directed to the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Statue nearby, where we saw a very compassionate portrayal in bronze of four women in fatigues caring for one of their own who had been injured.

Surrounding this very moving tribute are eight trees, which represent each of the eight females whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. Yes, of the more than 58,000 names on the wall, only eight are women. Of the many women who served in Vietnam in various capacities, it is estimated that 90 percent of them were nurses, which to our small group of nurses was even more meaningful.

So now, each time I wait for the elevator to take me up to my office, I gaze at Capt. Alexander’s picture and say a silent prayer for her and all the other military men and women who gave up their lives so that we can enjoy the freedom of being a citizen of the United States. Not only on Memorial Day but every day, let us all remember the sacrifice of those men and women who have served our country and for those who now serve.

Connie Jozwiak-Shields, Ph.D., ANP-BC, RN, is an assistant professor at D’Youville College School of Nursing.