Take a trip back to elementary school when the first lessons about American history were introduced. There was discussion on the American Revolutionary War, the presidents, and some of the unsung heroes of the republic. Most school children then and now can name famous Americans like Abraham Lincoln or Sacagawea. They know that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a dream and that suffragette Susan B. Anthony fought to get women the vote. They probably know about Ike leading the “boys” on D-Day which helped put a stop to Nazi aggression in Europe. Finally, they most likely know the story of how George Washington led the Continental Army to victory thus giving birth to the United States of America.
However, could they name Hazel Johnson-Brown? She happens to be the first African-American to serve as a general in the US Army. The school children probably do not know about Annie Fox, who was the first woman to receive the Purple Heart. How about Harriet Tubman whom, in addition to helping slaves escape to the North, was the first woman to lead a military expedition. It is a disservice that they would not know that Ann Dunwoody became the first 4-Star General of the US Army or that multi-Emmy award winning actress Bea Arthur was a truck driver in the Marine Corp and was one of the first members of the Women’s Reserve. The children of this country learn about each war and the political struggles that led to that war but what about the heroes and heroines?
One of the most consequential wars in American history is the war in Vietnam. The death toll was massive and nearly wiped out a whole generation of young men. On that list is a woman that belongs to the annals of history now. She is the only woman to die by enemy fire in Vietnam and only one of eight women that died throughout the entire war. She is First Lieutenant Sharon Lane of Canton, Ohio.
Sharon Lane was born in 1943 in Zanesville, Ohio. A few years later she and her family moved to Canton, Ohio where she lived until enlisting in the service. She graduated from Canton South High School in 1961, after which she attended the Aultman College of Nursing. She did try her hand at business before ultimately deciding to join the U.S. Army Nurse Corps Reserve in 1968. A field medic in Vietnam said, “Sharon was the All-American girl. She was perfection in an imperfect world.”
Her training began in 1968 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. She graduated in June of that year and just three days later received assignment to Army’s Fitzsimons General Hospital Colorado. One of her very first assignments, were three of the tuberculosis wards. Being a nurse, Lt. Lane became use to this type of work and cared for her patients diligently. Soon after this assignment, she received a promotion to first lieutenant and was then placed in the Intensive Care Unit and Recovery Room for the Cardiac Division.
In 1969, First Lt. Lane traveled to Travis Air Force Base in California where she was handed orders to report to Vietnam. First Lt. Lane arrived at the 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai five days later where she was originally assigned to the Intensive Care Unit, but after a few days she was reassigned to the Vietnamese Ward. Her role called for nursing and providing medical care for Vietnamese which became physically draining and emotionally challenging. Still, First Lt. Lane repeatedly declined transfers to another ward.
She worked five days a week, twelve hours a day caring for those injured Vietnamese. Much of her off-duty time was spent taking care of the most critically injured American soldiers. She wrote a letter to her parents days before her death where she described the nature of her work and that, “. . .still very quiet around here…haven’t gotten mortared in a couple of weeks now.”
Unfortunately, on the morning of June 8th, 1969, the hospital was struck by a multiple rounds of mortars and rockets by the Viet Cong. One of the rockets struck between the Vietnamese Ward and a connecting ward that killed two people and wounded twenty-seven. In an attempt to get patients under their beds, First Lt. Lane was among the dead. According to the National Museum of the United States Army, she died instantly of fragmentation wounds to the chest and throat. She was was killed in action just one month shy of her twenty-sixth birthday.
Though seven other American military nurses died while serving in Vietnam, First Lt. Sharon Lane was the only American nurse killed because of direct hostile fire. A memorial service was held in Chu Lai on June 10th, 1969 and a Catholic mass followed the next day. First Lt. Lane was buried with full military honors at Sunset Hills Burial Park in her hometown of Canton, Ohio.
She was awarded the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star with Valor (the only service women to receive this at the time), the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the National Order of Vietnam Medal, and the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm. In 1973, Aultman Hospital, where Lane attended nursing school, erected a bronze statue in her honor and opened the Sharon Lane Women’s Center.
Other honors include, the Fitzsimons Hospital named its recovery room the Lane Recovery Suite. The Daughters of the American Revolution named her Outstanding Nurse of the Year, and posthumously awarded her the Anita Newcomb McGee medal in 1970. The Canton Chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America officially changed its name to the Sharon Lane Chapter #199, and roads in Denver, Colorado, and at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, have been named in her honor.
It has been nearly 48 years since First Lt. Lane was killed in action but her memory lives on. It lives on in every nurse working around the clock and taking care of their patients. It lives on in the servicemen and women who care of their fellow soldier in battle. It lives on when people see her statue in Canton, drive down the street that bears her name, or even when people pass her name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. She served her country with distinction and cared for the Vietnamese people who were caught in the crosshairs of war. The Purple Heart Foundation honors her memory by telling her story.
The Purple Heart Foundation remains committed to assisting veterans in all aspects of their lives. Nearly 90% of cash donations fund the National Service Officer Program, the Scholarship Program, service dog programs, and other recreational and rehabilitative programs. The Purple Heart Foundation acknowledges that the transition from battlefield to the home front can be a difficult one. It is the goal of The Purple Heart Foundation to make that transition as smooth as possible for all veterans.
The Purple Heart Foundation prides itself on being the only veteran service organization with an entire membership that was wounded in combat. You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for the United States of America by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.